Our VOICE struggles with grants, funding

by Auburn Petty – alpetty@unca.edu – Multimedia & Design Editor

Supported by seven paid staff members, a team of volunteers, taxpayer dollars and donations, Buncombe County’s rape crisis center Our VOICE provides free services to sexual assault victims in the area, according to agency officials.

“We are grant funded and state funded, and also, we receive funding from individual donors,” said Leah Rubinsky, Our VOICE’s client services coordinator. “We simply would not be able to keep the doors open if we weren’t the recipients of the wonderful funding that we receive from the state and local, individual donors.”

Development and Marketing Coordinator Robin Payne said the agency began as an all-volunteer-run agency when it opened in 1974. Before receiving grants from the state and federal government, Our VOICE lacked the funds to hire a full staff.

“We went for a really long time with just volunteers until we were able to hire one person. It’s kind of slowly come over time,” Payne said.

Approximately 60 percent of Our VOICE’s funding comes from state and federal grants, Payne said.

“The federal grants – the bigger ones – are VOCA, which stands for Victims of Crime Acts, which is handled through the North Carolina Crime Commission. The other one is VAWA, which was just reauthorized, and that’s the Violence Against Women Act,” Payne said. “We also receive money from N.C. CASA, which is the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault.”

The agency also receives funding from United Way, private foundations, individual donors and corporations, Payne said.

United Way routes the calls for Our VOICE’s crisis line, and each month, they send the agency a report of each call, said Volunteer Coordinator Danny Lee. 

Last year, Our VOICE volunteers helped with more than 250 crisis calls, Rubinsky said.

“The larger federal and state grants fund our basic core services, and those include our 24-hour crisis line, the volunteer coordinator, both of our counselors – for individual and group counseling – and case manager. United Way funding and the North Carolina Counsel for Women funding help with prevention education and outreach,” Payne said. “Everything else is usually just on a year-by-year basis. If we have special projects, we’ll apply to family foundations or other regional groups.”

Last year, Our VOICE received $338,336, according to their 2012 financial report.

The funding covered the cost of utilities, core programs, salaries and other fees associated with running a business.

This funding allows Our VOICE to provide its core services for free, Payne said.

“All of our direct services, like the crisis line, hospital accompaniment and case management are free. For counseling, there’s a one-time administrative cost of $20, but we can do a sliding scale. If someone’s unable to pay, that’s perfectly fine. We would never turn anyone away for their inability to pay,” Payne said. “Education that we do in the community – the majority of it – has no cost, especially what we do in the schools.”

While state and federal funding support Our VOICE’s core services, the agency provides other programs not supported by these grants, Payne said.

Our VOICE offers programs like Kelly’s Line, a phone line for sex workers who have experienced violence, and Climbing Toward Confidence, a program encouraging higher self-esteem in 12- to 14-year-old girls, according to the 2012 financial report. However, these are not direct client services, so government grants do not cover these costs.

Payne said the agency hopes to stop relying heavily on these government grants due to strict regulations.

“The model that we’re moving to is kind of away from this dependence on these larger state and federal grants because they’re very time-consuming in regard to reporting, reimbursement reports, grant writing processes, which are pretty strict, and site visits,” Payne said. “We would like a little more freedom. We’re looking for more unrestricted dollars through individual donors and special events.”

Despite its apparent success in the community, helping more than 250 individuals in the area in the past year, Our VOICE continues to struggle with funding, Payne said.

“Being a nonprofit is challenging enough, especially in more difficult economic times, but being a nonprofit that deals with sexual assault can sometimes be even harder because it’s a difficult subject to talk about. You know, we don’t have cute puppies or cute children. We don’t pluck at the heartstrings as easily or as comfortably as some other agencies do, so we have to get more creative,” Payne said. “We have to rely on our core supporters to get our message out there. It’s a little trickier sometimes.”

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