Amherst’s A Better Chance program loses United Way funding
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AMHERST — A program that brings disadvantaged teens from poor school districts to Amherst is losing its United Way funding, prompting criticism from the community.
The Amherst A Better Chance program recently learned that as of July 1, its $13,000 grant from United Way of Hampshire County will end.
John Sieracki, president of the ABC trustees, said Tuesday that board members were surprised and disappointed.
“It was a shock to hear that the long-standing relationship would be cut off, because we seemed to live up so well to what United Way says they are funding,” Sieracki said.
At an ABC board meeting Monday, United Way of Hampshire County Executive Director James Ayres said while the program does “extraordinary work,” it doesn’t meet the United Way priorities regarding funding programs that have the greatest impact in terms of numbers served and the depth of service.
Julie Marcus, founder of New England Environmental Inc., and former ABC board member, attended Monday’s board meeting to express her displeasure.
“ABC is a very popular program in this town. I believe that people are going to be very angry when they learn of this travesty,” Marcus told Ayres.
Her family has hosted a teen who is now in college.
“After four years in Amherst, he is now a pre-med major at Connecticut College,” Marcus said. “He’s not our flesh but we have taken him in our home as our own.”
She said she’s decided to discontinue her company’s involvement with United Way as a workplace partner “because we do not have shared values.” She said she plans to encourage employees to continue charitable giving, even through United Way, but will not take part in the annual campaign effort.
The ABC application was among 23 submitted to United Way, with 12 recommended for funding.
ABC was the only member agency to lose its funding, but Ayres said the decision had nothing to do with how ABC is run. “I don’t think there’s any deficiency in ABC’s mission,” Ayres said.
The change means that ABC will be removed from a list of organizations eligible to receive direct designations, though Sieracki said people can still indicate their preference for ABC on United Way donor forms. ABC’s United Way grant included $7,800 that came through direct designation.
“We’re definitely going to see a $5,000 shortage,” Sieracki said. “Unless we can reach people who have officially designated to ABC, we’ll lose those donations, as well.”
Ayres and Sieracki are looking into possible sponsorships and other means of support.
“We are committed to helping Amherst ABC remain as strong as possible,” Ayres said.
The ABC program arrived in Amherst in 1968 for high school-age minority boys from what are considered educationally underserved school districts. More than 120 ABC scholars have graduated from Amherst Regional High School. There are seven students in the program now.
“We transform lives and it takes constant attention and work that ABC provides to do that,” Sieracki said. “We provide a depth of service to a few guys we know will become leaders in society.”
The news comes as ABC plans its 41st annual foliage walk and run, set for Saturday at 10:30 a.m. on the Town Common. It runs through the early afternoon with performances by the Charles Neville Quartet, Michelle Brooks-Thompson and Maurice “Soulfighter” Taylor.
Brooks-Thompson, a Sunderland resident who appears on NBC’s singing program “The Voice” and who as a high school student knew youth from the ABC House, will perform “Proud Mary.”
Sieracki said the event has in the past raised as much as $30,000. “It’s not only our biggest fundraising thing we do, but also a way to get the word out,” Sieracki said.
The money supports the $95,000 budget that provides living and school expenses for the ABC scholars who live at the ABC House on North Prospect Street. They are mentored by resident director Talib Sadiq and resident assistant Tyson Rose while they attend the high school. Sieracki said costs include the mortgage on the home, groceries and a salary for a chef.
The 5-kilometer walk and run starts on the Town Common and ends on the Amherst College green. Individual walkers and runners donate $25, families $50 and students collected pledges. Registration and other information about the foliage walk and run is available at www.amherstabetterchance.org.