Community programs face major cuts

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By April Wright, Reporter

To June Donithan, it feels like she has just moved into a new home, she says, as a weatherization crew of Rooftop of Virginia Community Action Program and others work to repair her 1970s- model trailer by replacing windows and doors, and putting in insulation, fire and carbon monoxide detectors and energy-efficient lights.

“It’s like a miracle,” said Donithan, 82, of Galax. “It’s a blessing that God would send these people here so I might have a better way of living and paying for heating and electric bills.”

Weatherization is just one of many services provided by Rooftop. Although weatherization will be impacted minimally, tremendous budget cuts will reduce funds for emergency assistance.

Drastic state cuts of 62 percent to Rooftop is causing closure of two outreach offices (one at Cana and another at Whitetop), the cut of one full-time and three part-time jobs, and a 65 percent reduction in clients, according to Chris Bedsaul, executive director of Rooftop.

The private, non-profit agency in Galax is supported by federal, state and local funds. It is designed to help low-income individuals and families in Galax, Carroll and Grayson counties through programs such as Head Start, home weatherization, a food bank, emergency assistance funds and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds.

Rooftop is to receive $190,309 for fiscal year 2011, which is down from $490,837 this year — including $263,000 in stimulus funds — and down over $300,000 from the previous fiscal year.

“Our clients and we did everything we could to prevent this from happening—clients wrote letters and we went to Richmond in January while General Assembly was in session,” said Tabatha Houk, public relations manager/planner of Rooftop. “Never in the history of Rooftop, have we had so many cuts.”

With a deep cut to emergency assistance funds —the most-used service —  that help low-income clients pay electric bills, buy heating sources and pay rent once an eviction notice is received, some people may be left out in the cold.

Rooftop typically has maintained level funding.

Houk said once July rolls around, one Rooftop employee will have to travel to Whitetop and Cana to assist residents, in addition to handling caseloads at the agency.

“Some clients in those areas are elderly and are not able to travel here, said Houk. This also puts a bigger burden on our staff members.”

Cutting back on staff means making adjustments in which some employees will be doing two- or even three-person jobs. For example, the weatherization crew also will have to do some administrative work.

“It’s going to be a lot of trial and error,” said Bedsaul. “We’re going to have to do some shifting and shuffling around and praying. We anticipate that we are all going to have to fill in when we have to.”

Houk and other Rooftop staff have set out to raise $5,000 for its programs through a series of fundraisers, including car washes, luncheons and for-fee handyman services.

“Realistically, $5,000 is not going to make a dent, but it will be enough to help a couple more families,” Houk said.

Rooftop staff volunteered time on several Saturdays and evenings to host carwash fundraisers and dinners. Last month, 14 staff volunteered to scrub down cars on a Saturday.

Bedsaul said Rooftop continues to do what it can to ensure that no more jobs or services are cut.

Many of the nearly 5,000 clients receive multiple services from Rooftop. One client, for example, may have a child in Head Start, need help with an eviction notice and have to access the food bank.

“The hardest part is turning clients away,” said Bedsaul. “And there’s nothing we’re going to be able to do about it. We don’t know how we’re going to make it work.”

Some churches and other local organizations that receive referrals from Rooftop are also working on limited funds.

On June 28, staff will be laid off. And Rooftop has decided not to renew leases with outreach offices in Cana and Whitetop, meaning that those offices will close June 30.

To schedule home repairs through handyman services fundraiser, call 236-7131.