Archive for Saturday, April 23, 2005

Financial problems threaten longtime Lawrence agency

April 23, 2005


Susan Rickman fears that Lawrence's oldest social service agency is beginning to die a slow death.

Rickman, treasurer for the Social Service League of Lawrence, said a month ago that the nonprofit organization - which provides everything from eye exams to free shoes for the poor - is itself in dire financial condition.

"Our bank account is basically empty right now," Rickman said.

In mid-March, Rickman put out a plea for help to board members and other friends of the organization, which traces its roots back to 1863 and proudly proclaims it helped the victims of Quantrill's Raid. Rickman said the group needed to raise $1,000 this week just to pay immediate bills, such as utilities and the salary of the organization's lone employee.

The pleas have been common recently. The organization has been living without funding from United Way of Douglas County since mid-2004. The league has been unable to pay roughly $2,000 for an audit of its financial records, which is a United Way requirement.

Rickman is confident the league will receive the donations it needs to get through the coming months, but she is worried about the organization's long-term survival.

"What it comes down to is we're begging for money," Rickman said. "After a couple of years of that, people will say, 'We're sick of giving you money like this.'"

The organization received about 20 percent of its $40,000 budget from the United Way. The rest came from donations and from sales at the Social Service League Thrift Store, 905 R.I.

Jean Ann Pike, manager of the thrift store, said the community would be left with a void if the organization ceased to exist. The group helps people who can't afford eye glasses, provides vouchers to children who need shoes and allows people to volunteer their time in exchange for a bag of clothes from the thrift store.

Rickman said the group continued to look for an accountant who would donate auditing services, so that the organization might apply next year for United Way funding. But Rickman said the league's board was split on whether to become part of the United Way system again.

She said some board members thought the time needed to conduct an annual audit would be too much of a strain on the small organization's volunteers. Also, she said, some board members were concerned about other restrictions the United Way placed on agencies, such as prohibiting husbands and wives from serving on the same board.

Pike said she was forever an optimist about the future of the league.

"I have this attitude that it has been there since 1863, and we'll always find a way to serve the community," Pike said. "We have always eked by. We are always scrounging, but I think we are probably scrounging harder than ever."

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