Budgets brighten for STAR, youth center

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WALLA WALLA — “Don’t come back.”

He didn’t mean to sound harsh, Walla Walla County Commissioner Greg Tompkins told those assembled Monday morning. “This is the last time we can do this … I’m letting you know up front, don’t come back. You have a year to get your houses in order.”

His words were meant for all, but especially for the ears of listeners in attendance on behalf of Walla Walla’s STAR Project and Community Center for Youth.

Yet his warning had already been softened. After budget decisions forced Tompkins and Commissioners Perry Dozier and Jim Johnson to say “no” to many requests for county dollars last week, the three decided it was the right time to let go of some “community outreach” funds, Tompkins said.

That account was created during a more flush economic time in county history, and was meant to flourish with “brilliant” investing. Things didn’t quite happen that way, Tompkins explained with a smile, and the fund was more or less stagnant.

Thus, giving the money to STAR and CCY — within “sideboards” of reporting, fundraising and accountability — was a win-win, he said.

Both agencies had initially seen cuts in the financial help Walla Walla County was able to give them for 2013. STAR lost its bid for $40,000 and CCY for $2,500. Both agencies do good work but are outside of official county business, commissioners said. “These are just tough times and there are so many good programs out there. There are critical social issues,” noted Johnson. “Without these programs, how will these people be impacted? But the well is quickly running dry.”

STAR — Successful Transition and Reentry — helps recently-released ex-convicts secure housing, job and educational opportunities and get hooked into the social services, ammunition against returning to the lifestyle that landed them in prison in the first place.

Community Center for Youth serves area teens in a safe and relationship-based environment, offering creative, educational and sports-oriented classes and events.

Each organization leans heavily on private donations and counts on some government help to provide some funding stability. Both programs are functioning as intended, Tompkins said. “In my heart of hearts, CCY and STAR do good things.”

In “one-time-only” grants, the county allotted $2,500 to CCY and $20,000 to STAR, half now and another $10,000 in September if the organization can raise $5,000 on its own.

Glenna Awbrey, executive director for STAR, said her staff and board just began working with a consultant provided by the Donald and Virginia Sherwood Trust. The group is confident that will make a big difference in fundraising and other efforts, she said this morning.

While $20,000 is not the $40,000 STAR sought, it is a lifesaver, board President Chuck Hindman said Monday. “What the grant does is give us time to adjust. We will become more visible in the community, reach out to people who want to support us.”

STAR’s budget will likely always small compared to some other social service providers and that is to the good, Hindman added. “We want to get the most bang for our buck … but this means not having to close our doors.”

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