Archive for Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Alliance hopes to improve financial picture

Loss of $250,000 federal grant a major blow to countywide group that provides help to women and children

December 20, 2006

The setbacks just keep coming and Anna Andersen wonders if they'll ever slow down.

Five months after the Alliance Against Family Violence learned a $250,000 federal grant would not be renewed, the agency is still scrambling to stay afloat even after several fundraisers and a $25,000 one-time grant from Leavenworth County.

Andersen, comptroller and grant coordinator for the alliance, said the fall months have been especially difficult because the agency had to fund the replacement of a water heater, a dishwasher and a washing machine for AAFV facilities.

"It just seems just as we have everything going ... We've had to have our roof replaced and redone. That happened in August or September. It flooded our executive director's office," she said.

Since July, one part-time and four full-time positions have been eliminated, in addition to the agency's substance abuse program for victims.

The program, which began four years ago, provided free weekly small-group drug and alcohol abuse counseling for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Andersen said the program was crucial because it was the only free substance-abuse counseling service -- with the exception of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous -- in the county.

"Plus, it encompassed the part of being victimized," she said. "A lot of times victims will turn to substances to help cope with the trauma in their life and be able to continue each day.

"Most of our victims have children. And if we can keep our victims sober and clean, they then become better parents."

Grant help possible

Andersen said she's applying for a federal alcohol and drug education grant that, if approved, could be worth up to $60,000.

"It's not a huge one, but it would re-establish the program," she said.

And she's applied for a federal Legal Assistance for Victims grant worth $250,000 that would provide legal services for AAFV clients.

In the meantime, Andersen said, she worries that more AAFV services will be cut.

"We are now working at a skeleton crew. If we have just one employee quit or become severely ill, or lose anymore funding, we're gonna have to end other programs. Unfortunately, the next one will probably be our police response program."

Police response advocates visit the scene of domestic assault incidents in Leavenworth County to offer support, resources and alternatives to victims.

Andersen said the program has played a crucial role in reducing domestic violence homicides in Leavenworth County since 2002.

"It gives a little more comfort. I've had officers tell me, 'She wouldn't say a word to me until you came in.' They are truly there to hear their side and find out what they need," Andersen said of the advocates.

Among the other free services AAFV provides are a 24-hour crisis line, parenting classes, emergency shelter for victims, court advocacy, and therapy and support groups for children and adults.

Andersen said the only two programs for which the agency charges -- child care and domestic violence prevention classes -- just break even.

Trying again

This summer's denial of the $250,000 Rural Domestic Violence and Child Victimization Grant will not deter Andersen from re-applying for the federal money again in January, she said. The grant provided a significant chunk of AAFV's $900,000 annual budget.

"We provide over 500 individuals yearly with just this one grant," she said. "It helped pay for the rent, it helped pay for supplies, it paid for training."

Andersen said the remainder of the agency's funding comes from a mix of sources, including federal and state grants, Leavenworth County, the cities of Lansing and Leavenworth, Fort Leavenworth, the United Way and donations.

Andersen said the alliance approached the Leavenworth City Commission on Nov. 21, asking for a one-time grant of $25,000 to help fund its programs.

She said she was hopeful the request would be granted but the agency's staff and volunteers also had stepped up their fundraising efforts to help fill the gap.

In August, an annual golf tournament and an inaugural motorcycle poker run raised more than $10,000 for AAFV's 20 programs. Andersen already is seeking sponsors and donations for the next motorcycle poker run, scheduled for May 12.

Bingo Night in October raised $500, and a service-learning project at the University of Saint Mary brought in $350.

Altogether, fundraisers and cash donations since July have yielded $94,500.

Andersen said that figure also includes the in-kind funding donation by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth for Sister Jane Albert Mehrens' time as outreach coordinator at the alliance.

Andersen also is plugging state tax credits for Kansas residents and businesses that donate cash to the agency.

"A $1,000 donation actually costs $50 after you take the federal tax deduction and the Kansas Tax Credit," she said.

Haven't given up

Leavenworth resident Stephanie Balock, a former paid employee and now a volunteer at AAFV, said she was pleased that the agency's staff is fighting to keep the programs alive.

"Even though their spirits have been somewhat broken, they haven't given up," Balock said. "They provide help and guidance to so many in the community."

Balock volunteers eight hours a week as a sexual assault advocate for victims and a facilitator of an adolescent anger-management class.

She said that after she quit her job at AAFV, she returned as a volunteer because she believed in the agency's importance to the community.

"I felt like I made a real difference ... I was the person that people could talk to or turn to," Balock said.

Andersen said she also would keep touting the reach of the agency's programs so that Leavenworth County residents -- and the federal government -- understand their impact.

From July to November, Andersen said, AAFV provided services to 404 adults and 147 children.

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