Economy catches up with Welcome House
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
The Great Recession has been tough on most non-profit and charitable organizations, but, until recently, the Community Welcome House shelter had been faring pretty well.
The funding problems for Coweta’s shelter and crisis center for women and children victims of domestic violence began to brew late last year, and now the organization is operating off its reserves, said Executive Director Linda Kirkpatrick.
“I have a very strong faith in God and I know that things are going to be wonderful. I know that it is going to be OK. But it is very scary for me because I know what we do at the Welcome House,” Kirkpatrick said. “And I don’t know what this community would do if we didn’t have the Welcome House.”
Grant funding, including that from United Way, is down, as are individual donations.
“Say normally, we would have gotten like $60,000 in grants, we maybe only have like $25,000,” Kirkpatrick said, giving an idea of how significantly grant funding is down.
“Everything that we get was cut,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’ve been talking with the CPA and trying to figure out what we can do.”
The Welcome House can hold up to 30 women and children. The organization also gives information to women who call in, and works with the women on skills including budgeting and employment classes, parenting classes, counseling, and lots more.
“We don’t do a short fix,” Kirkpatrick said. “We don’t just bring somebody in overnight and keep them for a week. We want them to be able to be self sufficient, so we’re teaching them all the skills,” she said. They also work with the children. “We have to make a difference in the lives of the children or the pattern is going to continue,” Kirkpatrick said.
“I’m wondering what is going to happen if we go away. These moms are going to stay in it? The kids are going to stay in it. Even though we may not house every domestic violence victim, we are making a difference in the lives of those who come to us,” she said. “Last year we got 500 outreach calls. And with each of those we gave them something, like a safety plan or who to contact with a legal issue,” she said. “We helped them with their orders of protection or we gave them phone numbers or sources. Sometimes we gave them food or invited them to the house because they didn’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Kirkpatrick said.
Housing up to 30 individuals and providing those services doesn’t come cheap.
“What people don’t understand is it takes close to $27,000 a month to keep the shelter open,” Kirkpatrick said.
While Kirkpatrick said she applies for around five grants a month, the majority of Community Welcome House’s funding comes from individuals.
They’ve cut expenses, of course. “I have made cuts in salaries. I have made cuts in hours,” Kirkpatrick said. “Where we normally had two people there most of the time, now we only have one,” she said. “If the phone is ringing” and somebody in the house needs something, the phone call can’t get answered.
There’s a zero-percent interest rate on the mortgage, but the payment is still substantial. “Without the house, there is no program,” Kirkpatrick said.
“If you think about it, it is overwhelming.”
“We’ve made a lot of cuts in a lot of ways,” she said. “We’re pretty frugal and we get wonderful in-kind donations.” Just recently, a photographer came and did portrait sessions for the women and their children.
“People love to do that for us and we love it, because all those extra things like that,” the women can’t do, she said. “They can’t even afford to buy school pictures of their kids, and Community Welcome House doesn’t have the money to do that sort of thing either,” she said.
The organization’s main fundraiser, Coweta’s Dancing Stars, was very successful this year, raising $70,000. “It was phenomenal,” Kirkpatrick said. But the money doesn’t last long.
“I’m worried that in the long termâ ¦ if we don’t have the funding to keep it open, I don’t know what is going to happen,” she said. “I look at the ladies that are there now, and I don’t even know where they would go, the decisions that they would have to make,” she said. “I just worry. I’m just not sure what we would do.”
There are some things coming up. Healthy Life Chiropractic is hosting a Vegas Night in October, and October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Kirkpatrick said. December brings O Christmas Tea, another fundraiser.
“We’ve got things that are coming up that are going to bring in some money, but I’m not sure they are going to bring in the kind of money we need,” Kirkpatrick said.
She wants to let the community know about the issue, and also let them know that “our books are open to anybody that wants to look at them.”
There have also been a few unexpected expenses, including $8,000 for a dedicated water line for the sprinkler system, required by a recent fire marshal inspection.
The number of families that CWH has helped has grown by leaps and bounds over the years. In 2006, there were 96 residents. In 2008, there were 134. And in 2011, there were 193.
One bright spot is the organization’s thrift store, New Beginnings.
Formerly located in a small brick building off Augusta Drive, the shop is now in a prominent location in downtown Newnan, on West Washington Street, across from The Alamo.
“It was a big step for us, moving over here,” Kirkpatrick said. “We’re hoping that this will supplement some of our income. But because it is so new here, it takes a while,” she said.
They had to move from their former location and “we didn’t know where to go,” Kirkpatrick said. Somebody told her that the downtown shop was available, and the price was right.
“It was perfect,” she said. “It has everything we need.” They went ahead and paid up a the whole year’s rent “so we didn’t have to worry about it,” she said. They have two part-time workers who are paid minimum wage, and lots of volunteers.
In addition to being a revenue stream for the organization, “anybody that is a domestic violence survivor can shop here for free,” Kirkpatrick said. Those shoppers come with vouchers or referrals.
“What we tell people when they give us donations is that there are three things we do with them,” Kirkpatrick said. “One is whatever is needed for the ladies at the safe house and their children.”
They also keep up a stock of items to give to the women and children when they go to their new homes, such as dishes, “so they don’t have to purchase them.”
Everything else is sold at the store.
New Beginnings isn’t set up like your typical thrift store. Instead, it’s more like a regular clothing store or variety store. The clothing is arranged by type and there are clearance racks, making it much easier to find what you are looking for. They currently have a good selection of formal, prom-style dresses.
They’re members of Main Street Newnan and will be open for downtown events, Kirkpatrick said. For the Fall Art Walk, they hosted the Young Artists of Newnan.
New Beginnings is currently open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, Kirkpatrick said. However, “we’re working on the hours.”
Kirkpatrick is hoping to get an influx of monetary donations to keep the Community Welcome House up and running.
They get donations from a lot of churches but “not every church in Newnan, I think, knows who we are,” she said. “If we could get churches to maybe do a special donation for us that would help us maybe get through this slump, but that is not going to be the long-term answer,” she said.
“We have to come up with some solutions and right now, I’m not sure what they are,” Kirkpatrick said.
But she thinks the more people who “understand and see what we do in families — maybe they’ll support us in some way.” And it doesn’t have to be in a large way.
“That’s what I tell everybody — even though it is wonderful when you get a $25,000 check, it is also wonderful when you get a bunch of $10 to $20 to $25 checks.”
Financial donations can be mailed to The Community Welcome House, P.O. Box 1631, Newnan, GA 30264. You can also donate online or at United Community Bank.
New Beginnings by Community Welcome House is located at 7 West Washington Street in downtown Newnan. For more information or to donate, call 770-683-8029 or 770-304-0966.