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Suncoast Big Brothers Big Sisters units to merge

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Two local Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies are merging and, as of Jan. 1, will combine to mentor about 3,350 children from Polk County to Pinellas, from Hillsborough County to Citrus.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas County and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay are joining up after the agencies’ boards of directors unanimously approved the merger last week.

The nonprofit organizations, which have served their respective communities for nearly half a century, are familiar with each other, having previously collaborated on projects.

Stephen Koch, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay is now the CEO for the agency that stretches north to Citrus County.

He and Susan Rolston, former CEO of the Pinellas Big Brothers Big Sisters who retired this month, worked closely making the merger a reality.

The Pinellas agency had an operating budget of more than $2.4 million, and the budget for the Tampa agency was over $2.2 million.

“My journey with Big Brothers Big Sisters began 13 years ago and it’s wonderful to leave this legacy,” Rolston said in a statement.

“It’s something we’ve considered for years and now the timing is right to move forward as one agency.”

Koch is a lawyer who has been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters for 20 years, beginning as a volunteer.

“As a consolidated agency, we will be much better positioned to provide a Big Brother or a Big Sister to the more than 1,000 children currently on our waiting list,” he said in a statement. “This is our primary focus.”

Agency spokeswoman De Anna Ward said donors want to give to a single agency.

“We’ve had donors say they thought we were one agency anyway,” she said.

Revenue comes solely from donations and grants.

“Donors want to help kids in their own community. This increased focus is letting people know about the need, and that will increase funding,” Ward said.

The merged agency will be called Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay and serve children in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties, with offices in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Lakeland.

The executive team includes newly hired Pat Craven, who will serve as the regional director in Pinellas County as well as being the primary fund-raiser.

Big Brothers Big Sisters programs pair youth with screened volunteer mentors and monitors the one-to-one mentoring matches from beginning to end.

The goal is improved school performance, increased high school graduation rates and keeping kids out of trouble.

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