The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

United Way troubles mean trouble for St. James Family Center


March 26, 2015

Folks at the St. James Family Center have been following the events at the United Way of Cowlitz and Wahkiakum Counties in Longview very closely.

A recent audit at the fundraising institution showed that a number of accounting errors led to an allocation of $200,000 more to its 23 partner agencies, including St. James, than had come in during fundraising last year.

Now St. James’ Executive Director Beth Hansen and members of the board of directors are waiting to see what will happen.

Every year in April, the board at United Way meets to discuss how they will disburse their funds. Last year St. James received $50,500, and like every year, the amount is divided by 12 and paid to them each month.

St. James has received its funding for this February, but they are still uncertain, as of March 24, whether they will receive any money for March. The new fiscal year begins in April and they have no idea what will happen.

“I don’t think United Way themselves have the full picture yet so they really haven’t been able to tell us,” Board Member Irene Martin said.

“I think they’ve told us pretty much what they know, which is there is going to be a shortfall. We have greatly benefited from United Way, this county has. I have nothing but good things to say about them. This is an unfortunate episode in what has otherwise been a pretty sterling organization.”

Regardless of how this plays out, Hansen and the board are determined to continue to provide their core programs—preschool and childcare—to this community.

“Several years ago, the board decided that those were our primary programs,” Board Member Rachael Wolford said, “and that whatever else we had to dispense with, they would stay. They are the ones that United Way supports.”

According to Hansen, United Way, which funds the programs that are hard to fund, pays for about 20 percent of the childcare and preschool budgets.

“These funds provide assistance to the people who don’t qualify for help from the state,” Wolford continued, “because they have too much income, but they can’t make it without help.”

“The working poor basically,” Martin said.

“They are the people who are going to be affected the most,” Wolford said.

Childcare is provided for children ages two and a half to 12 and includes before school and after school care. There is also a preschool for the three and four year olds. There is private pay for the parents who don’t qualify for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program provided for the state. The children all remain in the same classroom, which, Hansen says, works well for this community.

“These kids grow up together,” she said. “Plus, it’s really not daycare, it’s childcare, early learning and preschool.”

“Early childhood education affects your whole life,” Wolford said. “You do better in school, they’ve shown the statistics. More kids graduate from high school, college, get a good job, stay off drugs. All those things are affected by a good early education. That’s our aim, and that’s where we are going to have a shortfall.”

St. James offers childcare and preschool on a sliding scale based on income. Their rates are much lower than other programs across the state.

Hansen shared that the lower fees make it harder to find funding sources.

“A lot of funding sources aren’t interested in supporting childcare because they think you should be charging a higher fee,” she said, “but that’s not something we can do in our community. We don’t have a contract basis, we have a drop in basis. That is also very rare these days in childcare. Parents usually have to pay for the month whether they are there are not. We don’t do that because our community needs us to be here whether they need us one day a week or five days a week. Our board chooses to keep those fees lower, because that is what our families need to be able to bring our kids here.”

St. James, which receives no funding from Wahkiakum County, has also used the funds from United Way to pay for its very popular Youth Adventure Program every summer. In fact, it along with their mentoring program is completely funded by United Way dollars.

Last year, 52 children participated in YAP, which is much like a Parks and Recreation Program. The most popular component of the program is the field trips.

“It’s great,” Hansen said, “because some of these kids don’t get the opportunity to take a field trip to OMSI or Northwest Trek Wildlife Park otherwise.”

The Adult to Youth Mentoring Program isn’t very expensive to run, but a coordinator is paid to pair volunteers with kids that have been referred by the school and to provide assistance when needed.

“Those two programs are long term, successful programs,” Hansen said. “We’ll try to keep them, but if the money isn’t there we may have to go without them for a year and hope we can get funding after that.”

St. James has two other programs in the community which support themselves through the state. They are the Charlotte House, a domestic violence shelter and another program to address sexual assault in the community.

For now, Hansen and the board are committed to finding funding, especially for the childcare and preschool programs.

Hansen will be looking for grants, but acknowledges that grants take time, something St. James doesn’t have. Fund raisers are planned, and the board has already appealed for donations and will continue to do so.

“People have been far more generous than I have had any reason to anticipate,” Martin said. “However, we are going to have to have a fair number of donors to make this work. Right now, I’m satisfied and gratified about the support, but the reality is that we are going to need a lot more to make up these kinds of dollars.”

“It is unlikely that we will raise enough to cover what will not be coming from United Way,” Wolford said.

Still, they have to try.

To donate, call St. James at 360-795-8612.


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