Making The Cut

Stephanie Ortiz has always struggled with reading and writing, but for the past two years, the 8-year-old has been working with tutors for two and a half hours daily after school from the youth development specialists at the East Harlem Tutorial Program. Within months of joining the program, her mother and teachers noticed Ortiz’s performance has improved

“She loves it here,” Ortiz’s mother, Santa Avilas, 31 said. “There’s never a day if she can’t make it here that she won’t ask me ‘why not’?”

Now that the economy is in a downward spiral and so many non-profit organizations are getting their funding cut, Avilas is afraid her daughter may not be able to attend the program as often.

So far, Ortiz continues to receive her daily tutoring, but officials at the East Harlem Tutorial Program, located at 105thSt. and 2nd Ave., have reduced their budget by 11 percent for the 2008 to 2009 fiscal year and have already cut down on staff and programs in order to cope with shrinking funds.

In the midst of their 50-year anniversary and a capital campaign to build a new facility with $4 million in commitments so far, a crisis in the economy could not have come at a worse time. Since the downturn on Wall Street, the agencyis concerned with a significant drop in funds from corporate donors. As they wait to see how tightly contributors will clench their pocketbooks this year, the project is doing everything possible to avoid their greatest fear: cutting students from their program.

In the early 1990’s the program increased its membership from 50 people to over 800 participants. Over the past 20 years, it raised its annual budget from $100,000 to $3.5 million. Yet from 2007 to 2008 the program’s funding has dropped to $3.3 million and they project a drop below $3 million by 2009. The administration worries that the number of students served will have to decrease as contributors scale back their donations in the face of a possible recession.

“Our goal was to be able to serve as many families as we have in the past,” said Jeff Ginsburg, Executive Director of East Harlem Tutorial Program, about the group’s reaction the recent budget cuts over the summer.

East Harlem Tutorial Program has served youth from grades K through 12 by providing after school academic tutorials, art and athletic programs. Since 1958, more than eight students and 270 volunteers participate in this program each year but their numbers have not always been so large. In the past they were only serving up to 200 students a week and now the numbers can vary anywhere from 200 to 500 students who get help weekly.

But some of their programs that rely on individual donations are beginning to feel repercussions. So far, they have lost over $300,000. This year the agency had to cut their summer camp for 6 to 12-year-olds from 175 participants down to 100 participants. Next year they may have to cut the program down to 75 participants. Steve Yonkin, a music teacher, now covers every level of music instruction instead of the higher grades he was teaching before the group reduced their music and arts staff.

“Our biggest concern is the corporate donor base, which I’m sure all small non-profits are feeling about now,” said Jim McCauley, Director of Finance for the program.

In the 2007 to 2008 fiscal year, corporate contributions dropped by 40 percent and the group has estimated that it will decrease by another 45 percent this year. Although financing from the government has increased by 15 percent this year, this accounts for the smallest portion of the group’s funding. Donations from private individuals make up 40 percent of East Harlem Tutorial’s revenue followed by money from private foundations. Administrators project a 15 percent decrease in individual giving this year. And with struggling companies like Lehman Brothers and AIG having donated in the past, the staff thinks that they will see the greatest losses from corporations combined with individuals who work on Wall Street.

The project has already restructured administrative positions and eliminated some part-time employees and a receptionist, giving full-time staff a larger workload in the face of these losses. Although they have purchased another lot on the corner of Second Avenue and 105th Street where a larger facility is planned, directors have pushed back plans of breaking ground this month and are waiting to see how funding pans out before going forward.

The program is putting their creativity to the test by leaning more on volunteers this year than in the past and looking for alternative resources like retired teachers and graduate students that will work for less money instead of hiring high-paid guest speakers or specialists. Administrators have also talked about doing fairs and activities with other non-profits where they can share food and facilities to lower costs.

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