Janice McKenzie-Crayton, President and CEO, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta
By Caroline Cox
For 20 years, Janice McKenzie-Crayton has led Metro Atlanta’s Big Brothers Big Sisters, “one of the largest and oldest mentoring programs in the South.” The program, which celebrated its 50th year in 2010, connects highly-trained mentors with more than 3,000 local children facing adversity to guide them toward education and lifelong success. Through BBBSMA, McKenzie-Crayton and her diverse, multi-cultural staff also assist ESL children and those struggling in school. Last year, BBBSMA was one of five area nonprofits to receive a $25,000 Sprint Foundation grant for its Mentoring Children of Prisoners program, which works with more than 1,000 children of an incarcerated parent or guardian.
McKenzie-Crayton is no stranger to nonprofits. Prior to her current role, she spent 15 years as a fundraiser in higher education. She’s been the VP for Development at Spelman College, an administrator at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Howard University and has served on numerous boards. Two years after joining BBBS, she instituted the highly successful Legacy Awards Gala, which today generates $500,000 dollars for the agency. “Mentoring changes children’s lives for the better, forever,” says McKenzie-Crayton. “We see it every day.”
PINK: How does your organization improve the community?
Janice McKenzie-Crayton:By helping children realize their potential, training adult mentors who help children reach their goals and graduate from high school on time, going on to college and becoming productive members of our community. If children are doing better in school and interacting more with other children, we all benefit. Our mentoring programs give adults the opportunity to volunteer and give back. We are proud to see so many of the “Littles” grow up to become “Bigs” themselves. It becomes cyclical.
PINK: How do you get the word out about your organization?
JMC:Mostly through word of mouth. Parents and guardians who enroll their children experience such positive change; they share that with other parents. The same is true with volunteers. Our “Bigs” enjoy the work they do and other adults to participate. We also work hard to garner pro-bono advertising to spread our message and recruit more volunteers. We raise dollars through grants, special events and corporate and individual support. Over the years we have grown the budget from $1.4 million to a high of $4.5 million.
PINK: What’s been your proudest moment?
JMC:Four years ago, [a woman named] Robinett was matched with her Little Sister, Alexandria. Robinett has seen Alexandria grow significantly from 12 to 16 years old. When they met, Alexandria had problems with her self-esteem, social attitudes and school, especially math. After two years together, Alexandria began to come out of her shell and has focus on her goals. Now, four years later, she’s confident and has an outgoing nature. She has gone from a D student to a B student and is a member of her high school drama club. At age 16, she’s performed the National Anthem during ROTC events and a major football games.
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