Once again struggling to make up for significant losses in government grant funding, the Rise Up youth mentoring program formerly known as Boys to Men is beginning another new school year on uncertain ground and in dire need of private contributions to continue its daily after-school program.
“We have enough (funding) to go about five weeks,” said Michael Marion, Rise Up’s founder and executive director, on Monday. “We are going full speed ahead with our afterschool. And we are going to spend the next five weeks working as hard as we can to recruit more monthly sponsors,” one-time contributions and partnerships with local churches and other groups.
If the drive to increase private support falls short, Marion said, “There’s a range of things we could do. I don’t know what we are going to do. But if we don’t get those (private funding) commitments, it looks like about November or December we’ll have to do one of (two worst-case scenarios).”
Marion said the two scenarios would be to shut down the Rise Up after-school program that serves about 80 kindergarteners through seventh-graders daily, and/or end operations at the Rise Up building on East Millard Street.
Regardless of what happens with the after-school program, he said Rise Up’s long-term mentoring programs that serve about 100 third- through 12th-grade students will continue, possibly in borrowed space at area churches where the program first began work 18 years ago.
“When we started, we had five kids and a dream. I never envisioned it we would grow this big. It’s a nonprofit venture and, as it is with all adventures, you never know where you’re going to land.”
The funding crunch began last fall with the loss of two major federal grants on which Rise Up depended for about 70 percent of its programming. The immediate result was a layoff of about 40 percent of the program’s staff and the termination of a regional high school abstinence program through which Rise Up served about 6,000 students in 40 area high schools.
The farther reaching result of last year’s grant losses was a shift in Rise Up’s revenue strategy to increase its base of community support and lessen its dependency on government funding.
While the drive to increase private support, and the recruitment of monthly sponsors in particular, allowed Rise Up to raise more than $200,000 last year — more than any year in the program’s history, the other shoe fell in July when two state grants for the after-school program came in at about 50 percent of what was anticipated.
With those grant reductions, Marion said about $130,000 in one-time contributions or monthly sponsorship will be needed to continue operating the after-school program through the end of the current school year.
“The grant reductions were unforeseen and it’s created another unique challenge this year,” he said. “I think it is another part of the process of us becoming more privately supported. If we can do what we did last year, we’ll be fine through next fall. But to continue this year, we need to have to have that ($130,000) committed to us.”
For those who wish to help, Rise Up is asking community members “to prayerfully consider” a one-time contribution or a monthly sponsorship to help continue its Christ-based after-school program this school year. Contributions may be made by mail to P.O. Box 4426, Johnson City, TN 37601. For more information about Rise Up or to schedule a meeting or group presentation about the program, call Marion at 610-1242 or email email@example.com.