NEW ORLEANS -- Big Brothers Big Sisters is one of the most recognizable names when it comes to mentoring programs.
WWL-TV discovered on Thursday that the local chapter, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Louisiana is no longer operating.
On the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Louisiana website, a click on the volunteer application section prompts a message stating, "we are no longer accepting volunteers as the agency is shutting down effective immediately."
It's unclear when the message was posted, but during the activities surrounding the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans, the agency was trying to capitalize on corporate sponsorship.
Members of the agency's board said without more funding, its future was threatened. We made numerous calls to the CEO of the agency but got no reply.
According to the Louisiana secretary of state, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Louisiana is not in good standing as a non-profit for failure to file an annual report.
"Surprised and very disappointed," said Cleveland Spears, III.
Spears spent two years volunteering as a big brother. He said he's unsure sure why the local chapter closed its doors but emphasized the impact to the community. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Louisiana mentored roughly 800 children before Hurricane Katrina.
"With some of the challenges our city is experiencing with our young people, mentoring is hugely important. To lose an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters is a truly a loss for the community," said Spears.
Speaking at a press conference to promote reforms to the Civil Service Commission and an increase to the minimum wage for city workers, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he too was unaware of the circumstances of the local chapter’s closure.
The mayor has been an advocate of mentoring programs and introduced his own crime fighting strategy called NOLA for Life. Landrieu said getting money to such programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters is vital to reducing violence.
"The idea of mentorship programs that are funded through public private partnerships is really critically important and essential to the safety of our city," said Mayor Landrieu.
At the Apex Youth Center on Simon Bolivar Avenue, teenaged volunteers from Los Angeles were painting the exterior of the former preschool.
The non-profit started in the Broadmoor home of Reverend Lisa Fitzpatrick more than four years ago. Today, its doors open daily for dozens of kids who come find afterschool activities.
The center is located in Central City, which is often associated with shootings, murder and violence. Fitzpatrick said her center can be a refuge.
"Overwhelmingly, when given the choice to do the right thing, we're finding our young men and women are choosing to do the right thing," said Fitzpatrick.
The reverend and her small cast of volunteer are determined to stay in Central City but that choice to stay depends on money. The center relies on grants and donations which are dwindling. Fitzpatrick can't help but think of the fate of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southeast Louisiana.
"It's a big shock. Big Brothers Big Sisters has been around since I was a kid. For me, there are many days that I don't know if I'm going to pay my rent. There are days we are literally getting couch change to buy snacks," said Fitzpatrick.
The cost of staying open can be great, but losing programs like these, could cost the city something far greater.