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Deadline Appeal Denied; Grant Loss May Close La Habra Charity

La Habra Family Center loses $405,000 after missing cut-off for grant proposals by four hours because of its writer's illness.

June 04, 2003|Jeff Gottlieb | Times Staff Writer

Wendy Dallin knew it was the longest of longshots, but she still held out hope Tuesday that Orange County's top elected officials would restore the La Habra Family Center's funding despite a blown deadline after its grant writer became deathly ill with cancer.

Dallin, coordinator of the nonprofit center, came to the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting with half a dozen supporters. If the center closes, some said, the 2,000 low-income families it serves will have to get dental, medical, counseling and other help in Anaheim, two bus rides away. Children will lose vital tutoring that had boosted school scores.

But when County Counsel Benjamin de Mayo told board members that, according to state regulations, a deadline is a deadline, Dallin knew that all hope had evaporated.

"This whole thing is rather tragic," Supervisor Charles Smith said. "There's nothing we can do."

County grants -- $225,000 annually for three years -- had made up the bulk of the family center's budget. Tied to it was an additional $180,000 a year from Proposition 10, the statewide tobacco tax initiative. Without them, center officials say, they will have to close Sept. 30.

On Tuesday, supervisors approved three-year grants to nine other family centers countywide. Each will receive $225,000 annually, with centers in Anaheim and Santa Ana getting extra money.

Supporters of the La Habra center had tried to make their case to the supervisors. More than 150 people wrote letters in support of the center, ranging from schoolchildren and teachers to state Assembly members Lynn Daucher (R-Brea) and Robert Pacheco (R-Walnut).

Speaking in Spanish with a translator at his side Tuesday, Jairo Duque said his family had received counseling and emergency help from the center. His daughter is now a leader in school, and her academic performance has improved.

"The services of the La Habra Family Center are very dear to us," he said. Without it, "our youth will turn to gangs and violence, specifically to drugs."

After the meeting, a dejected Dallin said the family center has hired a temporary grant writer and researcher to find other funding. Even if it finds money, Dallin said it probably would not be available until the beginning of the year.

The family center, which opened in 1996, got into this fix when it missed a Feb. 13 deadline because of grant writer Cheryl Snowdon's illness.

She had a month to write the 465-page grant proposal, the thickest the La Habra center had produced. A week before the deadline, Snowdon's cancer spread to her cervical spine, leaving her unable to work.

Snowdon's husband and center staffers tried to finish the proposal in time.

They tried to deliver it to county officials in Santa Ana at 9 p.m. Feb. 13, four hours after the Social Services Agency had closed.

Dallin brought it back the next morning.

Social Services Director Angelo R. Doti told supervisors Tuesday that the proposal still hadn't been read, nor was there any guarantee that the center's grant would have been renewed.

The inflexibility of the process infuriated Betsy Arnow of the Orange County Department of Education.

"When has the human element been taken from Social Services?" she asked supervisors.

Dallin and her program have a sterling reputation in state education circles.

Judi Brown, a consultant to the state Department of Education, said the La Habra Family Center is a model, and that Dallin assists similar programs in Imperial, Orange and San Diego counties. Each spring, Dallin coordinates a three-day conference in Palm Springs, bringing together people from those counties' programs.

"She has established a very important following," Brown said.

Betty Bidwell, principal of Imperial Middle School where the family center sits between the parking lot and athletic fields, told the supervisors that her students have been helped tremendously.

In the last three years, she said, absences of students who use the programs have been cut in half, and that in the last year, their scores in state-mandated tests have risen 15% in reading and 11% in language.

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