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After 105 years, Community Connections on Davis Street shut down last month after facing insurmountable financial challenges.
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Nov. 3, 201612:00 PM EST

Closing of Community Connections was a 'breathtaking moment'

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by: David Chapman

Linda Lanier had not been part of such a moment in her long nonprofit career.

Community Connections board members were taking in the data Lanier and consultants offered of possible next steps for the financially challenged nonprofit.

Since being founded more than a century ago as the Young Women’s Christian Association, the nonprofit has been a mainstay in helping the homeless and children with transitional housing. More recently, it oversaw early learning and after-school programs, too.

Times changed. So did funding.

Lanier said research “overwhelmingly” showed rapid-rehousing, not transitional, had better outcomes for families.

In 2012, the federal government began shifting policy accordingly and Community Connections’ funding gap began to widen annually.

Add to it the organization’s aging Davis Street facility — an expensive burden that required investment Community Connections simply didn’t have — and the situation reached a critical juncture that culminated in that early October board meeting.

Lanier said a scenario was to eliminate the entire transitional housing component. The agency could pull out individual pieces associated with it and end up left with scattered housing projects.

Some board members started to weep, she said.

“That’s just not us,” Lanier recalls one member saying.

It was becoming clearer. Staying alive for the sake of staying alive wasn’t right.

Lanier said the board processed the information and emotions before deciding the right decision was to close Community Connections.

“I have never seen such a breathtaking moment,” said Lanier of the vote.

The attention immediately went to the clients the organization served.

What about the 43 women and 35 children? They could transition to other area organizations and still have their needs met.

What about the 45 full-time and 25 part-time dedicated employees? Many could end up being picked up in other organizations.

The after-school and early learning programs could be absorbed elsewhere, too.

Then it ended.

A 105-year-old local nonprofit was gone.

Lanier gives the board members credit — once they unanimously decided to pursue that path, they never looked back. Despite the deep sadness that permeated the room, there was no second-guessing.

“There were tears shed, I can promise you that,” said Jerry Mallot, Community Connections board chair and JAXUSA Partnership president. “It was just becoming obvious that was the best decision we could make.”

That didn’t make it any easier. Mallot said when the board sought outside consultancy, it was to see what could be done to move forward.

However, he said the board realized the alternative would just be “plugging a hole and not fixing the challenge” and sustainability would be difficult.

The evening of the vote, Mallot delivered the message to staff members. It was received “as well as could be expected.”

“There was not much shock,” he said. “I think everyone has known we struggled for a

long time.”

Sherry Magill, president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, said the struggles were known for some time but the closure brings an end to an organization that’s done yeoman’s work in a caring way for decades.

Yet, the business side of running nonprofits can change and realities set in sometimes, like it did with Community Connections.

The duPont Fund was a longtime contributor to the organization and has provided $3.8 million in grants since 1977.

“It is particularly sad, I won’t deny that,” said Magill of the closure.

Clients are in the process of being transitioned, which should be completed over the next several weeks. The organization’s assets and liabilities also are being assessed during the financial wind-down phase.

The center on Davis Street has a lien on it that requires it to be used exclusively to house homeless people, according to the nonprofit.

Lanier and consultants merely offered the possible scenarios to the board during that October meeting. But given the data, she believes members made the right decision.

“I do,” she said. “I really do. At this point, it was so fragile.”

[email protected]

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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