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Donors save Life House: The nonprofit that serves at-risk youths

Donors save Life House: The nonprofit that serves at-risk youths

Duluth News-Tribune

December 02, 2009

Dec. 2—A little more than a year since a lack of money threatened to close its doors for good, Life House now has extended hours and money in the bank.

80 percent in the past 15 months, to take it from a $30,000 deficit to financial stability, said Kim Crawford, executive director of the organization.

“The community stood up in a very big way when we asked for help,” Crawford said.

By Sarah Horner, Duluth News Tribune, Minn.

Dec. 2—A little more than a year since a lack of money threatened to close its doors for good, Life House now has extended hours and money in the bank.

The local nonprofit that serves at-risk youths saw donations increase about

80 percent in the past 15 months, to take it from a $30,000 deficit to financial stability, said Kim Crawford, executive director of the organization. Its annual operating budget is about $850,000.

“The community stood up in a very big way when we asked for help,” Crawford said. “We are truly humbled by all the support.”

Life House has received about $252,000 in donations since October 2008. By comparison, the nonprofit raised about $44,000 from January to September 2008.

The increase has allowed the organization to finally start building up a balance in the bank.

“I don’t want to say how much we have in the bank, but let’s just say there’s money in there,” Crawford said. “I don’t miss paydays; we can pay our bills on time; we’re open. Last year, we didn’t know if we would be.”

Part of the reason for the turnaround, Crawford said, has been the nonprofit’s consolidation of services. It downsized from owning and operating three houses for at-risk youth to one. It also reduced staff from 20 members to 16.

More importantly, Life House staff members have made a concerted effort to clarify the organization’s mission to the community, Crawford said. That mission is to provide education, housing, health and employment services to kids out of its youth center in downtown Duluth.

“What people see when they drive by is a bunch of teenagers hanging out, but we are not a rec center,” she said. “We wanted the community to know what else we provide to our kids, so we took that message to them.”

The response has been overwhelming, said Anne Miller, chairwoman of the Life House board of directors.

“It’s almost like a miracle,” she said. “At this time last year we didn’t know if we would survive, let alone thrive. … This community heard [Life House’s] message with their hearts and they responded. It’s been incredible.”

The turnaround means the nonprofit can continue to serve the 50 to 65 young people who walk through its doors each day, people like 20-year-old Dwayne Pope, who moved to Duluth from Chicago.

“When I first came up here [to Duluth], I didn’t have any place to go,” he said. “This place has really helped me get my life together.”

Staff members at Life House are helping Pope enroll at Lake Superior College as well as find an apartment and a job. He also takes classes at the center to help him manage his anger.

“They really look out for you, literally they do,” Pope said. “It helps a lot of kids find a safe place off the street.”

Crawford said Life House wants to do even more for youth. Federal stimulus money recently allowed it to open for a few hours on the weekend, something it hasn’t had the money to do. It has ambitions to extend its hours even more, ramp up its street outreach program and try to open a housing shelter for kids.

“We have raised a lot of money, but do we need more time, talent and dollars? Absolutely,” Crawford said. “Because there is so much we need to do.”

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