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Column: Big Brothers Big Sisters getting Midtown HQ

By Maria Saporta
Friday, February 3, 2012

After 20 years as president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta, Janice McKenzie-Crayton could not be more excited.

The 50-year-old organization will soon be moving to its own home in Midtown — a move that she believes will improve the visibility, branding and operations of the nonprofit that matches “Big Brothers” and “Big Sisters” with their younger counterparts.

Sitting in the conference room of the historic home on Peachtree and 17th streets, McKenzie-Crayton’ eyes widen when she sees all the young professionals walking by. In her mind, they are future “Bigs” who can be matched with younger brothers and sisters.

Atlanta’s Big Brothers Big Sisters already is among the top five among the nation’s 360 BBBS agencies serving 3,400 children a year out of its current location in the United Way building downtown.

Last year, it was able to establish 979 new matches. Each match requires at least three one-on-one interviews — one with the child, one with the big brother or big sister and then a third when they are introduced to one another.

By buying its own home and doubling its available space to 25,000 square feet, Atlanta’s BBBS believes it can increase the number of children so that it serves 5,000 on an annual basis. The new home also will have enough space to grow from its current base of 40 employees to more than 75.

In order to accomplish its goal, Atlanta’s BBBS has launched a $6.58 million capital campaign, which includes $910,000 for new programming initiatives. Currently in its silent phase, the campaign already has raised $2.9 million.

Although it is a three-year campaign that’s been under way for the past year, McKenzie-Crayton and her team members hope the agency will be able to close out its fundraising efforts by the end of the year. They are working with Mark Wilkison, senior vice president of the Sinclair, Townes & Co. fundraising firm on the campaign.

BBBS bought the former home of the Perkins & Will architectural firm for a below-market price of $4.2 million with a low interest loan. Renovation on the building began Jan. 30, and the agency expects to move in before the end of June.

When the renovation is complete and its debt has been paid off, BBBS will be able to save $245,000 in annual operating costs by not having to pay rent and in lower monthly utility costs because the project is being done with green building standards thanks to a grant from the Kendeda Fund.

Those savings will enable Atlanta’s BBBS to serve another 243 matches between “Bigs” and “Littles,” according to Miranda Bryen, the agency’s director of marketing and campaign manager.

Currently, Atlanta’s BBBS has 469 children (all boys) on its waiting list. The biggest shortage that the agency faces is finding enough “big brothers” to serve the young males, many of whom have grown up without a father figure.

On the other hand, the agency has more than enough “big sisters” to be matched with young girls.

McKenzie-Crayton said BBBS has been successful in building and nurturing matches “with amazing results and outcomes.” The average match in Atlanta lasts 33 months compared with the national average of 24 months for a match.

“If they stay together for 18 months, there is a demonstrative difference in the life of that child,” McKenzie-Crayton said.

New Breman director

The Breman Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Museum has hired a new executive director, Aaron Berger. The museum had conducted a nationwide search to succeed Jane Leavey, the founding director who had been in her role for 28 years before retiring on Dec. 31.

Berger was selected based on his experience leading two art museums in Georgia. He was director of the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art, stabilizing the museum and restructuring the organization. In 2002, Berger became director of the Albany Museum of Art, which experienced strong growth in membership and attendance during his tenure.

Spring Asher, co-president of the Breman board, said that after conducting a search, “we found the right person already here in Atlanta.”

Cobb Chamber

At its annual dinner Jan. 28, the Cobb Chamber of Commerce welcomed its new chairman — Tony Britton, vice president of Community & Southern Bank.

He succeeds Rob Garcia, president and chief operating officer of the Bank of North Georgia, who had served in that role for two years.

The chamber also has named Greg Morgan, the partner in charge of the Atlanta office of the Mauldin & Jenkins accounting firm, as chairman-elect.

March of Dimes

William Jennings, managing director of Navigant’s Disputes and Investigations practice, will chair the March of Dimes’ largest annual event — the March for Babies — April 28 at the Georgia World Congress Center.

In 2012, it is expected that more than 20,000 babies will be born prematurely or with a serious birth defect. The March of Dimes has is working to reduce the rate of premature birth.

“Raising public awareness for stronger and healthier babies is so important,” Jennings said about why he is leading the annual March for Babies event in Georgia..

Last year, the local event attracted more than 15,000 participants and raised. $1.2 million. This year, Jennings would like to raise $1.5 million.

Atlanta is one of 900 communities across the nation that also will be holding marches, and it is expected that more than seven million will participate.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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