Billionaire philanthropist donates $500K to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County

  • Jennifer Webster, executive director with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County, in the nonprofit’s Greenfield offices at 16 Court Square. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County’s offices are located at 16 Court Square in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The staff at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County, from left: Jess Loebel, Executive Director Jennifer Webster and Abbe Bresciano. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • SCOTT

Staff Writer
Published: 6/9/2022 2:51:01 PM
Modified: 6/9/2022 2:48:54 PM

GREENFIELD — Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County has received “an unprecedented gift” of $500,000 from MacKenzie Scott, the billionaire philanthropist and ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Jennifer Webster, executive director with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County, said the donation — which is around 50 times more money than the nonprofit mentorship organization’s previous individual donor record — was “completely unsolicited.”

“We had no idea,” Webster said. “The national office had no idea that this was coming.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County serves all Franklin County communities, as well as those in the North Quabbin region. Out of 232 Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliates nationwide, Franklin County’s branch is one of 38 to receive a share of Scott’s total $122.6 million donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

“We do this research and deeper diligence not only to identify organizations with high potential for impact, but also to pave the way for unsolicited and unexpected gifts given with full trust and no strings attached,” Scott said in a Big Brothers Big Sisters announcement. “Because our research is data-driven and rigorous, our giving process can be human and soft.”

According to the announcement, Scott’s donation came “in recognition of the agency’s impactful work in the local community and is intended to support the organization in furthering its mission to ensure young people have access to powerful mentoring experiences through an equitable and inclusive lens.”

Webster said that while this mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters was recognized, she is unsure why Scott chose Franklin County’s affiliate to be included in the exclusive group of recipients.

Webster said Scott’s donation comes “at a critical time for our community.”

“Our youth need, now more than ever, to be seen, heard and validated while facing the challenges of today’s world,” Webster said in a statement. “They need mentors to help them build resilience and hope for their future.”

More than 11 million children in the U.S. live in poverty and more than 13 million young people are experiencing emotional, behavioral and developmental challenges. In Franklin County and North Quabbin communities, more than 75% of youths reported feeling depressed, lonely or anxious. Webster cited the 2021 Communities That Care Coalition’s Teen Health Survey for this data.

“Mentoring plays a critical role in helping bridge the provider gap for young people,” said Elizabeth Swihart, president of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County’s board of directors. “It helps build safety nets that can directly mitigate the effects of trauma and offer connection and support where young people need it most.”

The donation money, Webster said, won’t go toward “foundational programs” funded by the organization’s typical $350,000 annual budget that is supported by grants and donations. Rather, the $500,000 will be put toward starting three new programs: a countywide teenager-focused “Big Futures” program centering on careers, college readiness and life skills; a to-be-conceptualized high school site-based program in partnership with a North Quabbin school district; and a similar high school site-based program in the hilltowns.

“We are poised to launch a powerful transformation in our local community that will be felt for generations,” Webster said. “Big Brothers Big Sisters of Franklin County believes no one person, organization or gift alone can drive the significant impact mentorship can have on a young person’s life. It takes a village of support to bring that level of impact. We are deeply grateful to Ms. Scott and see her investment as an invitation for others to join her in helping to transform mentorship for young people today and for generations to come.”

Webster encourages those interested in applying to be a mentor to do so at bbbs-fc.org.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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