NEAR WEST SIDE — A local institution that has cared for needy Chicago children for 130 years says it is on the brink of closing due to a lack of funding.
As of April 15, Benjamin Kendrick, executive director at the Marcy Newberry Association, was unable to make payroll. And if he can’t raise $150,000 to match a private donation in the next month, the organization may have to permanently close its doors.
Started in 1883, Marcy Newberry currently has four centers in Chicago. For almost 50 years, the center at 1073 W. Maxwell St. has provided preschool services as well as after-school care, a children’s choir and a community garden.
If the funding doesn’t come soon, Kendrick said all four centers may be on the verge of closing within the month.
The association began in the late 1800s to serve Czechoslovakian and Bohemian immigrants. Elizabeth E. Marcy of Evanston's First Methodist Church helped open a mission called the Marcy Center in what was described as a "dingy room of a smoky saloon" on Maxwell Street.
Its focus turned to helping Jewish immgrants and later African-Americans.
Kendrick, who’s worked at Marcy Newberry for 34 years, said private donors have become scarce over the past five years.
But state funding regulations have also played a role: while there are more funding options for families trying to get care for infants and preschool children, needy families with grade school children are being squeezed.
In that age group, parents looking to Marcy Newberry for after-school care can only be reimbursed from a pool of state funding through the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP). Parents must either be working or in school to be eligible for the funds, both difficult hurdles for many among the city's chronically impoverished.
“There are no programs out there that support this group. And yet still, this is the population that needs it the most,” Gertrude Ricks, director of programs at childcare center Marcy Newberry.
The after-school program includes academic help and healthy physical activities.
“All the work we’ve done in that zero to 5 [age group] can go out the drain in two years if they're older and they’re out there exposed to the wrong population,” said Ricks.
According to Ricks, since August, the center has turned away 122 children because they were not eligible for funding.
Last year, the Illinois Department of Human Services denied almost 12,000 more applicants for CCAP than it has on average in the past five years.
Januari Smith, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, said the increase could be attributed to more applicants or may be connected to an increase in the maximum income level allowed to be eligible for the program.
Until two years ago, parents making more than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level were ineligible. In April of 2011, that number of was tightened so that eligible parents could make no more than 185 percent of the poverty level.
Ricks said all they can do at Marcy Newberry is pray the funds come in so they can continue to serve a population she said needs childcare the most.
“We’re gonna figure out a way to take care of these people,” said Ricks, expressing worry that without after-school enrichment, "the kids can get lost.”