NSC Seeks Community Support to Continue Service

After serving needy Talbot County families for 44 years, the Neighborhood Service Center (NSC) is launching its first major fundraising campaign. The center’s goal is to raise $100,000 by June 30.

L-R:  James Camper; George Jenkins; Willis Scott; Walter W. Black, Jr; and Dawn Atwater.

L-R: James Camper; George Jenkins; Willis Scott; Walter W. Black, Jr; and Dawn Atwater.

Since it was founded in 1969 by its first executive director, the late Dorothy Webb Black, the center has been Talbot County’s federally-designated Community Action Agency. As such, it has received annual federally-funded Community Service Block Grants, which are administered by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Funding that the center has used to protect its clients from utility shutoffs has come from the Federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, through the Maryland Energy Assistance Program (MEAP).

The center’s fundraising campaign hit the ground running with a $10,000 donation from Blake Blackston Post 77 of the American Legion in Easton.

“Here at Post 77, we are mindful of the good that the Neighborhood Service Center has been doing in our community for 44 years,” said Post Commander George Jenkins. “Almost every member of our post knows someone who’s been helped by the center. That’s why we are pleased and proud to support the Neighborhood Service Center with this donation.”

“We are delighted because this generous contribution not only jump-starts our fund drive,” said Walter W. Black, Jr., who chairs the center’s Board of Directors and co-chairs the fundraising campaign, “but also because it represents a vote of confidence from a high-profile service organization in the community we serve.” Black is also the Judge Advocate of Post 77.

Even as the recession and high unemployment and underemployment have increased its clients’ need for services and financial assistance, the Neighborhood Service Center’s grant funding has been dwindling. Community Service Block Grants, for example, have been cut from a peak of $350,000 to just $236,000 a year. Last year’s sequestration cost the center between $12,000 and $13,000 in federal funding. Before this year is over, revisions to the DHCD’s formula for allocating grants might reduce that sum by as much as 50 percent.

“If that happened,” says Executive Director Marilyn Neal, “I don’t know how we’d keep our doors open.”

Even if such drastic cuts do not come to pass, the center is just getting by. Neal and Board Chairman Walter Weldon Black, Jr. have had to tap the center’s rainy day fund in order to make ends meet.

The center receives Emergency Solutions Grants from the state. The annual grant for 2013 was $79,000. However, those grants must be forward-funded. That means the center must front the money for the granted project, then await reimbursement from the state. That’s not easy given the current cash flow crunch.They do receive funding each year from the Talbot County Council and the United Fund of Talbot County. In addition, about 20 local churches support the center’s food bank.

The center serves about 3,000 Talbot County families, about 95 percent of whom are working poor and senior citizens, each year. In 2012, about 16,000 people received help from the center. In 2013, The Talbot County Chamber of Commerce honored the center as its Non-Profit of the Year. The center was recognized for:

• Feeding more than 500 families during this past year through its Food Pantry Program
• Assisting low-income and elderly residents facing eviction, utility cut-off, and/or providing mortgage assistance through its Emergency Services Program
• The Ridgeway House Transitional Homeless Shelter, the only year-‘round shelter in Talbot County, which the center has operated it for the last 22 years
• Providing life skills training, job search information, budgeting, and basic computer skills
• Help with utility bills provided to NSC clients though the Maryland Energy Assistance Program
• The After School Program that tutors children ages 5-12, providing assistance with homework and computer skills, as well as nutritious meals
• Providing appropriate work attire to women returning to the work force.

“We can only keep serving those in need if we have the support of the Talbot County community,” said Black. “We hope that support will be forthcoming, so that we can continue to make a difference in the lives of so many people.”

To learn more about the Neighborhood Service Center, telephone 410-822-5015, or log on to www.nsctalbotmd.org. To contribute to the fundraising campaign, make your check out to NSC Annual Fund Campaign, and mail it to Neighborhood Service Center, 126 Port Street, Easton, MD 21601.