Frederick Alliance for Youth suspends programs -- Gazette.Net


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The Frederick Alliance for Youth has disbanded its programs serving at-risk students and their families in the Hillcrest area, but leaders of the city-based nonprofit organization are still searching for ways to provide services.

Citing a lack of sufficient revenues, alliance officials on Friday disbanded the group’s two core programs — an after-school and summer initiative that served 25 Hillcrest Elementary School children and a counseling program designed to help families in the diverse Hillcrest area overcome economic, language and cultural barriers.

The alliance, founded in 2005, has also laid off its five staff members, effectively reducing the organization to a five-member board of directors, which now has to decide how the group will function in the future.

“We are just kind of regrouping,” board Chairman David Esworthy said. “But our goal is to continue to serve the community in the Hillcrest area.”

The alliance was formed with the goal of strengthening the communities along the U.S. 40 west corridor.

The board will spend the coming weeks redefining the group’s mission and developing a long-term, sustainable plan of action, Esworthy said. The group will then seek grants from regional and local foundations, as well as appeal to individual corporate donors and organizations in the community.

Ultimately, the board hopes to revive at least its family counseling program, which assigned mentors to work with the families of at-risk students at Hillcrest and Waverley elementary schools and West Frederick and Monocacy middle schools.

The program has proven effective in assisting families in the area that struggle with English and need assistance with accessing community services that may be available to them, Esworthy said.

“There is a lot of economic stress in that area,” he said. “There is a lot of need for our services.”

Rocky Mackintosh, vice chairman of the board, said the problem was that the alliance had relied too much on a grant from a single donor and had not taken sufficient steps to build a wider donor base in the community.

The majority of the program’s initial $625,000 budget is based on a $495,000 grant from the Ausherman Family Foundation, according to online tax records.

But over the last few years, the Ausherman grant funding has been reduced, while it has become harder to find funds from other sources. The grant expires in fiscal 2013, which ends June 30, and, due to the weak economy, the group has not been able to find additional funding sources to replace it, Esworthy said.

“The economy plays a part in it,” he said. “It’s much more difficult to raise funds for a nonprofit.”

The group’s Chief Executive Officer Scott Alexander, who had been with the organization since its inception, resigned from his position in the spring. Alexander’s salary was $122,396 in 2011, according to the group’s tax documents.

Program successful

Recognizing rising crime levels among youth in the west Frederick area, developer Marvin Ausherman had provided the startup funding for the group, which was intended to help area students achieve academic success, build a stronger neighborhood, give local families the tools to support themselves and reduce juvenile crime.

The group had hoped to create a $4.7-million community center off of Hillcrest Drive that could serve as a service hub for youth and families, and provide youngsters with a safe place to engage in positive activities.

Operating out of the Hillcrest Community Center, the alliance worked with a variety of youth service providers, including the Boys and Girls Club of Frederick County, Frederick County Public Schools, Frederick Community College, the Frederick Community Action Agency, the Banner School, the Police Activities League, the Downtown Piano Works and the Frederick County Housing Authority.

The group last year served 522 area youth and 613 family members, according to Esworthy.

Among other services, the organization ran Club Explore — a free after-school and summer program that provided individualized academic help, homework and enrichment activities to about 25 Hillcrest Elementary students in first through fifth grade.

The alliance also provided a Family Mentor and Empowerment program, assigning mentors to do family visits, teach parents how to set goals for themselves and their children, connecting families to community services and engaging area parents in workshops and family nights, with the goal of integrating them into the community.

The organization has reported success meeting its goals.

All of Club Explore students maintained a “C” average at school, while 89 percent maintained a “B” average, according to its annual summary report for 2011-12.

Students in the program had 96 percent attendance in class, while getting no detentions for disciplinary problems. For the entire year, only one student from the program was suspended from school, the summary said.

The organization also found that at least 93 percent of students in the after-school program achieved satisfactory or better scores in time management, self-control and organizational skills.

Continuing efforts

Efforts are under way to find services for the closed program’s clients.

The children who attended Club Explore have now been given the opportunity to continue with the YMCA of Frederick County, which already offered an after-school program in the area, Esworthy said.

The YMCA is working in a partnership with the alliance to ensure a seamless transition, and officials at the organization have agreed to offer the service free of charge to the 25 Hillcrest Elementary students who were already in the program, according to Esworthy.

Officials at neither the Ausherman Family Foundation nor the Frederick County YMCA could be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The alliance informed families of the change last week before discontinuing the program on Friday, Esworthy said.

“We did have an in-person meeting with the families, and they were so complimentary of the quality of the service they had received,” he said. “While it was difficult, it was a positive conversation.”

The group is also working with area youth service providers to find jobs for the five staff members who have been laid off.

“It was very hard to make those decisions and we tried to hold off ...” Mackintosh said. “But we just don’t have the money to [keep them].”

Despite the closure, members of the board of directors are still optimistic and believe they will find new ways to continue to serve the Hillcrest Community. The program now has to focus on making itself more visible to potential donors and organizations that can continue to support its existence, Mackintosh said.

Like Esworthy, Mackintosh said that the alliance should focus its efforts on services such as the family counseling program, which has proven to be a benefit in the area.

“In many cases, those counselors became a bridge for these families to what Frederick County has to offer,” he said. “That is really what is missing in that community.”

Mackintosh is also optimistic that as the group streamlines its services, it will be able to find support from individual and corporate donors to continue services.

“I think we’ve got a very compelling story,” he said. “There are five of us, and we are all really dedicated to this community.”

mraycheva@gazette.net