The Providence Journal October 23, 2013 11:30 PM
Family and friends warned Melissa Husband not to take the job.
They said leading an antipoverty organization that had been created out of the Providence Community Action Agency’s receivership would be “professional suicide.”
Husband said yes anyway, and joined the ranks of the few minority women executive directors in Rhode Island.
“I volunteered my whole life,” said Husband, who grew up in South Providence, while sitting in her office at the Hartford Avenue headquarters. “This was the ultimate way to give back to my community.”
She’s been in charge nearly a year now, and says the new Community Action Partnership of Providence has more than a dozen programs for city residents — such as classes for pregnant and parenting teens; a food pantry; senior services; and seasonal programs such as tax preparation and a toy distribution.
The agency, still the largest of its kind in Providence, also expanded its adult education classes and piloted two new accounting and financial asset building classes.
But the agency isn’t out of danger.
CAPP may face additional financial cuts as a result of the federal sequester and government shutdown, the executive director said. Nearly all of its funding comes from the government.
“I can’t focus on what we can’t control,” said Husband, 36, who previously worked for Rhode Island Housing. “We have so much work to do, so I tell the staff — an amazing team who gets it and cares — to focus on that one person in front of them and give them everything they need.”
CAPP has a $7.1-million budget this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, and 32 employees.
At the height of ProCAP, the fiscal year that ended in June 2010, the budget was $16.42 million and there were 120 employees.
The receivership began in November 2011. An independent audit cited chronic financial mismanagement and Mayor Angel Taveras asked its executive director, Frank Corbishley, to resign. The agency had $2.2 million in outstanding debt, $17,500 in monthly mortgage payments that it wasn’t paying, and state officials stripped the nonprofit of critical grant money.
“We stepped in to save ProCAP from closing its doors because the agency is an important part of Providence’s human services safety net that deserved to be put on a path to recovery,” Taveras told The Journal. “… Few agencies are positioned to have such a direct impact on the neighborhoods of Providence as this one.”
Court-appointed receiver Thomas Hemmendinger is still working through ProCAP’s problems — including a five-family shelter on the East Side that Husband wants to keep open, but the agency can’t afford to pay the mortgage, about $200,000, that remains.
BankRI marketing manager Ron Carlstrom says the bank has no plans to foreclose, and, “We’re open to working with CAPP.”
Husband asked city officials to help with the shelter issue, and told her almost entirely new staff to focus on CAPP’s other programs.
As it was with ProCAP, the biggest programs for CAPP are weatherization and heating assistance. Giving money to income-eligible residents for heat started up again this month. Ronnie Young, that program’s manager, has a goal to help 12,000 families this year.
The last fiscal year, CAPP’s first, the agency gave out $3.6 million of federal money via 8,621 grants. The majority, nearly 7,000 grants, helped families pay for their heat through the winter. The rest were given “crisis grants” to restore their heat.
“I want to spend every last penny, and put it into the community,” said Young, who also grew up in South Providence and said his grandmother received heating assistance from ProCAP. “People are struggling out there.”
Young has been reaching out to residents with multiple meetings in different locations because, “This agency has a new commitment to the community. They need to know that.”
Every inch of the headquarters is used for the agency’s programs. Other services are provided out of the city-owned Elmwood Community Center. Husband says she wants to bring youth programs back there, “but it is in such disarray” and needs safety and other improvements.
She is working with the city on a solution, and is also talking to similar agencies because, “We are all seeing the same people and can do so much more if we work together.”