October 18, 2016; Florida Times-Union

Community Connections of Jacksonville is 105 years old, and it has decided to go with out with dignity.

Founded in 1911 as the YWCA of Jacksonville, CCJ has provided support for lower income women and families for over a century. Lately, the majority of its $4.5 million annual budget has come from federal dollars, including a good chunk from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) transitional housing support. But as federal policy began to shift in 2012 to emphasize permanent housing, the organization was faced with a crisis in the making unless it was able to raise other monies and or change its program design.

The organization’s CEO resigned in September, and in the course of a “strategic planning process to refocus [its] mission and further reinvigorate the organization” preliminary to a new CEO search, “they came to a fairly quick conclusion…HUD funding has virtually disappeared because of the new science of housing.”

In the face of this “very difficult future” to come, board chairman Jerry Mallot announced this week the agency’s decision to close. Mallot says that at some point, the board recognized that part of why they were holding on was personal.

“Should pride be the reason we stay in business?” Mallot said Tuesday, fighting to maintain composure. “We’ve been at this process for 45 days…none of us expected to be on the board that would have to take this really difficult action.”

The Jessie Ball duPont Fund, which funded the planning process, has a special relationship with the organization.

“I have enormous respect for the history of Community Connections,” said Sherry Magill, the foundation’s president, “They have offered great services to people who deserved it,” she said Tuesday. “We have funded Community Connections since [founder] Mrs. duPont wrote her first check to them. They have a proud history.”

Board members and staff have been working hard to ensure that their programs and clients are going to good homes at other agencies, and about 80 percent of the staff will follow them. Other nonprofits have volunteered to help the rest find employment.

“Transitional housing is going away,” Mallot said, adding that the federal policy change should prompt a “community discussion” on housing. DuPont’s Magill agrees, saying that said the local public, private, and nonprofit sectors must get involved in considering the full array of housing options, permanent and not, supported and independent, needed in the community.—Ruth McCambridge