Funding issues forcing closure of St. Francis County Boys & Girls Club

FORREST CITY (Times-Herald) - The St. Francis County Boys and Girls Club will not open next week when school resumes for area children.

According to board member and former director Clifton Collier, the decision not to re-open the facility was recently made by the board and is based on funding issues.

"I regret to say that the Boys and Girls Club will not open next week and will remain closed until more funding sources can be found. We wanted to continue to operate, but at this time the decision was made that we could not operate and pay staff with the limited funding we have coming in," said Collier.

Collier said recent statewide cuts had a large impact on the club's funding.

"One of the funding sources was through TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) grants which pay a certain amount of money for after-school programs for children who receive assistance through the Department of Human Services. That funding was cut out entirely, which had a very large impact on our ability to function," said Collier.

Collier said that he, along with other board members, are hopeful the closing will only be temporary.

"Our hope is to re-open in the future. I think the club has been very beneficial to the community and to the children of St. Francis County. When I was director, we had almost 500 children coming out for the activities, and those activities are still needed. The children still need after-school tutoring and the fun activities that were provided at the club. They still need the mentors that the program provided and the different opportunities to learn new things that they received when they came out here," said Collier.

Collier thanked parents and the community for supporting the club. "This community has really supported us. I want to thank the parents for their support over the years. We did all of this work for the children, and I think we have served the children and their parents well. I also want to thank the city for its support. They have provided funding on a monthly basis since the club started, and we appreciate that support. Hopefully, this is just a temporary setback and we'll be able to continue to provide the services we offer in the near future," said Collier.

The club opened in 2007 after purchasing the former Forrest Hills Elementary School campus from the Forrest City School District.

According to Times-Herald stories in 2007, the contract on the building was closed on Jan. 30, 2007, and included a provision which required the campus to revert to the school district if the club closed.

FCSD Superintendent Joye Hughes this morning said she was not aware of the club's closing and said there are other activities available after school for children.

"I have not been contacted by anyone with the club, but if that is the case, we have plenty of after-school activities that parents can take advantage of that provide similar services to those being offered at the Boys and Girls Club," said Hughes.

Collier stressed that parents accustomed to allowing their children to take the after-school bus to the club for activities will have to adjust their schedules.

The club received much of its funding through grants along with financial assistance from the City of Forrest City. Mayor Larry Bryant said the city's funding is a reimbursement for programs offered at the club and said his office had not received a request for December.

"I had heard that there may be some issues out there, but we haven't heard anything officially from them. We've budgeted funds for the club for this year, but that is something that we pay on a reimbursement basis. They have to send us a request which details what they have done and provided for the month and then we send the reimbursement to them. We received one in December, but we haven't received one for this month and I don't know that we will," said Bryant.

Bryant praised the efforts of those working at the club and said that it will be missed.

"Anyone who knows me, knows that working with children is close to my heart. My wife Stephanie and I did it for years over at the Community Voices Center until she became ill, so I understand what they were doing. They did a good job while they were open and helped many of the children in our community. They probably saved some. Them closing is something that will have an impact on our community as a whole and hopefully everything can get back online and they can continue serving the community," said Bryant.

Some of the funding issues may have surrounded grants the Boys and Girls Club received through General Improvement Funds. County Judge Gary Hughes, a former board member, said that his office is currently waiting for paperwork surrounding a grant the club received in 2010 for work on the roof at the facility. The county served as a fiscal agent for the grants which allowed the funds to go from the state, to the county and then to the club.

"They received GIF grants in 2010 and 2011 from Rural Services through Sen. (Jack) Crumbly. Both of those grants were for work on the roof and we're in the process of determining how those grant funds were spent. It is time for the 2010 grant to be closed out, and I'm waiting on some paperwork detailing how those funds were spent," said Hughes.

"I know that the roof work was finished because they were able to secure another grant from AEDC (Arkansas Economic Development Commission) for the work and had some of the materials donated and made the roof repairs. The only question is how the other funding was spent, which is why we have to review the paperwork. If it was spent on other repairs to the building there may not be any issue," said Hughes.

Hughes said that if the funds were used for other purposes, the money may have to be repaid by either the Boys and Girls Club or the county.

"We really won't know anything until we receive the paperwork but this may have played into the decision not to reopen at this time. If they know that this grant money has to be repaid and they have the money in the bank, I'm sure they will reimburse it. If not, the county may have to, but again, we have to check into everything before any decisions are made as to how much, or what, has to be reimbursed," said Hughes.

Former board president Earlene Smith said she was aware that the club was closing temporarily but did not think the closing was permanent. She also said she learned after her resignation last fall that there might be some issues with the grant funding.

"Just before I tendered my resignation from the board, I received a letter that they were going to be auditing the grant funds like they always do, and needed to see how the funding was being spent. I turned that letter over to them when I resigned. When we received those grant funds my understanding was that the funds could be used for utilities, maintenance, repairs and stuff like that, but could not be used for salaries and that's how it was used. After I resigned, I learned that the money was only supposed to be spent on the roof, but I didn't know that when we received it," said Smith.

Smith said that she resigned from the board in order to spend more time working at her new family business.

"After we opened the sandwich shop it was just too much and that's why I resigned. I spent the last two years paying all of the bills, doing all of the paperwork and all of that, and I needed to focus on this new business. I even did the nutrition reports, which brought in some funding, and I just learned that since I left in August they went two or three months without filing those reports, which could have brought in over $1,000 in funding," said Smith.

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