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Women’s ministries, services find ways to survive tough economy, meet more needscomment (0)

December 23, 2010

By Kristen Padilla

I think during this economic time, nonprofits are hurting across the board,” said Jean Roberson, ministry consultant and adult team leader of national Woman’s Missionary Union and director of Christian Women’s Job Corps (CWJC)/Christian Men’s Job Corps (CMJC) and International Initiatives. “However, women are typically an underserved population. So anytime you have a financial crisis in the economy, it already puts those underserved populations more at risk.”

Many women’s ministries and services in Alabama can attest to that. As demand for their services increases because of the struggling economy, the donations and gifts they receive decrease, making it difficult to offer more services.

An example of this phenomenon is Jessie’s Place, a service of The Jimmie Hale Mission in Birmingham, which provides shelter and other services to women and children. In 2009, Jessie’s Place served 63 women and 61 children, and so far this year, Jessie’s Place has served 56 women and 44 children.

Last year was the first time in its history that The Jimmie Hale Mission saw any kind of decrease in revenue with outside revenue down 6 percent. The mission operates on a July to June fiscal year.

In the first five months of the 2010 fiscal year, outside contributions are down almost 9 percent. Even though November and December tend to be its best months as far as donations, the mission experienced a significant decrease from October (down 5.5 percent) to November (down nearly 9 percent).

Executive Director Tony Cooper said while there is always the possibility the mission will make up some of that loss this month, “if [November] is a sign (of what will happen in December), it’s not a good one.”

“By no means am I poor-mouthing, complaining (or) whining,” Cooper said. “I’m just giving you the numbers. God has blessed us for 67 years … and [He] knows what our needs are.”

But “you can’t give what you don’t have,” he said of people who may normally give to places like the mission but can’t now because of their financial situation. “When the economy starts knocking on everyone’s doors … most of the ones that are usually hit the hardest are your churches, nonprofits and charities because [those are] the easiest ones to cut back on.”

Pathway’s Women’s Shelter in Birmingham has seen an increase in demand and a decrease in giving, too. Last year, Pathway’s served its largest number of people ever — approximately 305 women and children. And it’s “on par” to serve as many women and children this year as it did in 2009, said Development Director Lara Wheeler.

According to Wheeler, the job situation is to blame for the number of women and children filling Pathway’s beds.

“Because we have such a high unemployment rate in Alabama, it has been difficult for women who do not have jobs or who have lost their job to find one,” she said. “But also for women who do have jobs, it’s been very difficult for them to move up because people are hanging very tightly to their jobs.

“The way that affects our women and children is women who may have found themselves four years ago finding better-paying jobs … are stuck in [their current] position trying to save more,” Wheeler continued. “(Thus), we do see them staying in the shelter longer.”

Monte Gilstrap, program manager of Family Care, a ministry of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries in Mobile, also has noticed women extending their stay because they can’t find jobs.

That includes well-educated ones, Gilstrap said, noting there are two women who have college degrees at the shelter now.

“Just because of the dynamic of their life, they ended up without a job, and they don’t have the support of family,” she said.

Women’s ministries are able to provide that support because people are still supporting them, just not necessarily with money.

“I think people now are focused on in-kind gifts in the event of a low cash flow or a lower cash flow,” said Maria Dickens, Pathway’s executive director. “We’ve seen more volunteerism and more donated items as opposed to mainly cash. People are still very generous in this climate, but I think that their giving has taken on a different face.”

While Pathway’s is able to continue to provide basic services to women and children, like shelter, heat, air conditioning and food, it is having to look to outside sources to meet other needs.

“We need laundry baskets,” Wheeler said. “That’s an example of where we would have been able to provide a pretty basic need before … but now we’re having to go to the public to look for those donations.”

When the economy hit The Lovelady Center in Birmingham (see story, page 5) and giving began decreasing, it forced founder and Executive Director Brenda Spahn into two directions. It forced her to begin a thrift store to supplement the minstry’s income and to reach out to more believers.

Both have been positive changes that have actually helped their ministry, Spahn said.  

Unlike some places that have seen an increase in volunteers, places like CWJC sites have seen a decrease in volunteers.

“A lot of our volunteers have had to go back to work,” said Linda Henry, volunteer Alabama CWJC/CMJC coordinator and executive director of Marshall County Christian Services in Albertville.

That includes site coordinators. And where there is not a site coordinator, needs are not being met. Just ask Stacie Reed, who used to serve as site coordinator for DeKalb County CWJC and now serves as one of its board members.

“I had to resign that position (site coordinator) because I worked normal business hours and couldn’t work (at the CWJC site) during normal hours (anymore),” Reed said.

“If we cannot find someone who can volunteer those hours during the day, then we’re really at a standstill,” she added.

The economic downturn hit DeKalb County CWJC from the ministry’s beginning in September 2008.

“Because the economy took a downturn, the federal and state governments came up with some initiatives to help people get in the workforce,” Reed said. “But some of those ... do a lot of the same things that CWJC does. People weren’t interested in committing to CWJC and our services when they could get it from somewhere else.”

She noted that many of those government-sponsored programs, like Ready to Work, pay for people’s gas to come to class and some even pay them to attend class. CWJC sites simply have not been able to compete with that, especially in places like DeKalb County.

“We haven’t had anyone wanting to participate in over a year,” Reed said. “It can be very discouraging because we believe CWJC can give women a hand up … and a better life.”

Henry said other CWJC sites across the state, like the ones in Mobile, Montgomery and Etowah County, have closed for similar reasons.

“What we’re seeing also is that new sites aren’t coming up,” she said. “At one point, we had 20 sites and now we have 11 CWJC sites and three CMJC sites. There’s been a gradual decrease over the last three to four years.”

Henry said many people do not realize the money it takes to keep a place like a CWJC site going, noting the ministry has to pay for insurance (liability, board member and workers compensation) and unemployment taxes.

“If it were not for the Christian people in the churches that continue to give of their time and talent and their finances and their prayers, we would not exist,” she said.

Dickens said even though giving has gone down, “we should never underestimate [people’s] giving.”

“[People] should never think that what they are giving is not enough,” she said. “If everyone continues to give to their ability, we will still see great things accomplished. I’d encourage people to continue to give even if their [method] has changed. It’s a wonderful gift — giving.”

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