Rise Up makes urgent appeal for help

Sue Guinn Legg • Feb 25, 2013 at 10:28 PM

Citing a significant decline in year-end giving, the board of directors of the nonprofit Rise Up after-school and youth mentoring program has issued an urgent appeal for financial support to help make up a $36,000 shortfall needed to operate through June 30.

On Monday, Rise Up founder and Executive Director Michael Marion said about $14,000 of the $36,000 needed has been raised over the past two weeks and the board is continuing its appeal to raise the remaining $22,000 and avoid possible cuts to Rise Up staff and programming.

In addition to a significant decrease in end-of-year giving, the board said the loss of a couple of large federal grants in 2010 and the slow release of state grant funding also contributed to the shortfall.

“Moreover, unlike other local youth-based nonprofits, Rise Up is not currently a United Way agency, nor do we receive appropriations from the city of Johnson City at this time,” the board’s appeal letter said.

On the upside, Marion said, Rise Up programs have not been cut at this point and two grants that together provide about 40 percent of the program’s budget will remain in place for at least the next two years.

“We’ve been here 20 years now and we’re still here,” Marion said. “It’s just tough times.”

Rise Up has reduced its dependency on grant funding by about half over the past two years. But with the large grant losses of 2010, Marion said Rise Up cut its budget “to the bare minimum so that there’s really nothing left to cut but programs. If you begin cutting staff, even a few, pretty soon you begin affecting kids.”

In the coming year, Rise Up will introduce a new sponsorship-based funding strategy in hopes of further reducing its reliance on grants and better ensuring the program’s financial viability for the long term.

“Next year we hope to launch some individual sponsorships. We’re calling it our Success Partners Program, and it will help us close some of that gap in funding our programs,” Marion said.

Meanwhile, new students continue to join the program, although Marion said “adding new kids is difficult when you don’t have the financing.”

Currently, 170 students from seven city schools including Science Hill, Liberty Bell, Indian Trail and four elementary schools take part in Rise Up’s after-school character-building programming and 105 of those students are matched with an adult mentor through the program.

But the best news, Marion said, is that four girls who spent more than three years with Rise Up recently signed scholarships to begin college.

“That’s what we want, for every child to graduate high school and go to college, to the military or to a vocational school. That’s our goal, to impact the lives of 100 children who will go to college by 2020,” Marion said.

In the past three years, 25 former Rise Up students have continued their education after high school, and if 75 more follow in the next seven years, Marion said, “It will all be worth it.”

“That’s what makes us unique. We’re about building long-term relationships with kids. And our programs are the bridge to those relationships. We’re not out to change the world, just the world of each kid.”

Rise Up continues to enjoy the support of several area churches that provide volunteers, mentors and financial support and is continuously working to expand that base to include more churches and community groups that may wish to assist.

Marion is available to speak to any group that may be interested in learning more about the program and may be reached by calling Rise Up at 610-1242 or by emailing boystomen95@yahoo.com.

Donations to Rise Up may be made online at RiseUpForKids.com or by mail to P.O. Box 4426, Johnson City, TN 37602.

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