Save the center

Multicultural center needs cash soon
By DeeAnna Haney | Sep 30, 2013
Board members Tausha Forney and Rocky Tucker mop up water that is leaking from the roof in one of the classrooms.

A local nonprofit that caters to low-income children and families is in dire financial straits and may be forced to close if money doesn’t come through soon.

The Pigeon Community Multicultural Development Center provides several services to the community from tutoring children during after school programs to serving as a MANNA food bank distribution center.

But a lack of grant funding and severe maintenance needs have put a strain on the nonprofit’s budget, leading Director Lin Forney to send out a letter to local churches requesting financial support.

“On Sept. 10, the board of directors reviewed PCMDC's financial status and recognize the organization is in financial jeopardy. There are only enough operational funds to carry the organization for a few months, maybe even only weeks,” Forney said in the letter.

The building was constructed in 1957 and was used as a black elementary school while Haywood County was still segregated. When the schools finally came together, the school system continued to use the building for meetings and events. When community members approached county commissioners about using the building as a multicultural center in 2000, it was agreed the nonprofit would pay $1 to the county each year for 20 years.

Over the past 13 years, the PCMDC has worked to create a center that not only helps children and families in need but also fosters tolerance and understanding for other cultures.

Forney’s daughter, Tausha, who is on the board of directors, said PCMDC serves mostly low-income children who are one-third Hispanic, black and white.

“One of the points of our programs is to bring them together when they are little so they can learn to get along and understand each other as they get older,” Tausha Forney said.

The board has received several grants over the years to help keep the nonprofit afloat from organizations such as the Z Smith Reynolds Foundation and the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina. But this year they weren’t successful in securing any grants.

“It is hard to find grants because there aren’t as many as there used to be and the ones that are available are very competitive,” Tausha Forney said.

Lack of grant funding threatened several of the nonprofit’s annual programs, such as the summer enrichment program. The summer day camp is considered the nonprofit’s most valuable program because it gives parents an affordable daycare option while they work during the summer.

“Otherwise, our parents would have to leave them at home because most of the other childcare choices aren’t even an option for these families,” Tausha Forney said.

Parents were asked to pay a $300 tuition fee per child for the 10-week program, which was longer than usual this summer. That money helps pay for supplies in the classrooms, one-on-one tutoring, field trips and breakfast, lunch and snacks every day.

“All our parents were expected to pay, which is not realistic and we refuse to turn kids away,” Tausha Forney said.

Of the nearly 60 children who participated in this past summer camp, about 40 of them were on whole or partial scholarships that were funded by local churches, the Haywood County School Foundation and Evergreen Packaging.

But because grants were not available, general operating money was used to fund the summer program, leaving the nonprofit in a financial bind.

On top of it all is a severe and immediate need for roof repair on the old building.

Tausha Forney and fellow board member Rocky Tucker were busy mopping water off the floor of the community center Thursday, which was a common task during the unusually rainy summer.

Plastic buckets are strategically placed on the floor to catch the rainwater that leaks through the roof. The problem began about a year ago in Lin Forney’s office, where a large bucket and a kiddie pool have replaced her desk. She was forced out of her office and now works from a storage closet. Water drips almost constantly from a sagging area in the ceiling that is on the verge of collapse.

“I half expect to come in here one day and find the ceiling on the floor,” Tucker said.

The ceiling also began to fail in the computer room, ruining several old computers, then a classroom and finally started leaking in another classroom last week. Only one classroom is usable now.

“At this point we’re just trying to grab things up and put them in dry spaces, but we’re running out of dry spaces,” Tausha Forney said.

County commissioners recently set aside $35,000 in the 2014 budget to go toward the much-needed repairs, but the total cost of maintenance is expected to be about $47,000. That means the organization must somehow come up with the remaining money and even more to repair the water damage inside the building.

“Our goal right now is to get $10,000 at least to do the outside of the roof,” Tausha Forney said.

The board plans to begin furiously applying for grants as the end of the year nears. They also plan to hold at least two more fish fry fundraisers on Oct. 25 and Nov. 8, which typically bring in around $800. But the next financial need will be filling up the oil tank for heat.

This isn’t the first time the nonprofit has seen troubled times financially. When Tucker first joined the board, there was only $2 in the budget.

However, he said, they have always been able to find a way to make it through, and he hopes the same will happen this year.

Tausha Forney worries what will happen to the families that depend on the nonprofit for food and to the children who might not otherwise receive help with schoolwork if the multicultural center disappears.

Right now, they distribute food to about 30 families and receive about 20 emergency calls for food each month.

“People definitely need us to be here and we want to be there for them,” Tausha Forney said.