Daily Egyptian

Centerstone closes Big Brothers Big Sisters, consolidates offices

By Tyler Crotzer, @TylerCrotzer_DE

Young Southern Illinoisans in need of critical mentoring services lost one more outlet because of the state’s budget issues.

Centerstone, which also provides developmental and therapeutic services, canceled mentoring services last month to 59 children that were in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Illinois program.

John Markley, Centerstone’s CEO, said the company has only received 60 to 70 percent of its $4.5 million state budget for this fiscal year. By closing the BBBS program and consolidating sites, the company can reduce overhead expenses and ensure its primary behavioral health services remain available.

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“The harm being done is not far out weighing the benefit we’re going to get waiting out a solution,” Markley said. “People need to consider how we can compromise and come together and find a solution to move forward so we can get services back on track and funded.”

The Carbondale program, which operated for nearly 20 years, provided the means for volunteers to teach and connect with children they otherwise would never have met.   

“We have so many success stories,” said Kathryn Sime, director of advancement at Centerstone. “We have a ‘little’ who is in college now in the area who is the first in her family to go to college. She wouldn’t have dared to consider applying to college without the support of her ‘big.'”

Not only has the cancellation of this program affected the nearly 50 volunteers that used it, but it also served as an outlet for SIU students to earn real world experience before beginning their careers.

Michelle Cooper, an SIU student pursuing her master’s in social work, was volunteering as a “big” when the program ended. She still has her practicum, but it will be continued in a different Centerstone program.      

Cooper and her 11-year-old “little” spent about an hour a week together doing activities such as horseback riding, visiting haunted houses and playing laser tag.

Without Centerstone and BBBS, future “littles” may miss out on some of life’s simpler luxuries.

“I took my little sister to the movies one day and she said, ‘Wow, I’ve never been to the movies before,'” Cooper said. “That really broke my heart. To think of all the things we take for granted and don’t even realize.”

The company’s consolidation effort closed an office in Jerseyville, but all faculty and staff were relocated to a location in Alton. No employees have lost their positions, Markley said.

Many sites not fulfilling capacity will be put up for sale and merged with other offices to eliminate unused space. The Carbondale office on Emerald Lane and one in Williamson County are up for sale and will be evaluated on a six-month basis to assess the need for consolidation, Markley said.

“Unacceptable is an understatement,” State Sen. Gary Forby stated in a press release about Centerstone’s situation. “Not only is this yet another example of our most vulnerable populations being dumped on by this impasse, we are also losing more jobs. This governor is playing games with us here, and southern Illinois is the loser.”

Tyler Crotzer can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325. 

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