A spontaneous pledge from an audience member spared Alamance County’s governing board from having to deny a financial lifeline to a local nonprofit group that has found itself battered by a perfect storm of pandemic-induced hardships.
Thanks to the impromptu offer from Durham County resident Louise Cole, Alamance County’s commissioners were able to postpone their own decision about a bailout for Friendship Adult Daycare, which had approached them on Monday with a plea for some emergency funds.
Although Friendship has never previously relied on the county’s financial support, the organization has traditionally used a county-owned building to house its kaleidoscope of programs for cognitively and developmentally disabled adults. The inadequacy of its original quarters eventually inspired Ron Petree, the brother of one of Friendship’s former clients, to make a multi-million-dollar donation for a new county facility to accommodate the adult daycare and a couple of other, unrelated programs.
The completion of the new building, which is named after Petree’s late sister Ann, was something of a bittersweet moment for Friendship’s clients and staff.
Due to the risk of coronavirus infection, the organization had mothballed all of its in-person services when the Petree building opened earlier this year. Although Friendship has continued to function with a skeleton staff, the closure of its adult daycare has deprived the organization of critical grant revenue, which has made it all the more difficult to resume full operationa as the pandemic subsides.
Connie Morse, the organization’s executive director, didn’t mince words about just how dire Friendship’s predicament was when she addressed the county commissioners on Monday.
“What that has done to us though is that it has put us in a financial bind,” Morse explained when she appeared before the county’s governing board using the Zoom teleconferencing platform. “We have not received any funding since August…and we actually ended March about $3,500 in the hole.
“We are a vital service in the community,” she added, “and we are literally at the brink of having to shut down before we can even open in our new building.”
Morse went on to ask the commissioners for $50,000 in order to cover the group’s outstanding expenses and fund its operations until June, when she said she expects the flow of grant revenue to resume.
Morse’s pleas did not go unnoticed by commissioner Pam Thompson, who urged her colleagues to dig into the county’s reserves to aid the struggling nonprofit group.
“I think we need to do everything we can to support this agency,” she told her fellow commissioners, “and I’m sure [Morse’s] numbers are going to grow because she’ll have more room [in the new building].”
Thompson’s entreaties nevertheless ran into some practical difficulties in light of Friendship’s status as a mere tenant in a county-owned building.
Sherry Hook, Alamance County’s interim manager, informed the commissioners that the county will be unable to draw on its multi-million dollar cache of federal pandemic relief to lift Friendship out of its hole.
Hook noted that the county could dip into these funds if Friendship was designated a contractor responsible for some “essential” public service. She conceded that the group’s adult daycare would qualify as an essential service, although she added that the program would have to be up and running before the county could draw up a contract with Friendship to operate it.
Hook remained just as unyielding when Thompson turned her attention to other potential sources of revenue beyond the county’s pot of federal pandemic relief.
“We can’t just make a donation to them,” the interim county manager said after Thompson suggested an outlay from the county’s regular financial reserves.
Hook didn’t rule out the possibility that the county’s legal department could hammer out a contract with Friendship by the time that the commissioners hold their next meeting on April 18. But the prospect of having to wait another two weeks for an answer proved small consolation for Morse.
“The issue that we have before us right now is that I have payroll on April 15, and I can’t make payroll,” she told the commissioners. “I was hoping that there’s some way we can get closure on this…We have weathered the storm for the past two and a half years, and it’s just getting to the point that we can’t do that anymore.”
Morse added that she has already explored other potential sources of funding – so far, with no better luck. She conceded that her bank has yet to extend her a line of credit, and she admitted that the group’s latest fundraiser had brought in a rather paltry return. Morse said that she even struck out with the local United Way.
“Heidi [Norwick, the local chapter’s long-time president] is one of the people who told me to come to you,” she acknowledged.
The commissioners, for their part, were inclined to put off their decision on Friendship’s request to allow the county’s legal department to explore ways to assist the organization. John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, proposed just such a delay in response to Hook’s objections to a straight-out donation.
“I think everybody on this board is very sympathetic to the cause and the need,” he told Morse. “The problem I have is…that [I] don’t see a way we can legally do what you’re requesting. I’m suggesting that we table this until our next meeting in two weeks.
“We’ll be closed by then, sir,” Morse replied flatly, “unless we can get the bank to give us a line of credit.”
Morse’s dilemma looked dire, indeed, when Louise Cole suddenly piped up with a proposal that brightened the prospects for Friendship considerably.
A board member for a nonprofit group that develops new charter schools, Cole had been in attendance on Monday for an unrelated item concerning her organization’s latest endeavor, the Unity Global Academy, one of whose leaders, Peter Morcombe, was seeking a letter of support from the county commissioners. [See separate story this edition.]
Yet, the plight of Friendship Adult Daycare appears to have stirred something within the heart of this Durham County visitor.
“Could a private citizen loan them the money?” Cole inquired before offering a $10,000 contribution from her own pocket.
Stunned by Cole’s generosity, Morse acknowledged that the proffered donation may be enough to sustain Friendship’s operations while she explores a potential contract with Alamance County. Morse nevertheless protested that she’s far from certain these efforts will bear fruit in the end.
“If nothing comes of it, I’d feel that it won’t have been the best use of your money,” she warned Cole.
“It’s worth the risk,” her benefactor replied.
Cole proceeded to write out a check for $10,000 that she passed along to Hook for safekeeping when the commissioners went behind closed doors to discuss an unrelated legal matter.