Stories by Debra E. Blum. Reprinted from The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Originally Printed May 27, 2012.
Photo: Michele Atkins, head of Heritage Community Initiatives, had to make tough decisions to help the social-service charity dig out of debt and lessen its dependence on state aid. Among its fundraising efforts: an auction of kid-size chairs decorated by local artists. Photo by Scott Goldsmith, for The Chronicle.
Pa. Chairity Battles Back From Financial Brink
So many people and businesses had disappeared from Braddock, Pa., in the decades since its steel industry collapsed that Heritage Community Initiatives, a home-grown social-service charity, didn’t want to be among them. But saddled with nearly $1-million in unpaid bills, programs bleeding cash, and questions from the state about its financial audits, the group considered shutting its doors a few years ago.
Today, with new leadership, wiped-out debt, cleaned-up financials, and a burgeoning fundraising operation, Heritage has been able to continue to run the preschool center, bus service, and job-training programs the city so desperately needs.
Its story is a tale of a once-richly endowed nonprofit in a once-rich town outside Pittsburgh, battling its own demons and the economic forces that ensnared the region. At the same time, Heritage’s struggles, including bouts with sloppy management and state budget woes, are probably familiar to many charities around the country slogging their way out of the economic downturn.
Heritage’s experiences, say nonprofit experts, could be a road map for other troubled charities.