Affirmations Steps Back

Affirmations Takes a Step Back

(Crystal A. Proxmire)

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An era of growth and expansion has come to a halt at Affirmations, where new leadership has taken a look at the organization’s books and greatly reduced the hours that the doors of the recently-constructed community center will be open to serve the public, and the scope of services they will be able to provide, for at least the next year while the organization regroups.

“We’ve basically cut everything that didn’t have grant funding,” said Affirmations Communications Director Cass Varner.  Many of the programs will remain in tact, but the staff size, hours and programs without specified funding have been cut in an effort to balance the budget.

Programming that supports youth, seniors, HIV/AIDS prevention and education, multicultural issues and LGBTQ family issues will continue, however social activities and recreational activities will no longer be offered, with the Youth and Social departments being “streamlined,” Varner said.  The Aff. Café has been shut down, and the Center will now only be open from 4pm-9pm, Tuesday through Friday and from 1pm-9pm on Saturdays.

Three full-time employees and several part-time employees were notified on October 28 that their jobs were eliminated, some effective as soon as November 1.  Remaining members of management have taken pay cuts and less hours of work.

“The objective of the budget reductions was to trim our expenses by $300,000 a year.  This plan does that,” says new Affirmations CEO Kevin Howley.

“Although Kevin Howley does not officially come on board as interim CEO until November 1st, he has been working with the board over the last several weeks to identify the scope of the adjustments in the budget that need to be made,” noted Mary Rose MacMillan, Affirmations Board President.

The Board of Directors of Affirmations met on Wednesday, October 27, 2010 to consider a financial review of the organization.  “The results of that review provided the board with a clear indication that immediate action is required to realign the business model to bring program expenses in line with operating revenue.  Furthermore, the board initiated discussions around action that would need to be taken to strengthen the organization’s capital structure and address accumulated deficits,” said a recent press release.

Communications Director Varner says that while individual donor levels have remained steady over the past couple of years, “a lot of cutbacks are the result of less available grant funding and corporate funding.”

She said that although the cuts seem drastic, Affirmations will be moving forward.  “There are a lot of people who have given their support and are excited about the future.  Anytime there’s a change in leadership, there’s a new feeling.  This is a new era.  I think people respect that we have tried to do so much, and people will see that we are being financially responsible, and they’ll support that.”

“Restructuring is always difficult” added MacMillan, “but we have an obligation to our donors and stakeholders to make sure that we are operating in a sustainable fashion.  We will be reaching out to the community over the next 60 days to garner support around strengthening our balance sheet, to ensure that we are able to continue the important work we do to serve the needs of the LGBT community”.

Affirmations has seen a shift in leadership over the past three years since opening up in an 18,000 square foot, state of the art “green” building at 290 W. 9 Mile.  CEO Leslie Thompson resigned due to health issues and Howley has stepped in to help the organization transition.  A search committee is looking for a CEO to carry the organization forward, while at the same time the Board and Howley work out a plan.  “We don’t have that completely mapped out yet,” Howley said, noting that for any organization to be sustainable it must have a sound balance sheet, and funds available to handle fluxuating levels of donor contributions.

Aff. Café Manager Julie Marcos was among the part time employees who were laid off last week.  “It’s really sad,” Marcos said.  “There are so many people who want this place to succeed.  We’re here to help people and I don’t know what those people who depend on us are going to do.  I know that the need is still here.  But maybe there’s a perception that its not.  LGBT centers all over are facing cutbacks.  But if the community isn’t supporting us then maybe they think it’s not that important.  All day long people go out and drop $15 or $20 on a meal and not think anything of it. But what about giving to organizations that can do a lot more with that money?  I just don’t get it.  But I hope this will be a wake up call, and make people think about what is really important.  If the community wants Affirmations to be there to help young people deal with bullying, to help kids who aren’t safe going home, to help trans people find support and information, to let to let isolated lesbians and recovery lgbt along with everyone else know they are not alone– then somehow the community will come together and make having a thriving community center a priority.”

For more information on Affirmations Community Center, go to www.goaffirmations.org.  To read more about the changes in the organization, see our previous article at http://www.pridesource.com/article.html?article=43776

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