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Funding short for service agencies
Board looking for ways to help groups
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Forsyth County News
While the need for nonprofit organizations has increased during the economic downturn, funding often has not.

Despite the challenges of operating more with less, several Forsyth County youth nonprofits have continued to grow.

The Forsyth County social services committee recently reviewed some of the ups and downs of agencies the county contributes to during its mid-year meeting.

Chairwoman Nicole McCoy attributed the increase in activity of nonprofits to the demand for more assistance.

“The agencies themselves are saying that even in this tough economic time, we have got to figure out how to provide those services,” McCoy said.

Those that have been most successful, she said, are the ones that have worked to diversify their funding sources through both grants and donations.

Forsyth County contributed to 10 local agencies working with the juvenile court in 2010. Many have increased services to meet community needs.

Mentor Me North Georgia launched a summer camp targeted at Hispanic youth and is adding new clubs to an initiative that seeks to boost graduation rates.

The Children’s Center for Hope and Healing, which provides counseling to children, is expanding county services at its local office to match the increase in cases. The center currently has a four to six week waiting list.

While most of the groups have had a few challenges in providing more services in tough financial times, the Department of Children and Family Services, or DFACS, has been hardest hit of the agencies.

DFACS has seen a monthly increase to some 3,000 food stamp cases and 4,700 Medicaid cases, according to its report to the committee.

Despite the increase in cases, the county office has closed for a furlough day once a month.

“[DFACS employees] have been under a tremendous amount of stress,” McCoy said. “They ... are particularly affected by what’s happening at the state level.”

County funding, which McCoy said goes toward “retain[ing] good, thoughtful staff,” accounts for only about 6.5 percent of the agency’s total budget.

That number, like state figures, has decreased in recent years.

The county reduced grant funding from $300,000 in 2008 to $130,000 in 2009 and 2010. The reduction was made at the request of DFACS to make more dollars available to its partner organizations.

Commissioner Patrick Bell helped form the social services committee, which he serves on, in 2009, when he noticed several local groups were unsure how to garner county grant funding.

The committee serves as an intermediary group that gathers and analyzes essential information from the nonprofits for the county.

Organizations other than DFACS receiving funding increased to four in 2009 and nine in 2010.

Both years, the remaining organizations received a total of $277,000 from the county.

The 2011 preliminary budget anticipates the same amount of funding. But with more organizations with potential to receive funds, the money could be spread even thinner.

Bell said the commission board may want to look at rearranging some figures to increase money earmarked for community aid.

The county will soon review facts in deciding how to best fund local groups in 2011.

“The agencies overall, certainly they would always value more funding,” McCoy said, “... but I think they are also prepared to cut the budget.
They are prepared based on the other funding they’ve received.”

The committee took the first step in deciding how to allocate dollars at its Wednesday meeting. They took a look at how the organizations have been using that money in accomplishing goals.

Currently, the county only funds agencies that work with the juvenile courts, but the committee considered adding groups that partner with law enforcement.

The group also tossed around the idea of dictating what the funds could be used for.

“These are public dollars and the good thing about doing that is we’re very clear on exactly where these dollars are going,” McCoy said, adding that the challenge is making sure “the funds are not so restrictive that if funding from the state changed, [the agencies] would have some flexibility.”

Another way to stretch money for residents’ benefit is to combine similar services among agencies rather than fund several small efforts.

Bell suggested requiring all organizations receiving the county funding to attend the Forsyth County Community Connection monthly meeting in order to collaborate services and better serve the community.

He saw the work done by the nonprofit groups as an important use of county efforts.

“This is helping children and truly helping people in crisis,” he said. “Other things ... just don’t even hold a candle to how we need to help people in this time.”