On The Battle-Front

By: Megan McDonald

A war out there right now, with unemployment, foreclosures, and the faltering economy striking down people all over our region—including people who never needed help before. And the organizations that help those people are fighting their own battles, to provide more services and funds than ever before just as their own donations and staffs are […]


asset_upload_file645_28476.jpgA war out there right now, with unemployment, foreclosures, and the faltering economy striking down people all over our region—including people who never needed help before. And the organizations that help those people are fighting their own battles, to provide more services and funds than ever before just as their own donations and staffs are shrinking. Here’s a look at how some of those who are toiling on the charitable front lines are faring right now, as they try to revise their strategies and stretch their resources to continue to deliver their mission.

Helping The Homeless

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Tammy and Stephen Lamphier’s home, a small rental off Bee Ridge Road, near the pocket of car dealerships that line the busy street, is quiet and unassuming, much like the Lamphier family itself. Inside, the Lamphiers’ two children—Nikki, 12, and Joshua, 10—play and laugh, cavorting with the family’s dog, cat and bird.

They seem like a typical American family. Except that the Lamphiers—like many other American families across the country and here in Sarasota—are teetering on the brink of homelessness.

Until late 2008, Stephen, 46, had a physically demanding but comfortable job as a tow-truck driver, bringing home about $52,000 a year. A typical week’s work was about 80 hours. His wife, Tammy, 35, stayed home with the kids as a full-time mom. Smiling ruefully, she says, “I remember being able to go to the grocery store and pick whatever I wanted off the shelves.”

Then a double whammy hit the family. Because of the economic downturn, Stephen’s hours were cut. On top of that, in November 2008, he came down with a mystery illness—one that has yet to be diagnosed. One night, he thought he was having a heart attack; when Sarasota Memorial Hospital doctors examined him, they found he was bleeding internally and had a dangerously low hemoglobin count. He was admitted to the cardiac ward but never given a diagnosis.

Because Stephen didn’t have health insurance, he couldn’t follow up with the doctors who treated him at SMH. And because he was so sick, he couldn’t work. His longtime boss, who faced his own struggles with the economy, wasn’t sympathetic. “He told me, ‘Whether you’ve been here four years or not, that has no pull in today’s economy,’” Stephen says, a hint of anger in his voice. And just like that, his comfortable job was gone.

Luckily, Stephen, a peace-time veteran, can seek treatment at the Bay Pines V.A. Hospital, although an official diagnosis has been slow in coming. In the meantime, tests are being run—Stephen has had X-rays, endoscopies and colonoscopies, but the family still doesn’t have any answers. And because of the nature of his illness, which makes him tired after just a few minutes of physical activity, finding full-time work has been difficult, if not impossible.

Tammy, who has no special training or recent job history to speak of, hasn’t been able to find consistent work, either. The Lamphiers began taking on odd jobs—cleaning, sewing, dog walking, yard work—to support the family, but the jobs were few and far between. Subsisting only on Stephen’s meager $243-a-month military pension, the Lamphiers fell so behind on their rent payments that eviction seemed inevitable. Even buying the most basic items, like food or sneakers for the kids, was hard to do. They weren’t sure what to do next.

That’s when, in June of this year, an acquaintance referred them to the Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Sarasota-Manatee’s Building Strong Families program. Building Strong Families’ goal is keeping families in their homes; staffers work with families to create a long-term financial plan to maintain financial and emotional stability, and they also provide resources—such as clothing, school supplies, food, even rent money-to stabilize the current situation. Jamil Collins, the Building Strong Families program coordinator, has been working with the Lamphiers since they began the program, and with her help, the family is slowly getting back on its feet.

JFCS has paid the Lamphiers’ landlord $2,400 in back rent, negotiated a more manageable monthly payment and worked out a detailed financial plan, in addition to providing the family with a much-needed support system. And Tammy is looking into going back to school to get her GED and start training to become a legal administrative specialist.

“JFCS has been life-sustaining,” Tammy says. “We don’t feel like we’re being judged.” Stephen echoes her sentiments. “JFCS gives a hand-up, not a hand-out,” he says. The Lamphiers have a long way to go, but now they’re on their way.

JFCS hasn’t been immune to the tough economic climate, either. The Building Strong Families program takes on nine new cases a month, in addition to the current participants, and there are currently 100 families on the waiting list, with that number expected to increase.

“We have no support staff,” says JFCS CEO Rose Chapman. “There’s been trimming everywhere. We’ve taken cuts from the state government and the local government, and we’ve had to cut back on our programming. We haven’t given raises this year, and our development team is working hard to get donors.” Just how bad is the situation? “This is the toughest economy I’ve been through in the 16 years I’ve been here,” she says. “Even back in the ’80s, things weren’t this bad.

Even so, she says, her staff hasn’t lost its energy or sense of mission.

“The brightest spot,” Chapman says, her tone brightening a little, “is that we have a very dedicated staff, and that we can help the people who come through our doors.”

-Jewish Family & Children’s Services

For more information on JFCS, visit www.jfcs-cares.org.

Animal Activism

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The sounds that are most prevalent on Friday mornings at Manatee County Animal Services in Palmetto are those coming from dogs and cats—little woofs or mews as their owners unload their pets from their cars and take them to the check-in table set up in front of Animal Rescue Coalition’s mobile spay and neuter clinic.

Veterinary technician Pattie Helmuth sits behind the table, checking in each animal and giving its owner papers to fill out, until it’s time for their pet’s surgery. Many of the animals are wide-eyed and visibly nervous, and so are some of the owners.

The people who bring their animals to the clinic run the gamut. There’s the man with dirt under his fingernails who pulls up in a beat-up pickup truck and unloads a dog he keeps outside; the white-haired, elderly woman who walks slowly and carries a toy poodle; and the mother and daughter who carefully park their new sedan and croon to their brown dachshund as they snap on his leash. After check-in, the owners wait until Helmuth and the Animal Rescue Coalition (ARC) volunteer open the door to the truck and the animals are transported, one by one, to the mobile clinic, where they are weighed and given an exam and pre-operative medicine to calm them down.

Then the pets wait in roomy cages until they’re taken in for the surgery, which is routine and brief—and also completely free of charge. Their owners can pick them up mid-afternoon on the same day. In addition to the Palmetto location, ARC also makes stops at Robarts Arena in Sarasota every Wednesday and once a month at locations on Ashton Road and in North Port.

Before the animals are taken into surgery, Helmuth explains, they’re brought up-to-date on their rabies shots, if needed, and their ears are cleaned, nails are trimmed and teeth are checked. Skin issues are also noted, and if anything appears abnormal, the Animal Rescue Coalition staff recommends that the owner take his pet to a vet. In many cases, this visit to the ARC truck is the first time the animal will see a vet, and as Helmuth administers medicine, she comments on the number of fleas on several of the dogs.

“We’re providing a service that has been out of financial reach for a lot of our clientele,” Helmuth says as she finishes collecting the paperwork and gets ready to climb aboard the mobile unit for the surgeries, which will be performed by Dr. Jerry Eddington, a former clinic owner who now works for ARC. Helmuth, the ARC volunteers and Dr. Eddington are gentle with the animals; before the dogs and cats are given the anesthesia, they’re petted and spoken to in soft, kind voices.

Applicants for the spay and neuter services must demonstrate financial need. “They have to fall within government program guidelines,” explains Helmuth. “And we use a sliding scale—income doesn’t automatically qualify an applicant.” That means Social Security and disability payments and the use of food stamps are all taken into consideration when a person applies for the spay and neuter program. This is especially relevant in the current economy, when people who previously never had to ask for help now suddenly do.

Demand for the program, which is funded by the county with the stipulation that every animal that is served has a current rabies tag, has increased as the economy has soured, and Eddington notes that he’s seen “more people in nicer cars.”

“Our waiting list extends to October now,” says Roberta Druif, executive director of Animal Rescue Coalition. “And we’re the only free spay-neuter program in the county, so there’s a huge demand.”

In addition to the free spay and neuter program, Animal Rescue Coalition runs a feral cat program, in which feral cats are brought to the spay and neuter clinic, given vaccines, have their ears tipped and cleaned, and are spayed and neutered. ARC also runs Adopt-a-thons in both Sarasota and Manatee counties and has partnered with Sarasota County to create a foster program, both of which save homeless cats and dogs from euthanasia.

Druif says that she’s grateful that her organization has been included in both Sarasota and Manatee counties’ budgets for the upcoming year, and that she and her staff will also be applying for grant money to supplement ARC’s programs. Still, the economy has taken its toll.

“We originally hoped to expand because demand is so high,” Druif says. “But our budget is only $600,000 per year. We’ve cut costs by about 10 percent, and that’s a small price to pay to keep the organization moving forward, especially because [our staff] loves what they do. It puts more burden on them, but they’re happy to do it.”

ARC has also increased its volunteer staff—“more people are available now,” Druif says—and although donations are “definitely smaller, we have some wonderful, regular donors who do what they can. The people that we help are truly needy, and it’s important to keep going—to keep on despite our cuts. This economy has truly affected everyone.”

-Animal Rescue Coalition

For more information about Animal Rescue Coalition, visit www.animalrescuecoalition.org.

Taking It Personally

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Wendy Mann Resnick has been at the head of United Cerebral Palsy Sarasota-Manatee for the past 26 years.

In her office on the second floor of UCP Sarasota-Manatee’s headquarters on Tamiami Trail, photos highlight events and campaigns that UCP has put on over the years. Many of the thousands of motorists who drive by each day like to see what clever new message Resnick has posted on the big UCP sign right next to the Trail.

“I like to put up philosophical signs,” she explains. “I get lots of feedback from them.”

These days, Resnick is philosophical about more than her signs. Her organization helps some of the most disabled members of the community through its day programs, but, like every other nonprofit leader, Resnick is rethinking its strategies to fit the new realities of less money and more need.

“I’ve noticed a substantial decrease in sponsorships,” she says from her office, where—despite the slow business climate outside—her phone is still ringing, and ringing often. “And on top of that, ticket prices for events have to be lowered. People are more selective about the events they choose to attend.”

Resnick has been working hard to let people know about the contributions UCP makes and to acquire donations, but even those who once gave generously—especially businesses which, in the past, may have sponsored several events—are not in a position to do so anymore. “I’ve definitely seen a shift,” she says.

And while other organizations might see an increase in volunteers even while donations are declining, Resnick says that UCP has not, perhaps because volunteers have to go through an extensive screening and training process to work with clients. In addition to its day program for disabled adults, which usually serves about 23 clients a day, UCP has two group homes and provides transportation for its clients, and it’s not uncommon to find a staff member, like the director of operations, driving clients to their appointments.

“We’re applying for more grants,” Resnick says, “and the foundations have been supportive. People here know how important it is to support each other during hard times.”

Not only are organizations experiencing a decrease in donations, they’re also noticing a change in the way people donate. “The population is aging, and young [donors] are assuming different roles than the previous generation. There’s not as much person-to-person contact anymore,” Resnick explains. “Everything is online now.”

Resnick says that she joined Facebook specifically to dispense information about UCP’s programs and events, and she uses e-mail for various other marketing communications. But she’s still a firm believer in one-on-one communication, even though using social media for fund raising might be more cost-effective. “I still send out invitations,” she says. “I like the personal, tangible touch.”  

Adding a personal touch to everything UCP does is especially important to Resnick, whose own son, Bobby, is disabled from cerebral palsy. “I always say he’s a genius in disguise,” she says with a smile. “He loves unconditionally. That’s why I always want what we do at UCP to be something that’s good enough for my own kid.”

As Resnick leans back in her chair, contemplating UCP’s future and her own strategies for moving the organization through these tough times, the phone rings again. Before moving to answer it, she says, ”We appreciate what the people in the community have given over the years, and we continue to appreciate it now—even when they can’t.” And with that, she gets back to work.

-United Cerebral Palsy

For more information on UCP Sarasota-Manatee, visit www.ucpsarasota.org.

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