Alan Stein, a briefly retired minor league baseball executive, hadn't had time to hang his new shingle as a business consultant before a close friend called with Stein's first pro bono client.
Former Vice Mayor Mike Scanlon, chief executive of the Thomas & King restaurant group, called to say that Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass needed help. Stein didn't know how much help until he went to the next board meeting.
"When I walked in, some of the staff were in tears and packing up their desks," Stein said. The board had voted two days earlier to cease operations, the staff had been laid off and the organization was without an executive director.
But Stein thought a turnaround was possible. That afternoon, board members dug into their own pockets and went public with an emergency fund-raising appeal. Scanlon became the new board chairman.
More than $200,000 has been raised for the organization, which provides mentoring for at-risk young people in 13 Central Kentucky counties. But a big test will come this weekend, when Big Brothers Big Sisters has its largest annual fund-raiser, the Lexington Bowl for Kids' Sake, on Saturday and Sunday at Collins Bowling Centers-Southland.
Bowling teams may register before Friday afternoon for a one-hour slot. Similar events were held in Richmond and Danville last month, and another is planned April 15 in Mount Sterling.
Several companies and organizations have given donations and fund-raising help in recent weeks, Stein said, including Thomas & King, Central Bank, iHigh.com, Central Kentucky Blood Center, Ball Homes, Quantrell Auto Group and Ashland Inc.
"I've been speaking all over Central Kentucky the past three weeks, and every time, some individual has stepped up with a big contribution," Stein said. "What touched me more than anything were the small contributions we've received from the public — thousands of dollars, $5, $10, $20 at a time."
Georgetown College contributed the initial month's salary of Big Brothers Big Sisters' new executive director, Eric Ward, the college's former athletic director.
"Things are much better today than when I walked in the door five weeks ago," Ward said. "The program itself had no black marks against it. That's where our reputation counts the most — how we take care of the kids. We just needed to focus more on the business side of the organization."
Big Brothers Big Sisters got into trouble in late 2009 as the result of theft by an office manager. Bendrea Wilson pleaded guilty in May to cashing more than $435,000 in checks on the organization's account and was sentenced to four years in prison. The resulting financial crunch led to staff cutbacks and unpaid bills.
Despite the cash-flow problems, the organization had an excellent staff and a relatively strong balance sheet, Stein said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters can be an expensive organization to run because of the background checks and supervision needed to keep the kids safe. The board decided that 90 percent of new money raised would go toward maintaining the staff of 11 and the number of Big Brother Big Sister "matches" at no fewer than the current 420. Stein and others are working with creditors to schedule repayment of old bills.
A 75-acre camp in Jessamine County, appraised at $700,000, has been put up for sale. "A lot of hard work and sweat went into that (camp), but it was a luxury," Stein said, and selling it "could put us on some long-term sound financial footing."
Big Brothers Big Sisters' mission is what prompted Stein and many others to work so hard to save the organization, he said. Those mentoring relationships can be life-changers, helping at-risk kids become responsible adults and preventing costly crime, incarceration and substance abuse.
"Anyone who has been a 'big' knows you're having an impact on these kids' lives," said Stein, who was a big brother in the late 1970s and early 1980s. "It makes a difference in a kid's life and a family's life and, you hope, a whole community's life."