Story last updated at 8/26/2009 - 2:10 pm
HAINES - Burl Sheldon is stepping down as director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of upper Lynn Canal, a program he has led since its inception here in 2003. His resignation is effective Sept. 3.
A community organizer who also launched Haines Friends of Recycling, Sheldon said he's returning to teaching, his former profession. He taught high school math and science and worked at Haines High School part-time for two years.
"The most compelling reason I'm leaving is to do something new. It's time to let somebody do this job who has a fresh perspective," he said.
The local program served 63 youths last year, and has an annual budget of $85,000.
Taber Rehbaum, head of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Alaska, said Sheldon was a standout among the 32 community programs statewide. He stayed in the position longer than most of his peers and his leadership was a model for the organization in rural areas.
He also helped advise the statewide organization.
"I can't say enough good things about Burl," Rehbaum said. "He cares about kids and he cares about the community, and that combination has brought people into the program. As a result, there are kids in Haines who have a much better chance in life."
Sheldon said participation in the program peaked in 2007 when about one-third of local students in kindergarten through fifth grade were involved. The number of local "matches" is currently 44, with a goal of 68. However, matches typically increase in fall with the resumption of school, he said.
Sheldon also said he'd like to see Big Brothers grow in Skagway but there hasn't been the same public embrace of the program there as in Haines.
"We're not recruiting volunteers the way we did earlier in the organization," Sheldon said. "If somebody enjoys kids and wants to make a positive impact on a child's life, this a clean and easy way to do it."
Sheldon credited donations from local businesses and individuals for the program's success - "For rural communities, we really set the standard for the state" - and said the job involves recruiting volunteers, raising money and checking on matches.
"It's a sacred trust," he said. "You're taking families and children and matching them with perfect strangers. A fairly significant piece of the job is focused on match quality. It requires a higher level of involvement than simply making matches."
Former Haines Borough mayor Mike Case and Haines School District officials were early and important supporters of the program, Sheldon said. The program came to to Lynn Canal through a special federal appropriation secured by U.S. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said Mark Wheeler of Juneau, who led the program in Southeast and hired Sheldon.
"There were requests for years to start a program in Haines. We made a trip and talked to people and they were really excited about it," Wheeler said.
Rehbaum said she was confident the local program would continue to be strong, in part because of a strong community advisory board here that broadens exposure and support.
"We'll miss Burl (but) it's such a strong program in Haines, I don't fear for (its future)," she said.
Members of the local advisory group include Greg Brask, Darsie Culbeck, Fuzzy von Stauffenberg, Niki Ritzinger and Teresa Raven.