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SOY sends out a distress call

Nonprofit program that serves Westside students is facing a funding crisis, as a well-heeled donor can no longer give. Chairman vows to continue with volunteers, if they must.

March 09, 2012|By Britney Barnes

"It was an opportunity for me to know what's out there, discover new schools," Miguel said. "It was kind of like the moment I discovered I wanted to go to [Cal Poly San Luis Obispo]. It kind of really opened up my eyes."

Meanwhile, the organization's original mission slipped into the background.

"It started as a gang-prevention program to provide a safe place for teenagers and to give them an alternative to street life," Forbath said. "That was our original thing, but we have really grown from that because we see the needs are not just for kids in danger of joining gangs, but for all the kids that are in danger, or at risk of not fulfilling their potential."

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'We're still in intensive care'

It was in SOY's first couple years that a donor came forward to give the budding organization financial security — a gift that allowed them to take risks, Forbath said.

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The donor increased his giving over the years, allowing the organization to add programs, Cappellini said.

By last year, SOY was receiving $600,000 — 75% of it going toward scholarships, Executive Director Murphy said, adding that they take no public money.

But while the big donation provided growth and safety, it made it harder to garner additional community contributions, Forbath said.

"I think it's been one of our failures that we haven't really been successful in making the community aware of the value of SOY," Forbath said. "It's really hard to get people to think you are in need when they see in your financial report that you have all this money, but it's reserved for scholarships."

When the donor had to withdraw his support, the academic incentive model became unaffordable and was adapted to a points model that cut out the monthly payments. Classes earn points used to calculate what percentage of the reserved scholarship money students will receive.

Other cuts included three of the seven employees, the college trips and hiking trips to Mt. Whitney.

Murphy and Rosales met with each student to explain what the situation was and asked him or her to stay.

"It was devastating," Rosales said. "My first [priority] is the kids, and to kind of take that in and have to explain that to them — I cried."

But SOY didn't lose any students with the change.

"I think that they've realized that the advantage of staying with us was more than just money," Murphy said. "It was the access to all the resources, too. We've really been part of transforming this community to be more college-ready than it was."

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