Artis Stevens says he had no idea it was coming. The president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America says he "was in awe" when MacKenzie Scott's representatives called with the news the mentoring organization would receive $122.6 million. "They told me the information and told me the number and I was floating on cloud nine," Stevens tells NPR.
Scott's gift will support BBBSA and 38 of its local agencies, "in furthering its mission to ensure every young person has access to powerful mentoring experiences that empower them for success in school, life and career," according to a statement. It is the largest donation from an individual the organization has ever received since its founding in 1904.
Stevens says the organization currently matches some 250,000 adult mentors with young people around the country. Scott's donation "will create access to millions of more mentoring experiences by deepening our 1:1 relationships and expanding new ways to mentor kids," according to a spokesperson.
More than 12 million children in the U.S. live in poverty and more than 13 million young people experience emotional, behavioral or developmental conditions like depression. Big Brothers Big Sisters of America reports that, "during the height of the pandemic, 20 percent of youth served by Big Brothers Big Sisters lost contact with an important adult in their lives."
About 40% of BBBSA's work is done through schools. When the pandemic forced schools to close, Stevens says volunteers changed course by delivering food, setting up homework help in front yards and Wi-Fi in communities.
MacKenzie Scott helped build Amazon with her ex-husband, founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos. When they divorced in 2019, she received a 4% stake in Amazon. Her estimated net worth is $48.3 billion. Thus far she's given away more than $12 billion to nearly 1,200 groups. In a blog post for Medium she wrote that her focus is on "the needs of underrepresented people from groups of all kinds." She recently donated $275 million to Planned Parenthood.
"When our giving team focuses on any system in which people are struggling," writes Scott, "we don't assume that we, or any other single group, can know how to fix it. We don't advocate for particular policies or reforms. Instead, we seek a portfolio of organizations that supports the ability of all people to participate in solutions."