As state and federal budgets continue to be cut, nonprofit organizations traditionally supported by the government are challenged to identify alternative funding streams.
At a recent Rotary presentation by Wildlife Prairie State Park, I was impressed by the creativity of its board and staff members in halting an imminent closure of the park due to a severe cut in state funds. In working to overcome this challenge, the leadership gained a new following of volunteers and donors, improved and added a variety of popular programs and attractions, and established an endowment that they never had in the past. In many ways, they are a much stronger organization now then they have ever been—without state support.
It wasn’t hard for me to find similar examples right here in Morton. Two of our local nonprofit organizations, Tazewell County Resource Center and We Care, have identified unique opportunities to support their missions and budgets through creative projects that don’t rely on government funds.
Tazewell County Resource Center (TCRC) offers job training and placement, goal-oriented therapy, case management, day programs, help for the visually impaired, vocational services and homelike residential programs for people with disabilities in 10 facilities throughout Tazewell County. As TCRC President/CEO Jamie Durdel says, “We care for special people…birth to seniors.”
In the past, TCRC has relied in large part on government funds for its operations. But with the Illinois budget in turmoil, the organization’s leadership has a goal of developing alternative funding sources that provide more stability. “We found a similar organization in Wisconsin that has a commercial kitchen,” says Durdel. “Their clients prepare a variety of foods with ingredients purchased from local growers, and then they sell the products to schools, restaurants, stores and farmer’s market vendors.” When TCRC decided this model was a good fit for its own goals, the “Kitchen Project” was born.
The organization received a grant from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to transform a space in its Tremont facility into a commercial kitchen and began talking with area schools and markets about their needs for local produce and food products. “We were amazed at the need for locally-prepared foods,” explains Durdel. “Two of our potential buyers are already telling us that they will buy everything we can make.” The process of preparing the foods also supports TCRC’s goals of helping their clients learn job training and personal support skills. “We think this is the best way to support the needs of our clients and to reduce our reliance on state funds.”
We Care, another nonprofit organization in Morton that strives for non-governmental funding sources, supports people living within Morton Township with hot meals, transportation and food pantry services. “By far, the largest portion of our funding comes from Upscale Resale, our retail store,” says Jim Thompson, executive director for We Care. “The store made over $100,000 last year to support our services.” Upscale Resale is operated by a team of 60 volunteers led by past We Care board members Susie Camacho and Susan Ligon. They accept gently-used clothing and small household items, and sell the merchandise out of a We Care-owned building on Main Street in downtown Morton. The store is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 4pm and Saturday from 10am to 2pm. “It’s been really successful for us because of the volunteers’ dedication to We Care and the services we provide to people in need in the community and area,” says Thompson.
These nonprofit organizations have risen to the challenge of supporting their mission and services through creative programs and projects that offer more stability than government funds. In seeking this stability, they have developed new partnerships, volunteer support and opportunities to serve the needs of their clients in greater and more meaningful ways. It is amazing to see what people can achieve when faced with the possibility of losing local organizations that provide critical services. I guess Plato was right: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”iBi