In the wake of the grant loss, Rise Up! has slashed its budget by 25 percent, implemented across-the-board pay cuts and begun spreading the word of its dire need for community support to prevent a reduction of its programs.
Since beginning work 25 years ago, Rise Up! Executive Director Michael Marion said the program has successfully mentored, tutored and encouraged 80 Johnson City kids all the way through high school and on into college, vocational school or military service.
And if it can keep its programming intact, Marion said that number will grow to 120 young people by 2021.
“That’s our goal. We’re teaching kids how to learn and how to work. Things that are too valuable not to do,” he said.
But with last month’s non-renewal of a recurring lottery grant from the Tennessee Department of Education that for the past 12 years has provided $195,000 in annual funding, or 40 percent of the Rise Up! budget, the program’s future is in peril.
“We cut our budget by 25 percent and we notified our staff that everyone’s pay would be cut. We have a great staff and everyone who has been with us a year or more stayed with us.
“Our goal is to match that deficit by by Oct. 1. We have a short window. But if that deficit isn’t restored, then we’ll have to see what we’re going to do.”
According to Marion, the other 60 percent of Rise Up!’s budget comes from individual giving — contributions from community members, businesses and organizations — that Rise Up! must grow in order to avoid further reductions.
To sustain its programming for 125 children who come to Rise Up! daily for after-school and 50 to 60 more who take part in its weekly group meetings, Marion said, “We need the community to get behind us.”
“Our first priority is for the kids under roof in our daily program after school. We need the community to get behind those 125 kids.
“We will do letters and appeals. It’s exciting because grants are fickle. Like this one, after 12 years it just stops. We want to get to where most of our funding comes from individuals, groups and churches. And that will make us much more stable.
“We don’t get United Way. We don’t get city funds. … We don’t get any major foundation funding. One $25,000 foundation award is the greatest we have ever received.
“So we live on small amounts. And we really need the community to get behind the current kids and the next 100 kids.”
Asked about the possibility of program cuts, Marion said. “In October we’ll figure out our next steps. Everyone is working at it but that option has to be on the table. We want it to work so we don’t have to make that decision.
“There are four after school programs in town and the others can make up the difference. But some of the kids at Rise Up! have been here more than five years. They’ve never been anywhere else. They belong here. And I don’t want to go to any kid and say ‘we’ll have to figure it out.’
“It’s about relationships. That’s what we do here. We’re connecting kids to their community. We want kids to leave here relationally successful so they can be successful husbands and wives, church members and community members.
“This is our 25th year so we’ve been at this a while. And here we are. We can’t stop now. Our best days are ahead of us. What excites me most are the next 100 kids coming in in need of people to help them navigate this world.”
Marion asked anyone wanting to help to go to the Rise Up! website at www.riseupforkids.com or call Rise Up! At 423-610-1242 to learn how to make a one-time donation or to give monthly.
“It doesn’t have to be a lot. Twenty-five dollars a month is $300 a year, and we can budget that,” Marion said.
Email Sue Guinn Legg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.