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1 Crisis Begets a 2nd for Family Agency

La Habra center deemed 'outstanding' by county official faces closure after missing application deadline by hours due to grant writer's cancer.

May 20, 2003|Jeff Gottlieb | Times Staff Writer

Deadlines can be unforgiving.

No organization knows it better than the La Habra Family Center, which, after six years of winning county funding, missed this year's application deadline and faces closure. The center had an extraordinary excuse: The grant writer for the 465-page proposal was suffering severe effects of advanced cancer.

County officials wouldn't consider the application for $225,000 a year. Because other funding tied to the county grant will be lost, center officials say they won't be able to provide medical, dental and counseling services to 2,000 low-income La Habra families after Sept. 30.

"We're devastated because this program so important to our school and our community," said Betty Bidwell, principal of Imperial Middle School, which houses the center. "I have 60 kids on our campus who receive weekly counseling. They wouldn't be able to be successful in school without that support system."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday May 22, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
Social Services manager -- An article in Tuesday's California section about the La Habra Family Center misspelled the name of the Orange County Social Services Agency contract manager. Her name is Maritza Rodriguez Farr, not Martiza Rodriguez Farr.

Incapacitated by chemotherapy, severe pain and diminished mental capacity, Cheryl Snowdon couldn't finish the proposal. Center staffers and Snowdon's husband scrambled to pick it up, working with little sleep.

They delivered the packet to county offices in Santa Ana on Feb. 13 at 9 p.m., four hours late.

Under the circumstances, center coordinator Wendy Dallin said, the staff hoped officials with the county Social Services Agency would extend the deadline. After all, this was no dog-ate-my-homework excuse.

No deal, county officials responded, unmoved by the center's pleas.

"You'd be surprised at the calls we get on things that come up," said Martiza Rodriguez Farr, contract manager for the agency. "At what point do you decide what is legitimate and what is not legitimate?"

Not even calls from an aide to Supervisor Chris Norby could persuade the county's bureaucracy to make an exception. "It's a very sad situation," said Bruce Whitaker. "People I talk to keep thinking the [Social Services Agency] is going to resurrect funding or the board is going to take some unusual action, but that doesn't sound likely at all."

At stake is the center's entire budget. The county grant would have paid $225,000 annually for three years. Also endangered is $180,000 a year from Proposition 10, the statewide tobacco tax initiative that funds health and education programs for children younger than 5, Dallin said.

Proposition 10 funding is contingent on there being enough money overall to run the family center, Dallin said.

Even if the family center received all $405,000, it still would have to trim its budget $45,000 because of state budget cuts.

The family center, which a county supervisor's proclamation lauded last year for its "outstanding contribution," offers services free to anyone living in La Habra who wants to use its counselors, support groups, parenting classes and help in combating domestic violence. Nurses visit expectant mothers to make sure they are caring for themselves, and after the birth to ensure that children are immunized. The center helps families find temporary housing and provides dental and medical screenings for children.

What Dallin finds especially frustrating is that at a time when nonprofits everywhere are struggling for money, this was federal funding the county receives to support local services.

She said people are constantly offering suggestions for alternative sources of money, but she isn't optimistic.

"If supporters were worth a nickel apiece, we'd have $1 million," she said.

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