March 21, 2002 – The executive director of Family Resource Center says the 11th hour has come for the organization that since 1986 has been helping victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse and other crimes.
The center's board met in emergency session on Thursday to discuss the future of the not-for-profit organization, given its current financial condition and what were described as unreasonable demands by the V.I. government. Executive Director Michal Rhymer said that unless the government provides some financial relief, the agency may be forced to close.
"We are telling Human Services you cannot continue to send us clients. You cannot continue to tell us to do more with less at a time when we're being funded at the lowest levels in 16 years," Rhymer said.
The 13-member board agreed at the meeting to endorse the ultimatum. But Rhymer said further steps may also result that could lead to the organization's demise.
In 2001 Family Resource Center served nearly a thousands clients, some 700 of them new cases, including domestic violence, child abuse cases and court referrals. Rhymer said 90 percent of the cases being handled now were referred by the Human Services Department, even though the center is not an official subgrantee of Human Services funds.
Rhymer praised efforts by Human Services Commissioner Sedonie Halbert to identify sources of supplemental funding but said the situation has become so critical that it will take nothing less than a new commitment by the government to turn the situation around.
In spite of the critical role of FRC and other crisis-intervention agencies primarily serving women and children, the V.I. government provides funding to them through a line item in the miscellaneous portion of its executive budget. For Fiscal Year 2002, that portion has been slashed to $60,000 from $150,000 through a series of budget cuts.
Local government funding represents 20 to 25 percent of total annual funding for FRC, Rhymer said, but revenues raised and expenditures programmed are so closely matched that a glitch in cash flow can completely disrupt the center's operation.
More than 65 percent of the center's funding comes from federal grants, many of which require a local fund-raising match, she said. In addition, community fund-raising brings in $100,000 to $150,000 yearly, covering utilities, rent and worker salaries.
As of Thursday, quarterly payments due from the V.I. government were nearly three months late, at a time when the center has just moved its offices to save money on operating expenses. Unmet payroll forced administrators to go to the bank for loans to cover paychecks, Rhymer said, and now, any money coming in the form of donations has to be paid to the bank.
When concerned citizens became aware of the crisis through media reports Thursday, Rhymer said, telephones at the center started to ring. Some vendors pledged free supplies; some supporters sent checks. But staff members are urging the callers to lobby lawmakers for additional funding.
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole was one who called. According to FRC personnel, he said he would introduce a bill to restore $65,000 to the center's budget in the Committee of the Whole. But Rhymer said a vote was unlikely to come up for a month. And that, she said, might be too late.
No decision has been made yet on whether to close Family Resource Center, she said, but the possibility is very real. She said hates to talk about the matter at the center offices because it frightens the clients. But she is definitely not throwing in the towel. "I have not yet begun to fight," she said. "We are going to continue fighting for the survival of this agency."
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