Thursday, January 3, 2008

Help's Oak Tree House Closing

Move designed to save $200,000 a year

By Sondra Murphy
In an effort to put its nonprofit organization on a firmer financial path, Help of Ojai has announced that it will temporarily close Oak Tree House, its adult day activity center. Help hopes the change will also help improve the delivery and quality of services offered to the community.
Because few people use the day activity center, executive director J.R. Jones is confident that families will be impacted as little as possible by bringing day clients over to Little House for activities.
“Our main concern here was the clients,” said Jones. “With 14 enrolled currently, I know we can integrate them, at least partly, at Little House.” With the day activity center suspended, Jones plans to move the Community Assistance Program offices to the Oak Tree House facility, eliminating the need to lease the Fox Street site for C.A.P.
“We’re looking at this as a temporary situation,” Jones said about day activities. Help plans to begin training volunteers for home visits so families that currently use Oak Tree House will have assistance available to allow caregivers time for necessary errands and appointments. Jones also hopes to re-establish an adult day activity center at its West Campus location some time in the near future.
“As difficult as these steps may be, Help no longer has the option of ‘business as usual,’” said Jones. “We have seen a steady decline in our cash reserve over the last two years and there are only two ways to reverse it. First, cut costs and, second, raise more money. We are dedicated to doing both.” The organization points to increased cost of food for its nutrition program and fuel for its transportation program as contributing to the financial challenges.
Jones said that the temporary closure and C.A.P. relocation will save the organization about $200,000 this year. Three full-time and two part-time administrative staff members will be laid off with the restructuring.
The changes will not completely solve Help’s financial struggles. The organization’s spending has exceeded its $1.5 million budget for over a year, and taking most of the reserves. Help plans to increase efforts to raise money and seek additional funding through government and foundation grants, in addition to launching a community awareness campaign to encourage greater individual giving.
“I imagine most people think Help of Ojai is government-funded, but, in fact, only approximately 20 percent of our funding comes from government sources.” Help services that benefit many in the valley — such as C.A.P., hospice, home-delivered meals for homebound seniors, bereavement counseling for youth and transportation — are primarily funded by individual and community donations.
Jones said that efforts will be made to make Help programs more self-sustaining and increase revenues from its Second Helpings Thrift Store.
“We have a serious challenge in raising the public’s understanding of how important Help of Ojai is to them,” said Jones. “People who know about Help and the services we provide are strong supporters, but too many valley residents are only dimly aware of what we do and how many people benefit from our services. We must correct that.”
In order to reopen an adult day activity center, an analysis will be made of the $45 per-day fee, as well as staffing and client-base issues. Jones is optimistic that the adult day activity center and other programs will be set up at the West Campus by the middle of this year. “The organization is only beginning to realize the potential of its new Baldwin Road facility,” said Jones. “We believe the potential benefits to the Ojai Valley there are huge.”
Jones is taking steps to reorganize the board or directors into two separate bodies. The first will be a governing board of seven to nine members and the second, an advisory board of up to 20 community representatives. The governing board responsibilities will include raising funds, while the advisory board is intended to work with Jones and staff to improve day-to-day operations and promote greater public awareness. “We think this arrangement will result in a stronger donation base in the community for the organization,” said Jones.
Meanwhile, Help will continue providing all 12 major programs and a variety of services to its elderly and special needs clientele and look to hire a new fund-raiser. “Help is the only resource available to many of the disadvantaged in the Ojai Valley and it’s our obligation to keep them going,” said Jones of the 40-year-old agency. “Making these economies will cause pain, I’m sure, but they are necessary if Help is to carry on its work.”


Anonymous said...

Maybe HELP bit off a bit more than they could chew with their move to the Honor Farm.

califberry said...

For these people to think that ONLY 14 people are affected, they're nuts! Those 14 people, their families with the only respite they get, having a haven for their loved ones. ONLY 14 people + their children, grandchildren. ONLY.....they need to get their proverbial ducks in a row and look at the real issues, not the new acquisition and leaving the "ONLY 14" people to their own means and pulling the rug out from underneath them. GET A HEART! I don't even have a loved one with issues, and for that I thank the Good Lord every day.

maryo said...

Pursuing the Honor Farm acquisition and then cutting vital services is ludicrous. When the Honor Farm was being discussed we were promised it would not impact services already in place - this has obviously been proven not to be true. It is equally dishonest to suggest that only 14 people will be affected. The clients that Oak Tree House used to serve do not live in a vacuum. They have caregivers, families and friends who struggle mightily to provide them with the help they need. That Help of Ojai would cut these services, and in such a callous way is shameful.

Anonymous said...

When Marlene Spencer was running things, there was only one agenda at HELP: helping the elderly. Apparently there is now a new agenda, and whoever has been running things is willing to stop helping people in order to pursue it.

This behavior is akin to that of a corporation which has to please only the stockholders, with all other beneficiaries being damned.

Who was supposed to be raising funds for this organization, and who was supposed to be proactively minding the budget, and who was so asleep at the wheel for the past year that the only way to save their collective butts now is to fire people who did nothing to cause them the problems they're now having?

If they're going to get rid of anyone, maybe they need to get rid of whoever it was who spent the money that was supposed to be used to take care of the seniors, not the people who were taking care of those seniors.

Given that HELP is run almost entirely on donated funds, it would not do any good for us to threaten to withhold these donations, but maybe the Ventura County Grand Jury needs to look into this situation before it gets any worse, and before the organization winds up being completely destroyed by the same kinds of practices that brought things to where they are now.