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NewsReport to Mississiippi Mills Council on the closure of TYPS Youth Centre

Report to Mississiippi Mills Council on the closure of TYPS Youth Centre

TYPS logoNovember 12, 2014

Thank you for the opportunity to come speak with you today on behalf of the TYPS Board of Directors. I have Chaired the Board since 2010. Prior to that I was the Executive Director for a year and a half and, before that, an occasional volunteer.

You and many others want to know ‘What happened to TYPS?’

To answer that question, we have to start with the big picture.

What happened to TYPS is that we, collectively, have not seen youth services and youth centres identified as essential community services that must be financially sustainable.

For almost 20 years, local volunteers have worked hard to provide programs and services to support young people in this community. The volunteers who are currently serving on the board are not social service professionals. Their role should be strategic planning for the future, oversight for the present, and advocacy for youth. But their role in practice has mainly been scrambling to find money.

Like all the youth centres in Lanark County TYPS lived on a financial tightrope. Year after year, in grant applications and community fundraisers and presentations to this Council, we explained the needs of local youth and appealed for support. We have had some amazingly generous donors, but we never had enough of them.

The closure of TYPS this October 14 should not come as a surprise. You cannot live on a tightrope and not expect to fall.

Across the social services sector, individual volunteers burn themselves out trying to be the band aids and crutches that will keep a broken system working, because we see who will suffer when the system fails. Not if, when.

The task, now, is not to bring TYPS back to life. It’s to build a better system.

On Saturday October 4 I received an email from our Executive Director, Julie Willbond, indicating that we did not have enough money in the bank to cover our costs beyond the current pay period. I was leaving the next day for two weeks of work-related training in Alberta but I met with the Board by Skype at an emergency meeting on Tuesday October 7th. TYPS had already committed to host the Almonte All-Candidates Meeting two days later, on Thursday Oct. 9th. In order to avoid upstaging that meeting with our financial issues, we decided not to notify anyone until after the All-Candidates Meeting.

As a recipient of United Way funding, we could not appeal for public support during the United Way’s annual fundraising campaign, which runs from September until late November. We therefore felt that we had no choice but to close our doors.

The next day, on Friday Oct. 10th, we told staff that they were being laid off. We issued press release that weekend, and closed TYPS on Thanksgiving Monday.

How did we not see this coming?

There was no financial negligence or mismanagement of funds at TYPS. The Mills financial services department has been overseeing our bookkeeping and we have been audited annually.

TYPS had a deficit of $16,840 coming into 2014. Most of this came from not meeting our fundraising targets for 2013. We addressed the deficit at every board meeting and raised over $22,000 in donations. We cut every cost that could be cut. Almost all of our expenses – other than food – were running under-budget. Our largest costs were rent – at nearly $23,000 annually – and salaries – at over $100,000. We had three professional full-time staff. We couldn’t cut wages, because they were already very low, and we couldn’t cut hours because the funding provided for their positions required them to be full-time.

Two factors tipped us over the edge. First, we received less that we hoped for from the Town, and the United Way cut our funding in half. Second, there was a change in the schedule for payments from the Trillium Foundation, which funded our in-school mental health program. Their grants typically arrived in the spring and fall, and helped tide us over the year end and a lean first quarter, until other funding arrived in the spring. That schedule changed to summer and winter. We simply did not have enough in the bank to tide us over until January.

Currently, we have paid our bills and have enough funds in the bank to cover our remaining obligations. We need to be out of the our space by the end of the month.

What are we doing now to create sustainable youth services in our community?

We have three priorities, moving forward.

The first priority has been to discharge our fiduciary obligations. This has meant tying up financial loose ends, working with funders, and preparing final reports for the grants in progress.

The second priority has been to work to establish interim youth services. To that end, members of our Board have formed a task force with The Mills Community Support, ADHS, public health, the Planning Council for Children and Youth, the United Way, and the Anglican Church. They’ve invited local social service providers to a workshop on Friday November 28, with a focus on finding short-term strategies to meet the most pressing needs of youth in high-risk situations. They will start by targeting five priority areas of need: mental health, substance abuse, homelessness and poverty, food support, and support for youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual or transgender. There were almost 2500 visits to the youth centre in 2014. Closing TYPS has torn a hole in our social safety net, so we are working on a patch to keep youth from falling through.

Our third priority is to call a community youth services forum to start building a better system, so we don’t have five youth centres in the county all barely scraping by and kids falling through the cracks. This public forum will happen in the new year, in collaboration with the United Way and The Mills Community Support.

Loss is only useful if we learn from it. And there is a lot to be learned from the closure of TYPS.

As a Board, we clearly made some mistakes. We did not get adequate financial reporting from our staff consistently and clearly enough to see this soon enough to stop it. We were optimistic rather than conservative in our estimates of how much revenue we would be able to generate from fundraising. We allowed TYPS to operate without any reserves. We were too slow to communicate that we were on the brink of closure. And we were too reluctant to reduce levels of service.

I cannot overstate how supportive The Mills has been. Their leadership and competency in community development is an incredible asset that deserves the greatest respect and appreciation.

The youth in our community are like a very revealing mirror. They show the best of us – our passion and potential – and they also show the problems that we don’t want to see. They deserve more than we have ever been able to provide. We are deeply sorry that we, the Board, and we collectively have failed them. Our community has the capacity – and, hopefully, the resolve – to do better.

Sophie Tamas on behalf of the TYPS Board of Directors contact: sophie@tamas.com




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