Grand Rapids — A Grand Rapids social services agency is ending its affiliation with the Big Brothers Big Sisters national organization after more than 50 years of mentoring about 8,000 children, leaving the city without such an organization.

D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s instead started a new program Oct. 1 called D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s Mentoring Services, The Grand Rapids Press reported.

Membership dues to big Brothers Big Sisters had cost the group about $20,000 a year, said Susan Conrad, director of family preservation services at D.A. Blodgett-St. John’s. She said the agency had also discussed whether the Big Brothers Big Sisters model was best for the organization.

Big Brothers Big Sisters views mentoring as one-on-one and doesn’t recognize relationships that do not last a minimum of nine months, Conrad said.

“As we looked at all the pros and cons and started to get excited for what the program could look like, it actually was a pretty simple decision,” she said. “It just wasn’t easy.”

Conrad said the new program is structured to better fit the needs of the local community they serve.

As part of the new program, the age range has been changed from ages six to 18, to 10 to 25. The agency’s employees also hope to host group mentoring workshops for job readiness and will require “bigs” and “littles” to spend more time together, Conrad said.

The new program also increases the amount of expected contact between “bigs” and “littles” to twice a month for at least a couple hours each to increase mentor involvement.

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