A brick building with words Neighborhood House on it

For the past six months, I have had the pleasure and displeasure of working at The Neighborhood House (NHI). The pleasure has been in working at a settlement house that was established in 1902 to serve the homeless, jobless, hungry, adults, children, pregnant mothers, families and people of all races who need community services to become and remain self-sufficient. The pleasure was in providing hope and encouragement as well as resources to meet the settlement goals in Franklin County. 

The displeasure was in watching the NHI become extinct as programs were cut and ended at a pace that showed no compassion for the people that it served or the employees that worked at the NHI, some for several years.

 Let’s start with the first deception which clearly rests with the NHI Board Members. Now I’m going to assume that the NHI board has a job description in place, which is a standard practice with non-profit organizations. However, if it does have a job description, then the question that arises is: what are they doing or what have they done to “save” the NHI from failing after 114 years of service. 

I’m going to look at just two functions of a non-profit board. The first is fund raising, which is a full board function. The board should periodically consider and approve a fund-raising rationale and develop a current plan on why the organization needs money to continue services and how the money will be used. Therefore, the board should know what the organizational financial needs are and where there is lack in funding well before they “announce” that the NHI will close due to “lack of funding” to the public. 

Second, the board is to manage resources effectively in accordance with serving the public trust and protecting accumulated assets and ensuring that current income is managed properly. The NHI board members are the trustees in the literal and legal sense of the term and therefore are ultimately accountable for the annual budget. The board is to help develop and approve the annual budget which determines programmatic, personnel and other priorities that enable an organization to continue to thrive and prosper. 

What happens when a non-profit board fails to fund raise or manage the financial records through use of annual audits by an independent certified public accountant or accounting firm? The doors of the organization close. Employees lose their jobs. Vital services to the community are stopped and families suffer. What makes it worse, is the lack of truthfulness and openness in regards to the closing of services provided directly by the NHI settlement house. 

Imagine being an employee who is told repeatedly that “the NHI is not closing” while watching staff being terminated after each closed board meeting. Imagine being a parent who has children in the childcare programs, the before and after school programs and first being told “the services will still be provided,” then “the services will end December 31, 2016” and finally after a board meeting being held the first of the week being now told that “the services will end next week” and now you must find somewhere else for your child to go while you work. The NHI did provide other organizations that had openings and even helped some of the teachers get new jobs at those organizations. But it still didn’t take away the “sting” of being misled for months.

Imagine being an employee working in an organization that now, after a November Board meeting, find out that they have fired the cleaning crew. And this was done while the childcare and before and after school programs were still in effect. What do you say about a board that decides the cleanliness of a building and its bathrooms is not important or needed for the remaining employees and community members who use the child care services, the food pantry/produce services, or others that come into the NHI daily for group sessions and other business? Apparently, the money was so mismanaged that keeping the NHI building clean and sanitized for the remaining employees and consumers wasn’t feasible.  

It looks like the doors of the NHI building may remain open, however, it will be open to other agencies to utilize for their own organizational use. NHI may now become a leasing building that houses other organizations to serve the neighborhood community. As a past employee who came in to NHI right in the beginning of all the deception and chaos, all I can say is that it was an experience that I hope to never experience again.





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