December 2009 was a soggy month all around at Spokane Valley’s leading social service agency.
To start, a pair of severe floods left water damage in the basement offices of Spokane Valley Partners at 10814 E. Broadway. The upstairs clothing bank was also soaked. Only a superhuman rally by staff and volunteers salvaged the annual holiday gift distribution later that month, providing free presents for hundreds of low-income families.
|Ken Briggs, executive director of Spokane Valley Partners, has been dealing with a variety of challenges over the last year, from budget hurdles to a flood that caused damage to the agency’s clothing bank in December.
Photo by: Craig Howard
December also brought news that there would likely be some administrative changes at SVP. In response to a series of budget challenges, it appeared that Program Director Connie Nelson and Development Director Don Kaufman would be released, leaving Executive Director Ken Briggs to deal with a litany of tasks, from raising money to coordinating volunteers for a variety of annual programs.
Despite the gloomy forecast, Briggs remained positive.
“We had to figure out a way to keep our team together,” he said. “It’s a tough time for a lot of businesses and individuals and nonprofits are not immune to that.”
Good news arrived from the office of Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington who would provide two part-time employees to handle a number of administrative duties. The staffing addition would be paid for through a Title 5 grant.
As the new year dawned, Kaufman remained on as development director and Nelson continued to work on a volunteer basis. A plan emerged to have Nelson move into the role of food bank director by spring while longtime Director Barbara Bennett would shift to distribution coordinator for the weekly food allocation.
Briggs said that Nelson’s background, which includes leadership roles at Second Harvest of the Inland Northwest and the Washington Food Coalition, will be a valuable asset at the food bank. Bennett, meanwhile, said she welcomed the chance to scale back her hours after 19 years at her post.
“I’m comfortable with this move,” she said. “My husband and I have things we would like to do. I’m not leaving entirely – I’ll be more of a volunteer. I know that we’re passing it on to a good person. Ultimately, the food bank is not about me, it’s about what we do.”
Briggs said the transition will have a positive impact on the agency.
“Connie is an excellent manager and extremely organized,” Briggs said. “This change means we get to preserve the institutional knowledge that Connie and Barbara bring to the table.”
Bennett will remain on in a full-time role as food bank director until May and then move to half time. Nelson will take administrative charge at that time while Bennett will begin her job as distribution coordinator in July.
Briggs said the food bank has benefited significantly from the addition of a storage warehouse last year. He added that while food donations continue to roll in, the agency is struggling to secure discretionary funds.
“It’s great that people are bringing in food but we can’t pay our light bill with that,” he said.
In addition to the food bank, SVP continues to provide emergency assistance funds to help residents with necessities like rent and utilities. The clothing bank stocks a wide range of items and a Women, Infant and Childrens health clinic is located on site. The SVP agenda also includes classes on healthy cooking and smart energy practices.
“I know they do a lot of work within the community,” said Spokane Valley
Mayor Tom Towey. “The food bank especially does a tremendous job helping people.”
Briggs said the decision to retain Kaufman will be critical to SVP’s fund-raising and promotional approach. There has already been increased interest among local businesses in the agency’s annual golf tournament, set for July.
“I don’t think you can expect increased sales if you decrease your sales staff,” Briggs said. “I worry that the credibility of our fund-raising efforts will be diminished if we ever lose Don’s position.”
Any decision to cut staff would ultimately be made by the SVP board of directors.
Kaufman said he has been encouraged by the feedback of potential donors as well as individuals and businesses that have supported the agency over the years.
“I think they’re a lot more aware of what we’re doing for the community,”
Kaufman said. “I’m real happy with the way this year has started.”