August 2, 2008

Girls Program Needs Less Than $70,000 to Survive

By Alyson Crean, Florida Keys Keynoter, Marathon

Aug. 2--While county staff is looking for ways to pare more dollars off the proposed property taxes for the coming year, one small agency is crossing its fingers with the hope that $68,000 will be added back into the budget.

"That funding is for the counselors," says Dixie Humelsine, chairwoman of the Keys Center for Girls Board of Directors. "And the counseling is what makes this program unique."

The former PACE Center for girls has been in crisis mode since April when cuts at the state level forced the parent agency to shut down the Keys branches. Local directors jumped in, begging space and funding to finish out the school year for the 30-plus girls in the program -- and they were successful. Florida Keys Community College offered free class space. The Monroe County School District provided teachers. As a result, 11 girls graduated who otherwise might have dropped out rather than try and integrate back into Key West High School for the remaining school year.

The School District and the community college have stepped up to the plate for the coming school year with teachers and space. But the Keys Center for Girls needs to find money to pay for counselors -- two in Key West and one each in the Marathon and Key Largo satellite offices.

On July 28 the County Commission set a tentative 2009 millage rate that is nearly 10 percent over rollback -- the millage rate necessary to raise the same amount of dollars as the previous year. That high budget did not include the $68,000 requested by the Keys Center for Girls.

Diana Reagan, the program's director, pleaded to have the money put back in the budget.

"This is the only prevention program for at-risk girls in the entire county," she said. "It will end up costing now or costing later because these girls can show up in the juvenile justice center if this prevention isn't provided." County Administrator Roman Gastesi said he would try and find a way to work it back in.

"If we're able to make a cut somewhere else and recognize a savings, we can do that," Budget Director Tina Boan told the Keynoter. "But we can't increase the budget. We want to do anything we can for them, though."

Though $68,000 isn't a lot of money, Reagan says it leverages a lot more by providing a local match. Often state and federal grant programs require local funding before granting double and sometimes triple that initial amount.

"This first full year is so critical," said Humelsine. "If we don't scrape together the funding this year, there is no next year."


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