Downturn, budget cuts harsh reality for NECD

By Jamese Slade

NCCU Staff Writer

the Durham VOICE

Although the City of Durham is investing in NECD to revitalize it, organizations involved in the movement are struggling. It is becoming harder to help the community when their programs and organizations are falling victim to the economic crisis.

The Council for Senior Citizens which works on health promotion, and provides transportation, information and case assistance, caregiver support services, and adult day services has been hit in several ways.

“We are putting an effort into fundraising more this year to compensate for cuts,” said Gail Fouare, Executive Director. “We are looking for ways to cut down on expenses such as utilities and writing proposals to receive more grants.”

She also said the economy has taken a toll on many people’s lives and many older citizens between the ages of 60 and 65 are getting laid off and losing their benefits.

“They are not old enough to get their Medicare and more senior citizens are coming in looking for food,” said Fouare. “Staff members have never seen anything like this before, with the number of seniors seeking assistance due to the economy. They come to our program looking for assistance with food, rent, utilities, insurance and healthcare.”

Joel Reitzer, Executive Director of Durham’s General Services Department, said that GSD is doing everything they can with shrinking budgets.

“We received less money to work with by far than other years, and the economy has affected a few jobs,” said Reitzer of the department responsible for building parks, renovating buildings and keeping them clean.

Reitzer said that funds remain for unfinished projects, and GSD can still hire small businesses to do services for the organization. “We are doing our best to get the work out on the street to help the local economy as much as possible.”

Durham C.A.N., a group formed by 30 different congregations, associations and neighborhoods is also feeling the effects of the economy.

Members work in action teams that focus on four issues: youth and education, health, housing and neighborhoods, and jobs and economic development.

Ivan Parra, C.A.N.’s lead organizer, reports that contributions have decreased 10-15 percent. They are looking for other ways of raising money, “but we haven’t been able to hire additional staff due to the decrease,” said Parra.

In 2003 — better times for fundraising — .C.A.N. was able to raise $1.2 million in private and public dollars to save 688 children of working families from being displaced from daycare due to financial shortfalls.

Renorda Herring, the Executive Director of Durham Companions Mentoring Programming, is troubled by the budget cuts that her program is facing. “We received less money to work with by far than other years,” said Herring.

The program mainly works with kids who are first offenders. They provide mentors who spend time with kids for two hours a week for a year.

“They do activities that the child enjoys, and also set goals for the child,” says Herring. “Whether it’s working on conflict resolutions or anger management, the mentor focuses on whatever issue the child needs to work on.”

According to Herring, the grants that they have been receiving over the past 20 years have been cut. “Seven percent of the city and county grants and 66 percent of the state grants have been cut. We have lost 65-70 percent of our budget.”

The number of volunteers has also dropped. “It may be because people are picking up second jobs, but we used to get 2-3 volunteers per month and within the last couple of months we have received none,” she said. “The need is going up but we haven’t been able to provide.”

With the grants being cut, Herring said the NECD community will be affected tremendously.

“Either you pay now or you pay later,” she said. “Our program is to intervene. It takes $8 a day to mentor a child and around $168 a day to take care of a child in juvenile jail or a group home.”

But some organizations are continuing to thrive despite the economic downturn.

“We have yet to see how the economy will affect us directly,” says John Mitterling, Director of Development of the John Avery Boys and Girls Club. “We feel confident that by December we will be able to raise the funding needed, but it will take continued support the Durham Community and leaders throughout the triangle.”

According to Toby Barfield, executive director of the Central North Carolina Chapter of the Red Cross, donations have risen 10-15 percent between last and this year. “Money donors understand that the community dollars keeps the Red Cross going,” he said, adding that the need for money, volunteers, and donors never goes away.

“Blood donations have risen and some people can not afford to give money so they think then I can give blood. Volunteering is up as well.”