County supervisors have approved $1.7 million in grants to Loudoun nonprofits, with missions ranging from feeding to hungry, to preventing teen suicide, to sheltering abused women.
The county government is several years into a project to score nonprofits competing for grants according to consistent criteria, in an effort to keep political influence from the Board of Supervisors out of the decision. But once again, the results of that process brought protests from some of the nonprofits who lost out on funding.
One of those is the organization that won the largest grant of all the competitors last year, restorative justice and re-entry nonprofit Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources or OAR. Last year, the county awarded OAR, which provides people in the Loudoun jail class and programs such as fatherhood, life skills, anger management, and employment skills and post-release case management, $145,658. That was $35,658 more than the next-largest grant, which went to Loudoun Hunger Relief, the county’s largest hunger nonprofit and food pantry.
With that grant, OAR went on to expand its program in Loudoun’s jail.
This year, the nonprofit requested $143,188 in county grant money, but will receive nothing.
OAR Loudoun County jail programs coordinator Jessica Ray said the nonprofit has made “significant progress in integrating OAR as a central part of the reentry community”—even hosting the county’s Loudoun Re-Entry Advisory Council at the nonprofit’s Leesburg office, rather than meeting in the county government center.
“If there is legitimacy to your agenda of public safety, it would be short-sighted to pull service that focus on criminogenic risk factors and evidence-based practices,” Ray told supervisors. She also presented them with a stack of 10 letters from inmates currently participating in OAR’s programs, with names redacted.
“OAR has done more for me through their programs than one could imagine,” wrote one. “OAR is important to our community and it makes me better. It makes all of us better and all of us will eventually be back in our community so if we want out community to be better we need these great people to keep bettering all of us.”
The inmates wrote of their experiences in OAR’s programs and the differences they have made. One wrote, “The impression would be that Loudoun doesn’t care about giving inmates a chance at a better chance upon release.”
“I am 58 years old and in all my life and have never learned soo [sic] many positive life changing lessons, as I have win the OAR offered programs,” another wrote. “I am very disappointed and perplexed to hear that OAR programs are being considered for shut down (?!) after all of this positive benefits OAR provides the inmates in [Loudoun County Adult Detention Center.]”
“The things OAR has done for me has truly changed my life,” wrote another. “I have took several courses provided by OAR like anger management, fatherhood, money matters, and life skills. Each class taught me so much key tools that I have applied to my life and so many things have changed in my life.”
OAR Executive Director Derwin Overton said then nonprofit appears to have been excluded from the grant list because of what he saw as inconsistent and unfair scoring.
“I think it’s very important for me to point out that the scorecard that was provided and suggested as far as our organization was concerned did not clearly identify or correspond with what I consider our proposal,” Overton told supervisors.
Overton said when he wrote this year’s grant proposal, he did not take into account the time to open a new facility, train new staff, and bring new people in the program. That threw off the performance expectations for his nonprofit—but he said those expectations were adjusted and accepted by the county.
But, he said, when the county scored applications, the updated performance expectations were not used, and OAR was given low marks—or no credit at all—for criteria such as such its growth and number of clients in Loudoun.
“Unless we’re able to develop a contingency plan, there’s a probability that there will be no classes offered at the [Loudoun jail],” Overton said. He said the nonprofit is looking elsewhere for funding, such as from the Sheriff’s Office. The nonprofit also accepts donations at oarnova.org.
Scoring sheets by the county also note an out-of-date strategic plan, ending in 2018, and concerns regarding the nonprofit’s financial health.
Another nonprofit, Mobile Hope, also will not receive funding and brought supporters out in numbers to complain to the Board of Supervisors. Homelessness services nonprofit Mobile Hope is in the second year of receiving no funding from the county, having missed the deadline to apply last year.
Executive Director Donna Fortier said the fact that Mobile Hope missed last year’s deadline, along with this year’s deadline for Community Development Block Grant Funding, “proves we need more staff, nothing more.”
“Simply put, we take care of the county’s homeless kids, even when all of the other services are full,” Fortier said. “But how do we prove our worth? Is by making a positive impact on being an advocate? Is it making a positive change in our community? Or is it being a good test taker?”
Several current and former clients of Mobile Hope told county supervisors about the ways the nonprofit has turned their lives around, calling Fortier “mom.”
“I challenge each one of you to spend five minutes with any of our Mobile Hope kids,” said Rhona Harold, who serves on the nonprofit’s board of directors. “You will hear stories of abuse, neglect, abandonment, and drug-addicted mothers. Our kids didn’t have a choice as to the lives that they were born into. These are lives that we would not have survived in. Listen to their stories and then tell me that we can’t do better for them.”
A report from the county staff showed a range of concerns with the nonprofit’s application, such “an unclear justification or description of the need for services within the county” including unclear operations, demographics, and data collection; “an incomplete outcomes and evaluation plan,” with “very general” objectives; “insufficient budget justification” that did not “coherently explain” individual line items; “a brief strategic plan” without timeframes or goals for completion; and “significant concerns regarding the organization’s financial health” including an operating deficit, declining assets, negative liquid assets, and “a significant cash advance” from a staff member.
Another homelessness nonprofit, the Good Shepherd Alliance, received $61,076 in grant funding—money that was left over after allocations were provided to the highest scoring nonprofits, which was then given to the next ones on the list.
During their meeting last week, county supervisors made no changes to the recommendations from of the grant scoring process.
“The room would always be full on this night, because there always is going to be quality organizations, many of them that do great work, that are not going to make the list,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “For those organizations that did not, I just hope that it can be a learning experience and that the energy can be channeled into going through their process again in the future in a way that will get an application that is approved.”
In all, the county awarded $1,123,421 in grants and $5,000 “mini-grants.” Major funding went to 18 organizations, including Stop Child Abuse Now of Northern Virginia, Loudoun Hunger Relief, The Arc of Loudoun, and the Community Foundation for Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties. Mini-grants went to specific projects by nonprofits, including Project Horse Empowerment Center, the Dulles South Food Pantry, and It Takes a Village, Baby.
The county also annually directs some money directly to certain nonprofits, including HealthWorks for Northern Virginia, the Loudoun Free Clinic, Northern Virginia Dental Clinic, Blue Ridge Speech and Hearing, Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers, and the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter. Collectively those nonprofits were granted $648,373.
County staff members make training materials, online and in-person training sessions, consultation and feedback available to grant applicants.