Saving Girls Inc. Garrard Center by July will cost $100,000

Parents trying to save the Garrard Center on Clover Lane will have to raise $100,000 by the end of July or the 40-year-old facility will close.

That’s an agreement that was hashed out at a May 15 meeting between the Girls Inc. board of directors and members of the Winterfield community.

Last week, the center issued a news release announcing an open house Saturday to raise money for the project. It will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and include family activities, the news release said.

The Rev. Willie Phillips, a local advocate for the center, said his organization, Winterfield on the Move Against Drugs, will participate in the open house and lead a neighborhood march the morning of the event.

“It won’t be the first time we’ve marched with the girls through the community,” he said. “We’ve marched in the past against drugs and violence. But now we’re marching to save their center because it’s vital to this community.”

The Garrard Center is located at 3007 Clover Lane. It serves between 85 and 100 girls during the school year, about 50 of them students from across the street at Martin Luther King Elementary School. The center also has a summer program that has a daily attendance of 65 to 70.

The center’s future has been in limbo ever since April when Girls Inc. Executive Director Dorothy Hyatt told parents that it would be closing because of the organization’s $400,000 deficit and the poor shape of the building. The news upset the parents and they began a campaign to save the building with help from Phillips, Center Director Lyndon Burch and Columbus Councilor Bruce Huff.

Burch was listed as the contact for Saturday’s open house. But when reached by the Ledger-Enquirer, he referred media inquiries to Hyatt.

Hyatt said board members decided to give parents an opportunity to raise the money after they showed up at the May board meeting to protest the closing. Under the agreement, they would have to raise $100,000 each year over a five-year period, plus a 3 percent increase each year after the first year. She said it costs the organization about $125,000 to $150,000 to maintain the center, and the board has agreed to make up the difference.

“If we have that many concerned citizens that love Garrard so much and are willing to invest, we said, ‘Okay, we’re giving you the opportunity to do that,’” she said. “They have committed to a five-year timeline and hopefully in those five years we would’ve raised some endowment money.”

But after that there are still no guarantees: “The truth is if this building continues to deteriorate, it could close five years from now, who knows what’s going to happen.”

As a United Way organization, Hyatt said, Girls Inc. has to be careful raising money directly from local corporations. She has asked Burch and the parents to provide a list of companies they plan to approach so she could run it by United Way as a courtesy.

Girls Inc. will receive $487,000 from the 2013 United Way fundraising campaign, putting it among the top three funded organizations.

“When it comes to corporations we would like to make sure United Way is comfortable with us reaching out, because United Way goes to corporations for funding,” she said. “So you have to be real careful about duplicating.”

She also doesn’t want parents approaching companies already supporting Girls Inc., she said.

“The problem is they can’t get money we’re already raising for operations,” Hyatt said. “If I’m already raising $10,000 from (a particular company), and they request an additional $10,000, they have to be clear that it’s in addition to what we’re already receiving.”

Scott Ferguson, United Way executive director, said the organization does place some restrictions on agency fundraising during the annual campaign, which begins in the fall. But he doesn’t have a problem with parents trying to raise money during the summer.

“I think it is great that the parents and community have rallied to help support the center and I wish them the very best and much success,” he said in a recent email. “The United Way doesn’t manage agencies, but we are certainly interested that any funded program continues to be good stewards of the community’s donations and that the target audience receives good quality services.”

Hyatt said last month that the building was too costly to maintain and attendance was too low in the summer months. She said the center would close in August and the girls would be bused to the Baker Center, the organization’s flagship facility at 3535 Levy Road. The organization also runs the Kolb Center at 4637 Kolb Ave.

If the parents’ fundraising plans fail, the organization will move forward with the closing, Hyatt said. She said she met with Muscogee County School District Superintendent David Lewis last month and he was favorable to the district possibly helping with transportation to the Baker Center.

But the possibility of having a satellite center at MLK Elementary, which she mentioned last month during a Ledger-Enquirer interview, won’t work out, she said last week. The board is also not in favor of closing the center only during the summer months.

“Financial reasons,” she said. “It just makes a lot more sense to serve them at either Garrard or Baker.”