Paul Brennan (

January 7, 2020; Florida Times-Union

Over the past two years, NPQ has written a number of times about the plight of refugee resettlement agencies across the country. Federal limits on refugees and concomitant cuts in federal funding have left agencies with their staffs and resources cut to the bone. These agencies generally depend upon the language, cultural skills, and networks of seasoned staff, leaving them seriously hobbled were any refugees to be sent in their direction. Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida, for instance, has lost 75 percent of its resettlement funding in the past few years, along with 15 staff from its refugee services program. Some of these have been retained in other roles at the agency, keeping them potentially available.

Now, however, instead of taking apart any more of the front line, the organization has decided to eliminate the position of president and CEO. Thus, Mary Strickland, who has only been on the job since 2016, has left to become an independent consultant. She is to be replaced by Bill Brim, the former development director, as executive director. Brim started at the agency as a volunteer, so he is likely a good candidate for the tough job, which will require nothing if not a grounded commitment.

The organization was started by a consortium of Lutheran churches and Jacksonville community leaders, providing a variety of social services beyond refugee resettlement.  The federal cap on the number of refugees to be accepted was a direct hit to the hard-won but tenuous balance of revenue and expenses in many multi-service agencies. Elimination of funding for a core program sends the whole operation into a tailspin from which it may be hard to recover without extraordinary measures. Priorities change, and you consider terminating your president not because she has done an inadequate job, but because an entire network of nonprofits has been sabotaged, along with those they serve.

Still, as rocky as its road currently is, Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida has fared better than its sister agency, World Relief Jacksonville, which closed in midsummer.—Ruth McCambridge