Family Services adapts to United Way cuts

Al Renna
Al Renna

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Like a growing number of nonprofits, Family Services in Winston-Salem is reducing spending and retooling some of its programs as the recession cuts into its revenue.

The agency, which serves 5,000 families and has lost 10 percent of its funding from the state, has frozen salaries for its 110 employees and will be reexamining its pension plan, says Al Renna, president and CEO.

And after United Way of Forsyth County reduced its funding this year by $193,000 to $1.04 million, Family Services has decided to close its HELPline, a phone line launched in 1970 that provided mental-health assistance to local and regional callers.

Ending that program will eliminate two jobs, and Family Services also has decided not to fill two other vacant positions in its division that oversees its battered women’s shelter and programs that focus on domestic violence, offenders and sexual assault.

“This is a time where we need people to realize the losses that are going on in nonprofits right now,” says Renna.

Operating with an annual budget of $7.2 million, the agency also operates both a Head Start program that each year serves 500 children ages three to five, as well as family-solutions programs.

The Head Start program actually has seen its revenue grow to $4 million in federal grants this year from $3.4 million a year ago.

The agency’s family-solutions programs provides services in the areas of counseling, adoption, family loans and community outreach, which has included its HELPline and daily phone calls to fragile homebound people, usually people who are elderly or live with disabilities.

But Family Services also has seen a 20 percent decline in the average fee from families in treatment, Renna says.

Because they have lost jobs or income, he says, many families opt “not to stay in treatment as long as they should.”

The average fee for a counseling session, which costs the agency $120, has dropped in 10 months to $33 from $48.

“So the agency needs to pick up more subsidy from sources like United Way or contributions,” Renna says.

And he says Family Services has no data on the number of families whose worsening financial situation may be causing them not even to seek assistance.

In one bright spot, contributions to the agency have been flat, although revenue from Taste of the Town, the agency’s big annual fundraising event, fell to $11,000 from $25,000, mainly because of a plunge in corporate sponsorships.

But the biggest hit came from United Way, with its funding cut accounting the loss of $103,000 for Family Services’ phone assistance programs.

That reduction represented 60 percent of the budget for HELPline, which serves about 5,000 callers a year who lack regular access to mental-health services.

Renna says the service, reflecting at trend at similar programs throughout the U.S., has seen a steady reduction in call volume.

Family Services plans to restructure all its community-outreach programs to make better use of its 40 active volunteers, most of whom prefer to work the phone lines, fielding or making calls.

The agency requires phone-line volunteers to take 44 hours of training and commit themselves to one year of service, contributing at least one four-hour shift a week.

“We’re finding that, over the years, people are less and less willing to make those kinds of long-term commitments,” Renna says. “People like short-term volunteering.”

He says many nonprofits face financial challenges because of the recession.

“A lot of nonprofits, not just us, are having to reduce services because of funding losses,” he says. “So it’s really important to support their nonprofit causes at whatever level they’re capable of. This is the time where even small gifts count.”

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