The following article describes the plight of a nonprofit that is going out of business having failed to secure funds for its various restorative justice programs. The program was apparently glued together by its husband-wife founders who believe they have basically run out of sustainability options.
I would pose that the biggest error made by this couple is that they did this effort alone. Evidence would suggest that whatever board they had was not one that could help with sustaining the organization's efforts. While on the one hand I firmly believe that nonprofit boards must agree to play a role in asking for money I also believe that they have a responsibility for developing strategy that will ensure that what has been started can continue. I'm not clear what this board had done on either count but if the story centers around the exec, I would offer that there's certainly not much board. On the other hand, I'm also aware of execs who opted not to listen to their board and with determination decided that they would forge ahead including a public appeal. A strategy none-the-less. From the Chicago Tribune:
There's no doubt 2016 has been a rough one for Linda Martin and her beloved RITAS Ministry she co-founded almost two decades ago to help prison inmates transition back into society.
With donations down and the Springfield budget mess that's hit all social services between the eyes, this long-time executive director was forced to close the group's four residential buildings a year ago that provided 32 beds for ex-cons trying to land on their feet again.
"It was," she said at the time, "one of the hardest things I've ever done."
And then things got tougher.
On Saturday, she and husband Rick, who started the ministry with her in 1996, had to clear out their office on Galena Boulevard in Aurora and shut the doors for the last time because "there was just no more money to pay the rent."
And yet, when I caught up with Martin and her daughter Deanna Martin only a couple days later, she was still smiling – sometimes through the tears – determined that at least one important component of the organization would not be disrupted as the horrible year draws to a close.
Since 1992 – yes, even before the organization was founded – the Martins have gathered and distributed Christmas toys for the children of prison inmates, which she estimates has benefited at least a couple thousand kids over the holidays.
But with the office shut down and her life's passion in limbo, the RITAS Ministry Angel Tree program was in such jeopardy she even told one of its long-time supporters, Aurora Central Catholic High School, to find another toy drive to sponsor this season.
And yet determination found a way to win out over crummy news. Northern Illinois University, another long-time supporter, came through with dozens of gifts; as did St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Hampshire, which collected 22 tall black yard bags filled with presents, five of which are designated for residents of the St. Charles Youth Home. Also helping collect toys and donations were Holy Cross Catholic Church, Fox Valley United Way and "plenty of individuals" and others in the community who know the importance of this program.
And even though Martin no longer had an office, where she and volunteers would sort and wrap rooms of gifts each year, Aurora Outreach Church on Illinois Avenue offered her space … which is where I found her on Monday, surrounded by mounds of toys, children's clothing and stacks of paperwork.
"I'm so grateful we were able to do it this year again," she said, tears gathering in her eyes. "I know the power of this program in changing lives."
While the children are not told the gifts are from their parents – "we don't want to lie to them," Martin noted – volunteers let them know their father (or mother) "want you to have these." And that's all it takes to light up those young faces, she insisted.
One year, Martin recalled, for one 11-year-old who had refused to speak to her dad after he was sent to prison, those gifts started a dialogue between them again that, after his release, became the foundation for the strong relationship they share today.
And just earlier that afternoon, Martin said she spoke with a woman taking care of four grandchildren who had no money for Santa Claus. "When I told her we would not only deliver toys for the two kids whose father was in prison but for all four of her grandkids, she was so grateful she started to cry."
Even with no office, the pleas for assistance, redirected from her former land line, continue to come in to her cell phone. By 3 o'clock on Monday, Martin said she'd already taken four calls from moms and grandmothers looking for help with loved ones about to be released. There was also a call from a social worker with the Elgin police asking for advice.
"Keep us in your prayers," she told yet another caller. "We are going to decide on what we will do with our future."
RITAS (Restoring Inmates to America's Society) Ministry has been honored several times at the state level for its work in restorative justice, which experts agree is a vital component of crime prevention. After offenders have paid their debt to society, they often need help finding housing, jobs, even food and clothing. But if that assistance is not there, the chance of them re-offending rises dramatically. And that, in turn, only costs the taxpayers in terms of victim impact, law enforcement, the courts and penal systems.
"If there are not programs like RITAS Ministry out there, who is going to fill that gap?" asked former Aurora Police Chief Greg Thomas, a long-time supporter of this nonprofit. "Another government program? We see how well that works out."
That's why, despite struggling with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 65-year-old Martin is not giving up on this ministry any more than she's giving up on the offenders her organization has served for two decades.
"I've been quiet for a while about the situation. But we will regroup," she insisted. "We might be small but we are powerful. I know the value of this ministry and I will not give up."