When a Local Partner Closes, a Response Plan Keeps Youth Services Constant
No youth and family services organization works alone, so the Tucson-area youth-serving community reacted with concern in March upon hearing that Open Inn, a local runaway and homeless youth program, was closing its doors.
“The closing of Open Inn is definitely going to affect southern Arizona,” says Teresa Liverzani-Baker, executive director of Youth on Their Own, which helps at-risk youth stay in school.
Like many of the agencies in Tucson’s close-knit nonprofit community, Youth on Their Own has shared donors, volunteers, and funding streams with Open Inn and has helped many of the same clients. Now those youth will have one less resource, but local partners are doing what they can to pick up the slack.
Liverzani-Baker and Patti Caldwell, executive director of Tuscon's Our Family Services, shared some insights about how social services organizations can ensure that services to young people continue to be delivered seamlesslessly when a longtime source of support is no longer available.
Try prevention when possible.
No program closes instantaneously, especially not an established one like Open Inn. Patti Caldwell says that Our Family Services was aware of Open Inn’s financial struggles. “We and two other organizations have been actively involved in conversations about possible mergers or another kind of alliance,” she says.
While those talks didn’t lead to that kind of arrangement, Caldwell still thinks that honesty among partners is still the best way to prevent a sudden shakeup to the community. When Open Inn made their announcement, Our Family Services already had a response plan in mind.
Pick up the pieces.
The most important part of that plan was making sure the lives of Open Inn’s clients weren’t disrupted.
“We immediately began having conversations about how many clients they had in their various programs,” says Caldwell. “Open Inn ran a program for kids getting ready to age out of foster care, for example, and another organization in town is looking to take that on.” Our Family Services also looked into whether they could purchase some of Open Inn’s residential properties in and around Tucson.
But Teresa Liverzani-Baker warns against being too pushy or aggressive in the quest to preserve programming or funding. “Whenever an organization closes, the timetable is very individual,” she says. “You never really know what point they’re at in the process. And donor information is very proprietary. Asking something like, ‘What about your donor base?’ would be inappropriate.”
Look out for your own program.
For people outside those early discussions, Open Inn’s closing seemed more sudden than it really was, which leads to widespread concern over the fate of other ostensibly healthy programs.
“There have been news stories, and we’re part of the group that gets interviewed,” says Caldwell. She and her colleagues called meetings and sent out emails to get their board and staff on the same page in the event they were asked to comment, publicly or privately. “We try and make sure we always say we’re working to help the youth in our community. We want them to have an agreed-upon statement that hammers that home. Our whole staff needs to be prepared to answer those questions: what happened, and how are we responding?”
But once again, tact is key, especially when reputations are on the line. “We’re trying to be respectful of Open Inn and let them take the lead for explaining what’s going on,” says Caldwell. “We greatly respect who they are and what they’ve done over the last 40 years, and we don’t want to add any fuel to rumors or gossip. We all know the challenges facing nonprofits and we’re working with our board to ensure that what happened with Open Inn is a learning experience.”