Beloit's Voluntary Action Center to close Feb. 29 due to lack of cash

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, February 18, 2016

BELOIT—The Beloit-based Voluntary Action Center has connected volunteers with local needs for 49 years, but a lack of cash flow is forcing it to close its doors Monday, Feb. 29.

“The board voted unanimously to dissolve” the nonprofit organization, 611 E. Grand Ave., said David Zimdars, executive director.

The decision was formalized and confirmed Tuesday, he said.

The center had an annual budget of just under $100,000. Zimdars said funding came primarily from United Way Blackhawk Region as well as from grants, memberships to the organization's grant center, donations and fundraisers.

But after two consecutive years of smaller allocations from United Way and two new fundraisers that didn't work out, VAC could not make up the deficit, Zimdars said.

“So it was just a matter of adding up the math, realizing this is not sustainable and bowing out to the inevitable,” he said.

VAC has received 30 percent less from United Way over the last two years, Zimdars said.

The nonprofit requested $55,000 in 2015 but received $49,500, a reduction of 10 percent. The same amount was requested for 2016, and United Way reduced its allocation by another 20 percent, he said.

“United Way offers a highly competitive grant process in which program awards are determined annually regardless of investment in any previous year,” Mary Fanning-Penny, president and CEO of the local United Way, wrote in an email.

“Programs are expected to follow sound fiscal policies and provide effective, efficient services with measurable outcomes to our community,” she said.

Ideally, Fanning-Penny said, United Way would be able to fulfill every request submitted by its program partners. Realistically, however, grant requests always exceed the dollars available, she said.

“United Way is proud of the nearly $700,000 investment made to the Voluntary Action Center over the last 10 years and extends its gratitude for the services they have provided to residents in the Blackhawk Region,” she said.

Adding to VAC's financial losses were 2015 fundraisers that brought in half to three-quarters of the money they normally raise and two new fundraisers—a metals drive and an online shopping extravaganza—that did not work out, Zimdars said.

VAC has four employees: Zimdars, who is full time, and three part-time workers, including a grant center director, office assistant and bookkeeper.

It operated three programs: a grant center that offered grant-writing assistance, donor research, long-range planning and consultation to area not-for-profit organizations; an air conditioner program for low-income seniors with medical problems, and the Chore program, which recruits independent contractors to provide services at reasonable rates for seniors in Beloit.

Zimdars said the grant center has dissolved. However, Lynette Newton, its director and past VAC executive director, will continue to offer the service through her own grant-writing business.

Caritas, a Beloit food pantry and clothing center, will take over the air conditioner program, which is run with the Rock County Council On Aging. The Chore program may continue through the Beloit Senior Center, Zimdars said.

VAC began providing volunteer referral services to Rock County and the stateline area in 1967, Zimdars said.

“One of our strengths was being able to provide a local referral service by being well-acquainted with local agencies and programs,” he said.

Spokeswomen from several nonprofits said the Rock County community would feel the loss of VAC.

“It's a shame,” said Michele Hull, office coordinator for The Literacy Connection in Janesville.

“It's a really good source of volunteers for a lot of nonprofits. What a terrible thing to have to lose,” she said.

“Volunteer centers are a vital part of the community, linking volunteers to the individuals who want to do something to help with agencies," said Julie Cunningham of the Salvation Army in Janesville. "So that will be a very big, vacant place in the community.”

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