"Big Brothers Big Sisters" shuts down in Southern Illinois - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

"Big Brothers Big Sisters" shuts down in Southern Illinois

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Businesswoman Deanna Colburn of Marion (right) plays Guitar Hero with her "little sister" at Pirate Pete's Monday night. Businesswoman Deanna Colburn of Marion (right) plays Guitar Hero with her "little sister" at Pirate Pete's Monday night.

MARION -- What was supposed to be a regularly scheduled party at Pirate Pete's became a chance to say goodbye Tuesday night for kids and their mentors in Southern Illinois' Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

"It's just fun to get together and talk with her," Deanna Colburn said of her "little sister," a teen who played skee ball and Guitar Hero with her at the party.

But after 20 years in this region, the Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter that serves Jackson, Franklin, Union, Perry and Williamson Counties is coming to an end.

Centerstone, the not-for-profit agency that runs the mental health crisis center in Carterville and outpatient clinics throughout the region, also manages Big Brothers Big Sisters in Southern Illinois. The state has failed to make any payments on its social services contract with Centerstone and now owes the agency $4.5 million. Centerstone leaders decided they just couldn't afford to keep Big Brothers Big Sisters going in this environment.

"And the decision was really made to protect those core services that, quite literally, save lives through counseling and crisis services," said Kathryn Sime, Centerstone's communication manager. "But (these are) still incredibly painful decisions they had to make."

Suddenly, the budget battle in Springfield is hitting home for the adults and kids in the program.

Asked her reaction to getting the call about the shutdown, Colburn replied, "Sadness. It's such a good program. It's really impactful for the kids."

Colburn says her "little sister" has no problem talking with her parents about what's going on in her life. But talking with Colburn is like talking with a friend with more life experience. And they genuinely enjoy doing things together.

"That's part of the great thing about Big Brothers Big Sisters is they try to match you with somebody that has similar interests," Colburn said. "So that you feel more open and can confide and talk about things and feel comfortable with that person."

The impact on the kids, who usually range in age from 6 to 16, is not yet clear. But Sime says Centerstone is not abandoning them.

"We will be working with each 'big' and 'little' and their families to develop the best resolution to this and to help them transition," she said as the kids enjoyed pizza with their mentors. "So we're not just walking away. We're going to continue to work with them as part of this transition."

The good news in Colburn's case is that she and her teenage "little sister" will still be able to hang-out.

"Absolutely. Absolutely," Colburn said, smiling. "I've actually --- after I heard from Big Brothers Big Sisters yesterday --- I called my 'little's' mother and I spoke with her. And she had already heard, as well. And we discussed continuing on and being a 'big' one way or another."

Unfortunately, though, no new children and teens will be added to the program in Franklin, Jackson, Perry, Union, or Williamson Counties.


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