Laura Lee Fellowship aims to make up for lost United Way funding

Laura Lee Fellowship aims to make up for lost United Way funding

Leaders 'really disappointed' at United Way snub

DANVILLE — Laura Lee Fellowship House leaders are vowing to keep the 100-year-old community organization going despite losing its United Way allocation, which they've counted on for years.

Pastor Thomas Miller, a board member, said the United Way of Danville Area has funded Laura Lee for several decades, and the board was hoping to receive a $45,000 allocation to help support programming this year. He said the organization had some financial issues, but leaders had been working with United Way officials to resolve their concerns before the June 27 application deadline.

"We felt like we had done everything we could to demonstrate good faith ... and that everything was taken care of. So, we were really disappointed we didn't receive approval for funding. We had worked really hard to meet the requirements they asked for," Miller said, adding leaders are now scrambling to try to make up the funding.

Jeanne Mulvaney, United Way's executive director, said it was a tough decision.

"They do good things in the community," she said. "But they didn't meet the requirements for application, and we have an obligation to our donors to make sure those are met. We are very sorry we were unable to consider their request this year, and we wish them the best."

Laura Lee — which is open to the public, but has historically served the city's African American community — grew out of the work of the social activist for whom the organization was named. In the 1920s, Lee started working to address the social needs of area children and their families.

For years, the organization has offered a variety of activities for youth, including a tutoring program during the school year and the summer program, and provided meals and activities for senior citizens.

It housed some of the Danville schools' alternative education programs until the district opened the Kenneth D. Bailey Academy, and it currently leases the building to two churches for weekly worship services.

Last year, the organization found itself in a critical financial situation, prompting officials to make a plea for assistance from the community. Leaders said fund-raising had fallen off, as had its United Way donation, which had been a main source of funding for an operating budget of $180,000.

"In the past, we had gotten as much as $82,713," Miller said, referring to its 2008 award.

Until this year, United Way had funded the organization since at least 1981, awarding it more than $2.25 million over the years to support its programs.

"That's the second-highest amount given during that time," Mulvaney said.

She said her agency was aware of Laura Lee's financial straits last year, but chose to work with the organization, and provided a $31,000 allocation to run the Lights On After-School program from Oct. 1 through June 9.

Mulvaney declined to comment on why Laura Lee failed to meet application requirements this year. Miller said his organization resolved many of its issues, but still owed $18,000 in back taxes, which he blamed on an outside accounting agency.

"They were not taking care of (the taxes), and that created an issue for us. The United Way was very much aware that we're correcting that," he said, adding the organization's treasurer now takes care of the books. He also said a local church is making a gift to Laura Lee that will cover the taxes owed. "We turned that letter in to assure them we would have that funding by July 31. But their deadline was June 27."

Miller said his board has formed a committee to brainstorm revenue ideas, including creating a "signature" fund-raiser "that will help us with a major part of our budget."

Meanwhile, the board will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. today at its community center, 212 E. Williams St., to explain the situation to concerned residents and let them know the doors aren't closing.

"We're absolutely not going to close," Miller said. "And we're definitely going to be calling on the support of the community to make sure that doesn't happen."

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