Big Sisters’ Cuts Could Include Van Nuys Office : Social services: The financially strapped agency will shut down its Rosemead operation Monday.


Faced with a “very significant” deficit, Big Sisters of Los Angeles will close its San Gabriel Valley office Monday and could shut down its San Fernando Valley operation by the end of August, officials of the nonprofit organization announced Friday.

Prompted by a drop in donations, the closures will mean fewer new partnerships between girls from troubled homes and female role models such as Yvette Herrera, the nation’s Big Sister of the Year, who was matched through the Van Nuys branch.

“What we’ve figured is we’re going to have a 33% decrease in the number of new matches next year,” said Janet Schulman, executive director of Big Sisters of Los Angeles. “That really means that these kids are not going to get the role models they need.”


The Los Angeles agency, which is part of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, has offices in Van Nuys, Rosemead, Carson and Los Angeles. Countywide, the agency provides support services for 330 girls in need, 70 of whom are in the Valley.

Older women who volunteer as role models are matched with girls between the ages of 6 and 18, helping them with homework, taking them to cultural and educational attractions and providing someone to talk with, said Carol Holben, the agency’s program director. Most of the girls come from dysfunctional families.

Schulman said the Rosemead office will close because the agency cannot afford to renew the lease, which expires Monday. The office houses two part-time social workers who serve a clientele made up of mostly Asian and Latina youths. One social worker is leaving voluntarily, and the other will be transferred, Schulman said.

The agency is struggling to find resources to keep the Van Nuys branch office open past Aug. 31, when its lease expires.

Schulman said the financial difficulties of Big Sisters of Los Angeles stem from a decrease in private donations, which account for 85% of the agency’s funding, and government grants, which provide the rest.

“Over the past two years, we have lost 18% in revenues,” Schulman said. “Our budget deficit is very significant.”


The agency projects that only about $635,000 will be raised by the end of June for this fiscal year, far short of the $750,000 needed to run the operation at its current size.

Cases now handled out of the Rosemead office will be transferred to the mid-Wilshire office, creating problems for social workers and clients.

“Having that office closed means I won’t be able to supervise the matches in the way I was doing,” Venecia Back, a social worker in the Rosemead office, said. “I won’t be able to counsel the families through any crises that may come.”

Luke Fishburn, executive director of Catholic Big Brothers in Los Angeles, said he can empathize with Big Sisters’ plight. His organization was forced to trim $55,000 worth of services from its programs, but has managed to keep open all four branch offices, including one in Van Nuys.

“We’re sorry they need to do this, but I’m sure they will bounce back as the economy bounces back,” Fishburn said. “We’re all hurting for money.”

Yvette Herrera, who was honored last month by President Clinton as the 1993 National Big Sister by Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America, is already concerned about the potential loss of the Valley office.


“It will make it harder to recruit,” Herrera said, pointing out that many families have limited transportation. “If you have a car, you can drive down to the mid-Wilshire office for orientation. If you don’t have a car, it’s more complicated.”

The impending closure of the San Gabriel Valley office has already hit home for Rosie Rodriguez, whose family lives in a Baldwin Park residence that was often shattered by physical abuse in the past.

Rodriguez’s daughter, 6-year-old Nicole, has been waiting for a Big Sister for over a year. Her big sister by blood, 9-year-old Stephanie, also has been matched with a Big Sister under the program.

Rodriguez, who has seen Stephanie’s outlook on life improve dramatically with her Big Sister, said she will wait as long as it takes.

“I’ve seen a lot of change in Stephanie,” Rodriguez said. “Stephanie’s more open with (her Big Sister) than she is with me, which is just fine. I would wait a year for Nicole to get a match.”