Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Arc of Utah faces closure due to debt

From The Salt Lake City Tribune in Utah:

Instead of celebrating its 50th anniversary, one of Utah's biggest advocates for the disabled is scrambling to stay open for another year.

Financial mismanagement and a drop in donations forced The Arc of Utah to lay off all nine staff members earlier this month after the board discovered the organization was about $75,000 in debt.

Having considered bankruptcy, the Arc is now being run by volunteers who hope an increase in donations will ensure its future.

"If The Arc closes it would be tremendously depressing for people with disabilities," said Tamera Dalton, who has cerebral palsy and advocates for the disabled at the Legislature.

There is no suggestion of deliberate wrongdoing by former management, according to Kathy Scott, the acting director. "Just a matter of poor choices and overextending the agency," she said.

Monetary donations have also dropped by about 50 percent compared with last year. The "household recycling" program, the donated goods that are The Arc's main source of funding, has suffered as well. Some of that is attributed to the economic crisis.

"Instead of donating a couch because [families] were tired of it, now they're keeping it," Scott said. The Arc has helped thousands of Utahns over the years through programs such as its information referral system, training and the holiday gift-box project, which provides gifts to people with intellectual disabilities.

To pay off bills for expenses such as cell phones and driver uniforms and to keep programs afloat, the organization is asking people to donate money, time and household items, which will be sold to benefit the agency.

Donated household items can be brought directly to Thrift Town at 3330 S. 1300 East, which will send the profits back to The Arc. Neighborhoods and community groups can also organize drives. Volunteer truck drivers are available on a limited basis.

If the organization does close, the biggest loss might be the Arc's advocacy work during the legislative session, Scott said. Programs for the disabled were some of the hardest hit during the recent round of budget cuts. At a minimum, the group hopes to raise enough funds to support one advocate during the upcoming session.