PLATTSBURGH When it comes to raising money, one organization has found that its okay to drop the ball in fact, its dropped thousands of them. For the past four years, the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity of Clinton and Franklin Counties has continued to take advantage of a unique fundraiser for the North Country, the annual Golf Ball Drop. The event was first coordinated in 2004 by JCEO development director Amy L. Kretser and has been a hit ever since. When I came on as development director, JCEO wanted to host a special event to raise money, explained Kretser. There was talk of a golf tournament, but the area was so saturated with tournaments that I wanted to come up with something else. Kretser initially toyed with the idea of hosting a golf ball, a gala which would have involved dancing with a high society theme. However, in researching such an event on the Internet, she found an organization in Arkansas that held its own golf ball drop, leading her to want to try the event here. It just sounded like something that would be fun, Kretser said. And, fun it has been. The first years event saw interest begin to build, as well as the year after. Last year, 1,200 people participated. The concept is simple, said Kretser. Numbered golf balls are sold by the JCEO for $20 each leading up to the day of the event. On the day of the drop, the balls are released from a height of more than 50 feet, courtesy of equipment provided by Lenny Martin and the Keeseville Volunteer Fire Department. The closest ball to the regulation-size golf course hole wins a portion of the proceeds from the balls sold. If all 3,000 available golf balls are sold, the first place winner receives $10,000. We havent reached that many yet, but were getting up there, said Kretser. We want to give away $10,000. When we can do that, I dont think well ever have a problem getting people to participate. Last year, the JCEO gave away nearly $5,000, with the first place winner taking home about $4,000, she said. Cash prizes were also given away to the second and third closest to the hole and, for those thinking they are less than fortunate, even the furthest from the hole. Weve got a prize for them, too, Kretser said. While participants should be excited about their chance to bring home some extra cash from the event, Kretser said whats even more important is what the rest of proceeds benefit, the JCEO Big Buddy youth mentoring program. The program takes children from low-income families who are classified as being at risk and pairs them with an age-appropriate mentor to enjoy fun activities. When people think about at risk, they tend to think of children at risk of being involved with drugs, alcohol and truancy, said Kretser. These kids arent necessarily at risk of those things, but are at risk of missing out on the opportunities that a lot of the other kids have. The Big Buddy program is an opportunity for those kids to be able to go skiing at Whiteface Mountain or visit the Montreal Planetarium things they might not otherwise get the chance to do, said Kretser. They dont get the chances that other kids get to go to Montreal, or to even go to the mall, Kretser said. Those who are isolated in the far reaches of our North Country cant always afford to drive into Plattsburgh or cross the ferry to go to Burlington. The Big Buddy program receives no state or federal government funding, being essentially funded by donations, Kretser said. While the program receives funding through the United Way of Clinton and Essex Counties and businesses like Stewarts Shops, funding is still needed, she said. This years Golf Ball Drop will again be held at Barracks Golf Course on Idaho Avenue Friday, Aug. 8, at 3 p.m. Those interested in purchasing a golf ball for this years Golf Ball Drop may do so by contacting Kretser at the JCEO offices, 54 Margaret St., or by calling 561-6310.