Longtime Atlanta children's home struggling financially

"We are challenged," said Alwyn V. Powell, board president. "Basically, our reserves are down by half of what they were at the beginning of the [fiscal] year. If we have another year like this, basically we'll be out of cash."

In the past year, he said, the facility on Fairburn Road in northwest Atlanta has cut staff and closed two of its five cottages.

"Like similar group child-caring agencies, we are in the process of changing our strategic plan to expand our revenue base beyond traditional child care," he said.

Several factors are at work. Powell said fewer children are coming to the agency, which means less reimbursement from the state. He said the agency's core business model is  based on 70-plus children in the group home, but the census  numbers have been running between 20 and the high 30s.

Children there range from elementary school age to high school.

And while donations are up, he said, they only account for about 10 percent of the agency's revenues. The bulk comes from government reimbursements.

Normer Adams, executive director of the Atlanta-based Georgia Association of Homes and Services for Children, said the state  has changed its "philosophy of care and, if at all possible, tries to keep the children in their biological home and community. ... As a result of that, there are fewer children in care."

Agencies must change their focus, he said. For instance,  they might explore offering therapeutic services working with emotionally challenged children.

Officials of the children's home talked about the challenges as they prepare for a major fund-raiser, the 2010 Legacy Gala, which will be held on Saturday at the Georgia Aquarium.  Powell said they hope to raise at least $250,000 net  from the gala to help offset the budgeted cash flow shortage for the fiscal year ending June 30.

The  fund-raiser will go on as scheduled  despite the death earlier this week of the night's honoree, the home's longtime executive director, Ollivette  Smith Allison.

"We believe that this is what she would have wanted," said Evelyn Lavizzo, executive director of the nonprofit. "Definitely the board of trustees and staff want to recognize her and honor her for her many contributions."

Allison, who retired in 2009, died Thursday at age 86.

The Carrie Steele-Pitts Home was  founded in Atlanta in 1888 by a black maid to care for neglected children. Allison served as its executive director from 1976 to 2009 , but worked at the home  much longer.  In fact, Allison  arrived there with her two brothers on Aug. 31, 1936.

The  agency's closing, Adams said, would be a major blow to Georgia children.

The Carrie Steele-Pitts Home "has a rich history of service," he said, and "has helped countless children turn their lives around and be productive adults."

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