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Sue Guinn Legg

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After financial struggle, local youth mentoring program enjoying better days

January 23rd, 2012 10:36 pm by Sue Guinn Legg

After financial struggle, local youth mentoring program enjoying better days

Prospects are rising for the future of Johnson City’s Rise Up after school and youth mentoring program and the 130 students the program hopes to impact long term.
With about $90,000 in monthly sponsorships and one-time donations raised since September, Rise Up has moved past last summer’s loss of grant funding that threatened to close the doors on the after school in December.
Michael Marion, Rise Up’s founder and director, said Monday the program has received enough local support to keep its after school running through the end of the school year and about half of what will be needed to maintain the program next school year.
“Beyond that I do not know,” Marion said. “We have some time, some breathing room. Compared to September, we’re doing quite a lot better.”
The program serves about 70 kindergarten through 7th grade students who attend after school at Rise Up daily and about 60 middle and high school students who take part in its group mentoring programs twice a week.
In addition to the local contributions, a state grant awarded to Rise Up in October to revise its abstinence education program for up to 75 high school students will provide the program with $90,000 annually for three years. Marion said the grant will fund 2 1/2 existing staff positions and help Rise Up continue in its mission to provide consistent adult mentors to at risk students through their graduation from high school.
Over the next three to four months, Marion said Rise Up will be concentrating on recruiting as many additional monthly sponsors as possible. “We really need more people who are willing to make that monthly commitment. The more help we get, the more kids we can help,” he said.
According to Marion, operating Rise Up’s after school program requires about $150,000 annually. The program currently has $75,000 for the 2012-13 school year, or about half the total needed. Funding both its after school and long-term mentoring programs costs about $18,000 monthly, compared to $10,000 in monthly sponsorships currently committed to the program.
The funding crunch at Rise Up began in 2010 with the loss of two major federal grants that provided about 70 percent of the program’s total funding. The 2010 grant losses resulted in a layoff of about 40 percent of the program’s staff and the termination of a regional high school abstinence program that served about 6,000 students in 40 area high schools. The funding shortage intensified in July when two state grants for the Rise Up after-school program came in at about 50 percent of what was anticipated.
With the grant losses, Rise Up reformulated its revenue strategy in an attempt to increase its base of community generated support and lessen its dependency on government grants that previously provided about 90 percent of its revenue.
“We were fortunate to receive that $90,000 in reoccurring and one-time gifts,” Marion said of the funds raised since September. The transition from a primarily grant funded program to a primarily locally funded program has really caused us to redefine what we’re about. We’ve been at this about two years. We don’t have large donors, just a lot of small donors and faith in God and what we do. And somehow he provides for us.”
Marion said the greatest challenge is not funding but “not forgetting our involvement in changing generations and not forgetting that each child who walks through our doors is an opportunity. To provide our mentoring program, funds are always going to be a challenge.”
To celebrate January’s national Mentoring Month, Rise Up hosted its annual Mentor and Volunteer Appreciation Dinner Monday night at Grace Fellowship Church. The Oscar-themed celebration included best performance and hall of fame awards and children from the Rise Up program serving as paparazzi at a red carpet entrance for the program’s mentors and volunteers.
“It’s people through their long-term relationships with kids that change kids’ lives over the long haul. Tonight we will give them a dinner and express appreciation,” Marion said.
For those who wish to help, Rise Up is again asking community members “to prayerfully consider” a one-time contribution or a monthly sponsorship. 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 michael@riseupforkids.com.

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