Community center facing funding shortfall

Mike Easterling
The Identity Inc. Community Center is in danger of being closed by May 15 because of a lack of funds.

FARMINGTON – Unless it receives enough donations to cover the $2,000 in bills it has coming due in the next few days, the Identity Inc. Community Center downtown will close its doors May 15, the organization’s president has announced.

Judy Palier, president of the Identity Inc. board of directors, said the organization has been struggling financially for the past few months and has now reached a crisis point.

“In hindsight, we should have asked the community for help sooner,” she said Friday afternoon.

Identity Inc. is a nonprofit group that operates the center as a safe place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people to gather. The center opened on Jan. 31, 2015, in the location vacated by  Andrea Kristina’s Bookstore and Café at 218 W. Main St.

Identity Inc. officials were encouraged by the initial success of the center and the community’s response to it, and they began the new year with high hopes for its future, expressing a goal of hiring a full-time executive director this year at a salary of $50,000.

Palier has been especially pleased about the relationships the organization has built with the Farmington Police Department and the Farmington Municipal School District, and the training it has helped provide those entities for how to better communicate with the people Identity Inc. serves.

Identity Inc. has announced that it has raised enough funds to keep its doors open. The center will also relocate in June to a new location, also on West Main Street.

But a combination of circumstances has left the organization short of cash, and Palier said if enough money hasn’t come in by the middle of the month, the doors will be closed.

“I don’t think we have a choice, do we?” she asked rhetorically. “I’d like to think the organization will continue, but the community center will be gone.”

During its first year of operation, the community center operated from its space rent free. But beginning in February, it began incurring that expense, as well as several others that have deflated what little financial cushion the organization had.

Palier said Identity Inc. pays $800 a month in rent, insurance and property taxes on the space it leases, as well as another $350 a month in utilities. That’s almost $1,200 a month in expenses, and Palier said the organization hasn’t been successful in raising enough revenue to cover that.

So, on Wednesday, Palier consulted with her board, and she said the organization came to the difficult decision to shutter the center unless the necessary funds can be raised by May 15. Palier announced the decision via the Identity Inc. Facebook page while also making a plea for donations via PayPal.

“We’ve had some pretty good response to what we put out on Facebook,” she said. “But, with PayPal, it takes 24 to 48 hours to show up. So, right this minute, I don’t know that we have the cash in hand to pay the bills next week.”

Palier said Identity Inc. has received two grants this year that have helped the organization move forward with its goals. It was the recipient of Community Development Block Grant funding from the city of Farmington that has allowed the organization to pay a staff member to open and operate the community center from 5 to 7 p.m. every weekday.

Another grant pays for a counselor who runs a teen support group at the center. Palier said that group currently serves 20 teens and is very important to Identity’s mission.

“Those are two grants that we have, and both are very specific about what they pay for,” she said, explaining that they can’t be used for operating expenses.

Another source of money for the organization has been its ability to lease out its space for meetings, parties and other events. A series of drag shows at the community center has been well attended, and a local music promoter has staged several concerts at the center that have helped raise money for the group. But Palier said other, more recent fundraisers have not drawn as many people.

“We had one a couple of weeks ago that was not well attended, but the people were very generous,” she said. “We only had 20 people there, but we raised $350. That’s a lot from 20 people, especially in our community, where many people don’t have a lot.”

Another fundraiser has been planned for 7 p.m. Saturday, May 14. The community center will present the Kings & Queens Prom, a dinner and dance open to people of all ages. Advance tickets are $15 for individuals and $25 for couples, while tickets at the door are $20 for individuals and $30 for couples. The Olive Garden is donating the food, and all proceeds will benefit Identity Inc.

Unless the organization’s financial picture changes dramatically, that will be the final event held at the community center. Palier acknowledged that the organization needs to become far more aggressive in its fundraising, lest it find itself in the same situation a few months down the road, even if it does survive this crisis.

“We need to do some sort of (monthly) subscription where people are providing support on a monthly basis,” she said, comparing that idea to the fundraising efforts of public television and radio. “I’m our only grant writer, and we have had a couple of people offer to help with grant writing in the future.”

But a more comprehensive plan to secure the organization’s future is needed, she said.

“We need to develop some sort of business plan to keep from ending up in this position again,” she said. “We should have asked for help a couple of months ago and didn’t.”

Palier believes the community needs the services Identity Inc. offers.

“We gets calls from teachers and social service agencies asking how to deal with transgender individuals,” she said. “I don’t want that to end. We at least need a desk in somebody else’s office from which we could operate our outreach and education programs. But that would be a poor second (to having a community center.).”

Anyone interested in making a donation to Identity Inc. can do so through the organization’s website at Palier said anyone who wants to write a check to the group can drop it off at the community center or call her at 505-716-3021 and arrange to have it picked up.

Palier said she was frustrated and disappointed at the position Identity Inc. was in, but she said she was resigned to the fact that whatever happens is largely out of her control.

“If it ended tomorrow, I still think we’ve made some progress in this community,” she said. “I’d rather not have that stop, but if it does, I don’t think (that progress) will be erased.”

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.