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Hand In Hand seeking community, agency support in trying times

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LOWVILLE — Hand In Hand Early Childhood Center Inc. is seeking financial help from community members and local agencies to secure its child-care center here while consolidating its services.

“In the last few months, Hand In Hand fund-raising has not met the need to maintain the Center’s buildings and programs in addition to the rising costs of food, energy and supplies,” wrote Linda A. Yousey, board president for the more than 30-year-old non-profit agency, in a recent letter to parents. “An infusion of $50,000 right now will balance the budget and provide monies to meet immediate, future cost increases.”

The agency is embarking on a “Secure Hand In Hand For the Future” campaign, with a goal of raising $50,000 by Sept. 30. One family that benefited from the organization in its first year of existence has already kicked off the campaign with a $10,000 donation, according to Hand In Hand officials.

Parents Cheryl and Matt Morrow have been designated as honorary co-leaders of the capital campaign.

“Our two little girls are developing social skills in a structured learning environment,” the Morrows wrote in a statement. “Hand In Hand has given us a sense of security, knowing our children are in a loving and safe environment while we are working.”

Hand In Hand built its current center in Lowville in 2003 and expanded its services into Boonville in 2008 by building a similar center there.

While much of the construction costs for both buildings were covered through grant funding, additional expenses and operating losses over the past few years have caused the agency to take out two mortgages on its Boonville center and one on its Lowville facility.

In response to the agency’s fiscal difficulties, Mrs. Yousey’s husband, Thomas J. Yousey II, executive director of the Pratt-Northam Foundation, organized a late-July summit of area government, educational, business and nonprofit leaders to discuss possible solutions.

That session resulted in the formation of the fund-raising campaign, along with the addition to the Hand In Hand board of a few members with business experience. An experienced bookkeeper has also been brought in on a voluntary basis to help assess the agency’s finances.

The non-profit’s board of directors within the past week also decided to close the Boonville center, effective Aug. 31, with hopes of eventually selling or leasing that building.

While that decision was difficult, a recent financial report showed that low enrollment at the Boonville site, which services about 40 children and employs roughly 15 full- and part-time workers, has been straining operations, according to Mrs. Yousey. Meanwhile, the Lowville center, which serves 254 children from six weeks to 13 years of age and employs 50 full- and part-time workers, appears to be running slightly in the black, she said.

Hand In Hand officials have asked the Lewis County Industrial Development Agency to fund a $200,000 mortgage on its center here to pay off its current, higher-interest mortgage and infuse some cash flow.

The hope is that, between the IDA mortgage payment and the fund-raising campaign, the agency will be able to stabilize its budget and make some building improvements that have been delayed for the past several years by a lack of funding, Mrs. Yousey said.

Hand In Hand officials attended the Lewis County IDA board’s Aug. 8 meeting, but no action could be taken due to the lack of a quorum. The matter will likely be discussed at the board’s Sept. 6 meeting, unless a special meeting is called before then.

IDA Executive Director Richard H. Porter said his agency’s sole interest in the project would be retention of jobs and that it will be up to his board to decide whether to undertake it.

For more information on the campaign or to make a donation, call Hand In Hand at 376-9414, write to 5780 Brookside Circle, Lowville, N.Y. 13367 or visit the center, located adjacent to Brookside Senior Living Community.

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