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Out of debt even with no follow up on promised $30,000 donation?
Charlotte’s Community Center bounds back but fights to get their act together

by David Moore . Q-Notes staff
CHARLOTTE — In January Q-Notes reported that the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Community Center was fighting an uphill battle to survive. It came as a surprise to most in the city’s LGBT population — seemingly little mention had been made that the Center’s funds were drying up.

The problems at The Center came to light during the summer of 2006 while fundraising efforts were underway for the newly revamped PRIDE Charlotte festival. On more than one occasion the Center removed money raised from the account for the PRIDE celebration to cover expenses such as payroll, utilities and even rent.

Roughly six months later, Center staffer Linda Davis was laid off and Executive Director Laura Witkowski resigned. The Center cut back on its operating hours and was then staffed by a mix of board members and community volunteers.

When it was announced that the Center was $40,000 in debt and that funds being donated were extremely limited — the city’s queer community had to face facts: some fast action was required or the possibility that the Center would close its doors forever was a distinct and disturbing reality.

As the need for help became obvious, the community rallied. Southern Country Charlotte donated $20,000. The Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund donated $18,000 and John Crowley, the executive vice president and CFO of Fairpoint Communications, handed over a hefty individual contribution of $10,000, with a promise of an additional $30,000 coming down the pike.
Now — according to Joe Campos, chairperson of the Board of Trustees — the outlook for the Center has vastly improved.

“We’re out of debt,” says Campos. “Through the generosity of many individuals and the organizations that have donated, we’re in a much better place.”

At press time though, Crowley was in the dark about the latest developments at the Center. Despite the fact he told Campos about the additional donations he was ready to make, there had been no follow up from the Center’s end.

“I haven’t heard anything from them,” says Crowley. “They asked me for $40,000 and I understood at the time it was a bit of an emergency need for funds, so I said why don’t I just give you $10,000 right now and I’ll give you the rest as we reach certain benchmarks.”
Although Campos had indicated he would get back with Crowley in three weeks with a strategic plan, somehow the effort fell through the cracks.

“It was never specified what those benchmarks were,” Crowley confirms. “I just said get back with me and you tell me and we can move on from there.”

There’s clearly no hard feelings on Crowley’s part — he’s impressed with the Center and excited to know it’s rebounded from a brush with death — and he’s still willing and ready to help out with the aforementioned contribution.

“It’s a great facility,” says Crowley. “A great mix of people. It seems like a really good resource for a lot of people. I got the sense it could be even more and has the potential to be very representative of our community. Of course I’m still interested in it being a success, I think in a city like Charlotte it’s important to get the message out there and let people know that there’s a place like the Center.”

Denise Palm-Beck, the vice-chair of the Center’s board, confirms there have been problems — like a lack of communication — but apparently not anything out of the ordinary for an all-volunteer board. “We’re extremely grateful for John Crowley’s generous donations and Joe Campos and I will be putting together a proposal and meeting with him soon.”

In addition to furthering their fundraising efforts, the Center is also working on updating their website, a new paid staff member and creating a budget.

Prior to the staff and cut back on the hours the facility was open, the Center was operating with expenditures of approximately $12,000 monthly. Those expenses have been cut back to right around $5,000. Given the current number of hours the Center is open weekly (12), it’s costing almost $100 an hour to keep it up and running — that does not include the proposed new staff person.

As for the new staffer, “It would be a part-time position,” says Campos. “We want to find someone that would hold the position for a significant amount of time, or perhaps only for the interim.” Campos says the current hours of the Center would be maintained. Those hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 5–8 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m.–1 p.m. However, staffing is not consistent for lack of volunteers.

The board’s secretary Rob Marcy says he too, believes that things are looking up for the Center.
“We have a draft of a budget,” says Marcy. “Our server crashed last year and we lost a lot of data but we’ll have a budget by the end of this month. We’re getting new programming in place and we’re rejuvenating our programming activities. So far, we haven’t seen any drop off in attendance.”

Treasurer Frank Kalian is another board member singing a happy tune about recent developments at the Center.

“It’s been quite a great turnaround,” says Kalian. “We’ve got a great board, we’re insured, we’re out of debt and a little bit ahead. We were in bad shape a few months ago and now we’re in turnabout mode. The future is definitely rosy ahead.”

Kalian is enthusiastic about Campos’ commitment to the Center, even though a handful of important undertakings have apparently fallen through the cracks and the board isn’t exactly following its own bylaws.

According to The Lesbian and Gay Community Center Bylaws that were last revised Feb. 2, 2006, executive board members shall fill their positions for one year only. Campos says that he plans to stay on as chairperson of the Board of Trustees through June 2008 — clearly not in keeping with the Center’s directive for the position.

Says Kalian: “The Center was in a mess. There was no leadership. Joe stepped up and turned things around. Sometimes you have to bend the rules a little to keep the ship afloat.”

Another look at the organization’s bylaws is fairly specific when it comes to bending the rules: “Any and all changes to the bylaws will be submitted in writing to the Board of Trustees and will then be voted upon and must be approved by an affirmative vote of at least 75 percent of those officers and trustees then taken provided that a quorum has been established at the meting at which such action is taken.”

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