Human Services Organization Weathers Financial Storm
By: Michael C. Bailey
The Community Action Committee of Cape Cod and the Islands (CACCCI) has long been a vital resource for families in need, and that agency is now undergoing a transformation to address recent needs of its own and make it more efficient and effective going forward.
“It’s just a mess that needed to be cleaned up a little,” said Paul J. Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission and member of the CACCCI board of directors. “We’re going to be getting back to basics.”
Founded in 1965, the CACCCI provides a wide range of services aimed at assisting low-income residents attain self-sufficiency, as evidenced by the agency’s motto, “Helping People Help Themselves.” Among the many available offerings: job training and placement, childcare service referrals, homelessness prevention, transitional housing referrals, income tax preparation assistance, shelter referrals for abused women and children, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and immigrant outreach.
The Cape agency serves about 13,000 individuals annually.
It is one among two dozen in Massachusetts that belong to the Massachusetts Association of Community Action (MASSCAP), which works with the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and other state agencies to support the organizations.
Community Action Committees receive their funding through federal and state sources, and through local private donors. Like many nonprofits, the CACCCI has been dealing with the dual hardship of decreased resources even as the need for their services has grown—both the result of the poor economy.
“We were left trying to cover our core programs with diminishing resources,” Mr. Niedzwiecki said, adding that this was not “a normal cyclical event…we’re living in an era of diminished public resources, and I don’t think they’re bounding back any time soon.”
The board of directors first became aware of how bad things were last year during Fiscal Year 2013 budget planning, when they realized just how reliant on grants the organization was for its revenue stream.
Then in February, Estella M. Fritzinger resigned as executive director after five years in the position. Mr. Niedzwiecki characterized her departure as “more personal than professional,” but said Mr. Fritzinger had in later years become more focused on program development than on the financial aspects of the agency.
The state conducted a forensic audit of the agency’s books following Mr. Fritzinger’s departure, which is when the board learned that payroll taxes had gone unpaid in the first and second quarters of 2012 to meet payroll.
“It took three months to do the audit,” Mr. Niedzwiecki said, “which I think is too long…but it wound up being a good thing for the board since we then had to really focus on our operations and expenses.”
Mr. Niedzwiecki stressed that the nonprofit was not in imminent danger of closing its doors, “but changes definitely had to be made.”
In an effort to save the agency, the board of directors instituted a series of sweeping changes designed to decrease CACCCI’s overhead, pay off its debt, and restructure its programs.
The first step was to bring in Kristina E. Dower, executive director of Job Training and Employment Corporation (JTEC), as the organization’s interim executive director. “JTEC was hired by [CACCCI] to provide interim management services” through the end of December, Ms. Dower said.
“We became aware of the fact [ CACCCI] was going through a transition, and we offered our service to them,” Ms. Dower said. Previously the two agencies worked together by cross-referring their respective clients; community action committee would refer clients to JTEC for job training and placement services, while JTEC would point parents returning to the workforce to CACCCI for childcare service referrals.
Mr. Niedzwiecki said the board will next month begin preparing a formal job description for the executive director position, a first step toward filling the vacancy on a permanent basis.
The job training firm also offered CACCCI new office space at its North Main Street site in Hyannis. Mr. Niedzwiecki said the agency was spending considerable resources on its former Enterprise Road, Hyannis, headquarters, which he described as “far too large for our needs.”
Moving into JTEC’s building freed up an estimated $200,000, “and that allows us to get more money out on the street through our programs.”
The community action committee then secured funding from various sources to address its debt, including $50,000 through the Legislature, an effort spearheaded by State Senator Daniel A. Wolf (D-Harwich) and backed by the entire Cape delegation; a four-year, $125,000 commitment from a private donor who wished to remain anonymous; a $90,000 low-interest loan from the Falmouth Housing Corporation, which was used to pay off the back-owed taxes; and a commitment from the state Department of Housing and Community Development not to cut any of its contracted programs for the next 18 months, a move that provides the agency with some short-term financial stability.
However, these infusions of cash are only short-term fixes, Mr. Niedzwiecki said, and part of the new director’s job will be to identify sustainable sources of revenue and conduct a more aggressive private fundraising effort.
Back To Basics
One bit of cost-cutting almost spelled the end of the Pilot House shelter, said William Smith, a member of CHAMP Homes’ board of directors. The community action committee planned to close the 22-bed homeless shelter for people battling addiction, but Paul Hebert, CEO and president of CHAMP Homes, reached out to other homelessness and substance abuse agencies in the area to see if any of them could assume control of the Pilot House.
“There was no interest there, so Paul decided we were going to pick it up,” Mr. Smith said. “We’re pretty cotton-picking small compared to those other organizations, but this is a needed service…Paul did not want to lose those beds.”
Mr. Smith conceded it would be a challenge to fund the shelter, “but we’ll manage. We always seem to manage.”
He added that the Pilot House will help CHAMP Homes establish “a continuum of care” for its clients. Pilot House serves those in the early stages of substance abuse, while CHAMP Home residences require its clients to be clean and sober for at least six months.
Mr. Niedzwiecki said the board will be looking at the agency’s other programs and emphasizing what he characterized as a “back-to-basics” approach for helping clients. “We need to identify gaps in services, build a program to address that need, and then find the funding to support that program,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten away from that approach, so we need to get back to the basics.”
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