The Garrard Center served girls in Columbus for more than 40 years, but on Thursday its doors will close permanently, according to a news release issued Monday by Girls Inc. Executive Director Dorthy Hyatt.
“No one at Girls Inc. is happy about closing the Garrard Center, but it is in the best interest of ALL our girls to close Garrard and serve those girls at another center,” according to the release. “Girls Inc. still has two great centers with dedicated staff, and we want to continue providing girls with a safe haven and with programs that will help them become strong, smart, and bold.”
The Garrard Center is located at 3007 Clover Lane, across the street from Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, where about 50 girls benefited from its services during the school year. Its future had been in limbo ever since April when Hyatt told parents it would be closing because of the organization’s $400,000 deficit. The announcement ignited a community backlash and the organization gave parents a month to raise $100,000 to prevent the center from closing. The deadline was July 31.
Among those spearheading the campaign to save the center were the Rev. Willie Phillips, of Winterfield on the Move Against Drug; Councilman Bruce Huff and Center Director Lyndon Burch.
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Last month, the center held an open house and neighborhood march to raise funds. Participants included parents and children from the Garrard Center, along with Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, Sheriff John Darr, Marshal Greg Countryman, Councilor Bruce Huff, Municipal Court Clerk Vivian Creighton Bishop, State Sen. Ed Harbison and State Reps. Calvin Smyre and Carolyn Hugley.
Burch said the center raised about $25,00 at last count, a good portion from pledges. He said Hyatt will meet with parents 5 p.m. Tuesday, and a final tally will be done. “We are disappointed that we were unsuccessful,” he said. “We just feel the center is needed and should’ve been saved.”
Phillips said the parents never had a chance. He said he, Huff and the city's Crime Prevention Director Seth Brown met last week to discuss funding possibilities. He said Brown said his department had extra money available but he would need more time for board and Council approval. Huff said he asked Girls Inc. to extend the deadline, but the request was denied.
"It's sad and heartbreaking," Phillips said. "The decision was already made and they shouldn't have given those parents hope that they could raise it."
Huff said Girls Inc. board members told him they had given the parents a month to raise the money but couldn't go beyond that because they wanted the girls placed before school started.
He said he's sorry the center couldn't be saved.
"I'm concerned about the girls and their safety and well being," he said. "That was a great place for them as far as learning life skills and getting mentored. We don't want to lose our young girls back to the streets. They had a place to go where they were safe and content."
In Monday’s news release, Girls Inc. reiterated the financial reasons for the closing.
“Over the past decade and a half, it has become a challenge for Girls Inc. to balance expenses with revenue, even with the constant support of our loyal donors,” the release said. “Staff and board members have worked hard to cut expenses and increase revenue. Despite those efforts, Girls Inc. cannot afford to continue operating three physical centers at this time, so we had to select one center to close in order to narrow the gap between expenses and revenue.
“Garrard Center is Girls Inc. smallest center with the fewest amenities and the most maintenance issues,” according to the release. “That is why it is the center Girls Inc chose to close. Closing the Garrard Center is the right thing to do so that Girls Inc. can focus its limited resources on programming for the girls, and not on a building with extensive maintenance challenges.”
Girls at the Garrard Center will be guaranteed a spot at the Baker Center at 3535 Levy Road, according the release, and two employees will be transferred.