Amy Rote calls it “the real issue” facing area kids right now: mental health.
“School districts will address the educational gap, but the real issue is the mental health needs of our kids from the pandemic—that’s where our primary focus is,” said Rote, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region (BBBSCR).
She’s speaking from experience. The career path that led Rote to BBBSCR began in the mental health field.
“What led me to Big Brothers Big Sisters is its mission—creating supportive friendships that help kids build resiliency and skills,” she said. “It felt like the perfect fit.”
The nonprofit’s mission is to “create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth” over a five-county area.
Rote served as the organization’s vice president of programs beginning in 2013, when she went into “creation mode,” expanding the organization’s programs to meet escalating challenges facing youth.
“When I came on board, the previous CEO [Maddie Young, who now serves as the Carlisle YWCA’s executive director] was an incredible mentor,” Rote said. “Together, we recognized that our organization had the opportunity to do much greater things by responding to what our kids were dealing with then—the opioid epidemic, incarceration, trauma in relation to social changes in technology, cyber-bullying, a lack of physical exercise—all of these things were happening.”
Little did she know, socioeconomic issues would be compounded by a worldwide pandemic.
In 2020, when Young departed, Rote was named president and CEO. And while many nonprofits were and are struggling—and downsizing programs under pandemic-related stress—Rote and the BBBSCR board knew they had to do the opposite in the face of the pandemic: They needed to go big.
“We want to serve more youth and increase the families we’re impacting. Growth is a priority because kids need mentors now more than ever,” Rote said. “I needed to invest in our leadership team first, and I was picky because these programs and the people in them mean everything to me.”
As the organization maintained and supported about 400 matched community mentors (“bigs”) and area youth (“littles”) through 2021, Rote built her team by hiring Mary Murphy as director of development and Rovenia “Roe” Braddy as vice president of programs.
“What I love about these two ladies is their positivity,” Rote said. “We talk to our kids, our ‘littles,’ about surrounding themselves with positives—this organization needs positivity.”
Murphy, with an extensive background in marketing, was seeking a position that would “fulfill a sense of purpose and meaning” and “make a difference in the community.”
“And the more I did my research on Big Brother Big Sisters, the more I fell in love with it because it connected all the dots for me,” said Murphy, of Lewisberry.
“Mary stood out to me,” said Rote, “Because our organization is about connections and relationships, and when it comes to the development position, she can articulate what this mission is about. When you see how [BBBSCR] relationships are affecting kids and families, then we know the funding will come. And in Mary, we found someone to share our story with her heart.”
Over the Edge
Meantime, Braddy, of Harrisburg, taught for 28 years in the Harrisburg and Central Dauphin school districts, but calls her hiring by BBBSCR “totally accidental.”
She was dreaming of starting up a program to help area youth, and she fatefully shared her ideas with a friend who had recently become a “big” for BBBSCR. That friend suggested Braddy reach out to Rote.
“For me, what really sold me on this program was the opportunity to use my background in curriculum development,” said Braddy. “And I had a different viewpoint—being a woman of color gives you the opportunity to look at the kids you’re serving and connect with them, because you look like they do.”
In her prior teaching roles, Braddy had felt the frustration of trying to teach students things like the finer points of MLA Style for research papers, juxtaposed against their struggles with life skills. Things, it turns out, an organization focused on mentorship might impart.
“She not only had the educational background, but that commitment and dedication to kids—she has a passion for connections with children,” Rote said of Braddy.
With the leadership team in place, and engaged board members devising fundraising events to make up for the longstanding but pandemic-canceled Bowl for Kids’ Sake, Rote hired one more key person—Rich Carroll as events and engagement manager.
Carroll, with a background in nonprofits and events, was given a tall task as his first assignment—planning Over the Edge, a fundraising adventure challenge in which participants rappel 21 stories down the Fulton Bank building.
“I’ve never done anything like it,” said Carroll, of Etters. “I’ve gone through National Guard training and obstacle courses, but certainly not rappelling 21 stories. But it’s important to participate in events I’m working, so I’m going to do it.”
As 76 brave individuals go Over the Edge (spaces are still available) on Oct. 29, Carroll is aiming high with a $100,000 fundraising goal. BBBSCR’s annual operating budget is $1 million.
Perhaps the height of the building illustrates the growth Rote sees on the nonprofit’s horizon.
A new BBBSCR program, “Harrisburg Youth Rise: Stand Together,” begins meeting at Whitaker Center in October to bridge gaps in technology and match middle school “littles” with BIPOC community leader “bigs.”
At a time when Rote feels all the pieces of the puzzle falling into place for BBBSCR, the organization is also gearing up for its 40th anniversary celebration on Dec. 7.
“I want to celebrate 40 years of people who have been part of our family—we are a network. As soon as you say Big Brothers Big Sisters, people understand,” said Rote. “Many of our kids who were ‘littles’ went toward their dreams and came back to the organization as ‘bigs.’ We have mentors who ended up hiring their ‘littles’ into their companies. We have so many stories to celebrate.”
For more information on Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Capital Region, including Over the Edge, see capbigs.org.
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