The holiday season brings about a myriad of emotions – thankfulness, gratitude, a bit of introspection and with it the realization that it has been a tough year. I love my job – it feeds my soul and it is such critical work! But there is a difficult side to working in a non-profit organization, especially one doing anti-poverty work.
The truth is, organizations like SCCAP support the social infrastructure in a community. But we are often invisible, operating under the radar. We help low-wage earners afford child care so they can work (imagine if more than 50% of your $10.00 per hour job went to child care costs – how could you afford to work?) We weatherize houses so individuals can afford to heat and cool their houses, saving energy usage positively impacting the environment. We provide temporary housing in our shelters and case management for those families so that they can get back on their feet and support themselves and their children. We provide hard skill job training and critical soft skill training and emotional and social supports so that individuals from generational poverty can become productive workers, breaking the cycle of poverty. We provide nutrition classes, and one on one supports, as well as, healthy food for families to improve their health and welfare – which saves health care costs in the short and long run. We provide small scholarships for individuals to get skill training and certification to help improve their earning potential. We provide free trainings, poverty simulations and other assistance to the faith community, businesses, social services, the faith community and education so that they can get better outcomes from the families we serve.
We provide a hand up and support the local economic and social infrastructure – strengthening our community. But on a constant basis we face with budget cuts and the need to do more with less. Eleven years ago when I first became the Executive Director of SCCAP, we were serving about 16,000 clients with a staff of 160, today we serve more than 32,000 with a staff of 106 – and our funding is almost exactly the same. When I started, I took over our IT support – we had roughly 26 computers to support and one server. I still support our IT today but now we have more than 106 computers, 2 servers and 3 websites on top of my normal duties. And I am not alone. Most of my staff now do the work of more than one staff person. We are incredibly administratively thin – pushing dollars to fill gaps in services to clients. We are doing more with less and stretched so thin that I sometimes wonder how we do what we do so well (we are a top performer in every program and we have earned PANO’s Standards of Excellence Accreditation).Then in June we received news that Utility Assistance was being moved from community partners to a universal call center – significantly cutting our emergency services funding which keeps our food pantries open. Then in October we found that we received 80% cuts to shelter operation funding (from a request of $176,000 reduced to $36,000). No warning. No control over those kind of cuts – not related to how hard you work or your outcomes – just a change in direction of a funder. And so we find ourselves again trying to figure out how to make it work. How to keep critical programs open. How to do more with less. How to keep serving 32,000 clients and keep 106 staff employed. Poverty is not a SCCAP problem, it is a community problem. Aging, addiction, housing, mental health, children with disabilities are not problems owned by non-profits – they are community problems. I urge you, during this holiday season, to find organizations in your local community that impact issues you care about and support them with your time, funding and talents – we need you! We really need you! And I promise – the feeling you receive from making a difference in the lives of others is far greater than the feeling you get from any gift under a tree!