A lack of local leadership and decline in state funding has led to the closing of Big Brothers Big Sisters in Ketchikan, said Matt Eisenhower, president of the local leadership council.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is a national mentorship organization dedicated to pairing at-risk kids with adult volunteers. Eisenhower said Ketchikan’s local office supervised on average about 20 matches at a time.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” he said. “I do think it’s the most effective program for at-risk children. Having a consistent adult role model is crucial to many kids, so I really, really believe in the program… It’s just at this point the funding is a hurdle.”

Eisenhower also pointed to the lack of leadership in Ketchikan’s program, and even went so far as to blame himself for the closing.

“I point to myself first, as a leader of an organization like this, to try to find innovative ways to make programs like this work,” he said. “Because there’s just too much at risk.”

Ketchikan’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program was unique, said Eisenhower. There wasn’t much of a pattern when it came to kids from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and he had noticed a trend of male “littles” – kids in the program – being matched with “big couples,” a situation in which a married couple takes on the mentorship role. Eisenhower said that no matter the pairing, mentorship plays a big role in the life of little brothers and little sisters.

“At the end of the day, children need role models and children need relationships,” he said.

Eisenhower said the decision to shut down the local office was made by the Big Brothers Big Sisters national board of directors, and that the local leadership council was not consulted. He does not know how current mentorship matches will be handled.

For now, though, Eisenhower plans to take steps to reopen the office.

“I am planning to convene a meeting of interested folks to discuss the possibility of submitting a revitalized plan to the state,” he said. “But it’ll require more – it’s gonna require more bigs and more donors, locally, it’s gonna probably require some more leadership on my part, and other people on the leadership council, as well as just having a strong director is just hugely important.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters has operated in Ketchikan since 2002.