Two Nonprofits Face their Ends and Two Communities React

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October 30, 2016; Scottsbluff Star Herald and The Day

Two recent news stories highlight the financial troubles of a childcare center and a youth-serving organization in different regions of the country. In one case, the property of a former organization, which has been vacant and in disrepair for some time, is now being foreclosed upon; in another, supporters are having to regroup as a new nonprofit because of the recent minimum wage increase. Together, these two cases serve as a valuable reminder of the ongoing challenges that come with capacity building for small organizations—even those that have provided valued services to local communities.

According to the Day, the city of Norwich, Connecticut, has started the process of foreclosing on the property that three years ago was home to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center. As background on the organization, the Day notes, “The youth center, which was established in 1967, has had a long history of ups and downs, tied mainly to funding woes, political infighting in decades past, lack of volunteers and mounting costs.” According to the center’s last remaining board member, M. Garfield Rucker, in 2013 without a steady source of income, the organization ceased operating and turned off all utilities. In closing down the organization’s operations, the leaders did not renew the organization’s tax-exempt status. Property tax bills continued to accrue—to a level of $20,292 as of last week.

Several news stories confirmed the decline of the MLK Community Center: “Community Center Almost Forgotten” and “Vandals Ransack Norwich MLK Center.” Norwich resident David Holland is presently working to revive the center in appreciation for his treasured early experiences there. “When I was a kid, I never would have gone to the Basketball Hall of Fame or Fenway Park if it had not been for that center,” he recalled.

Across the country, in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, the Calvary Lutheran School, which provides early childcare services, is set to close on January 31, 2017 according to the Star Herald. Nebraska’s recent minimum wage increase added an additional 10 percent to the organization’s payroll costs, and the organization decided to close. What separates this story from the Norwich story is some parents who were able to regroup quickly and form a new nonprofit. Led by parent Stu Kissick, with the name Twin Cities Early Child Care Center, the group has identified a possible alternative space and has a major donor lined up who may be able to help with the hefty startup and permit costs that come with opening a new childcare facility. Still, even from a somewhat advantageous position, Kissick told the Star Herald, “Parents fear that the community has forgotten early childcare providers. It’s not a popular cause to fundraise for.”

“It’s sad that these nonprofits have such difficulty,” Norwich Mayor Deberey Hinchey told the Day. She added, “I don’t know what the answer is for something like the Martin Luther King Center, which did great things.”

The ability to respond to change in a changing economic climate is an ongoing challenge in the nonprofit sector, and particularly difficult for organizations with limited capacity to shift quickly in a time of crisis.—Anne Eigeman