St. John Center launches campaign to match grant

By Glenn Rutherford, Record Editor

Maria Price
Maria Price

Finding funding — from the government, from private donors, from regular contributors such as the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (SCNs) — is a never-ending quest for the St. John Center for homeless men. Now they’re faced with a new type of challenge, one that the center’s executive director, Maria Price, says they’re delighted to try and meet.

The SCNs have been regular supporters of the center over the years, and this time they’ve come up with a new twist along with their annual donation.

“The SCN Ministry Fund is a grant-making entity,” Price explained. “They make a number of grants — their fund supports a lot of their work in India, for instance. And over the years we’ve been a beneficiary of those grants and we’re grateful for them.”

This year the SCNs said they would provide the center with a grant of $10,000, if the St. John Center raised $10,000 on its own, Price explained. “They wanted us to step up and keep the idea (of awarding grants) fresh,” she said. “We’re happy to get the grant and we know we have to get busy and do our work to make it all come true.”

Price said the center was first notified of the SCN’s decision back in April, but wanted to wait until June to “start our campaign in earnest.”

“Our first approach was a letter that went to donors who have given to us in the past, but who haven’t donated to us within the past year,” she said. “We wanted to let them know that this is a great time to come back and make a donation because their gift will, in effect, be doubled.”

The center has also published news of the donation and its caveat in its latest newsletter, which Price said will “hit the mailboxes this week.”

In her eight-year tenure as the center’s executive director, Price noted, this is the first time the “matching grant” type of fund-raising effort has been used.

“We can’t ever let up; we know that,” she noted. “The current budget being debated (in Washington) would not cut funds to homeless services in a way that would damage our housing program.”

But she noted that the budget numbers for Section Eight housing — the federal program for low-income families and individuals — isn’t keeping up with demand. So, while the St. John Center has been fortunate enough to be operating in the fiscal black for the past year or so, Price said her staff knows now is not the time to diminish their efforts.

“What’s being debated is not a federal budget that will do anything to serve low income people well in terms of housing needs,” she said, “and that means we have work to do.”

When the fiscal year ended June 30 with St. John Center in the black, that didn’t necessarily mean they’ve been successful in collecting more money than ever before.

“It actually means we didn’t spend as much as in the past; we didn’t waste anything,” she explained. “And that’s an awfully good feeling.”

But she acknowledged that the pressure of fundraising for an agency with an annual budget of about $1.1 million never goes away.

“Our client population isn’t receding, that’s for sure,” she said.

And occasionally they get thrown a funding curve ball that complicates their efforts unexpectedly, Price said. “For instance, we’ve been affiliated with Seven County Services for 15 years, and now they’re facing their own funding constraints, so the $16,711 grant from them that we’ve had in the past is now gone. That’s why the pressure never goes away.”

Nevertheless, she said, the St. John Center staff is “thrilled with the opportunity the SCNs have given to us.”

“Now all we have to do is tell people what’s happened, that their contribution will basically be doubled,” she said. “We just have to do our job and do it well.”

The St. John Center serves about 200 homeless men each day. It provides a place where they can rest, have a cup of coffee out of the heat or cold. And they can meet with staff members who assess their needs and refer them to the nearby medical clinic or to the housing programs that lie at the heart of the center’s efforts to get homeless people off the streets and into their own places to live.

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