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United Way helps children

Employees of the West Central Alabama Rehabilitation Center, which manages both the Special Pre-school Program and the Crippled Children and Adults Association, are doing their share to contribute to the available funding from the United Way to ensure the center will remain open.

“Without the United Way, it wouldn’t be a matter of adding to the Special Pre-School program, it would be a matter of operating the Special Pre-School program,” said David White, administrator of the center.

Donating through a “fair share” program, 100 percent of employees deduct wages of one hour per month from gross pay to give to the United Way. Donations are part of the funding for the entire program.

“We can’t do everything,” White said. “Those other programs need funding too.”The Special Pre-school Program is designed for children ages 3 to 6 with any sort of disability. Students in the program generally have been involved with the Early Intervention program, a division of the Cahaba Center for Mental Health Retardation Services. Between the time students leave that program and start kindergarten, no programming had previously been in place for the students.

“Our program has been created to fill that gap,” White said. The program has 25 to 30 children participating, and about 40 staff members running the program.

“One thing we have prided ourselves on is that there is zero cost to the families to participate in the program,” White said. All that is asked of parents is to bring their children twice a week and perhaps a change of clothes, White said. Students visit either Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday.

“The Special Pre-school program is fantastic,” said Jeff Cothran, executive director of Selma and Dallas County United Way. “The children are able to see their full potential.”

The Crippled Children and Adults Association, now referred to as Easter Seals, is a transportation assistance fund to provide money to bring children to the center or whichever location they need for medical assistance. It provides an extra stipend to the family because the state transportation stipend covers from police jurisdiction to police jurisdiction, cutting off about 40 to 50 miles from the actual total distance, White said.

Recently, the center has reassessed its budget. “We’ve had to make some cuts,” White said. “The last cuts all of us have taken are strictly because of reduction in donation dollars. It’s just a reflection of reduction in the United Way’s available dollars.”

Even with the funding from the United Way, “we can’t cover all the costs, but we try to evenly spread the money as far as it can go,” White said.

About 10 years ago, it cost $800,000 to $1 million a year to run the center. In the past two years funding has been cut to about $650,000 a year. This year, the budget is around $600,000.

The United Way brings in $45,000 a year now, but in previous years has given as much as $60,000 for both the Special Pre-school Program and Easter Seals. The United Way has been assisting these programs since 1954.

White is doing his best to make sure that the cuts are taken off the administrative side, such as benefits and staffing structure, instead of the programming side of the center’s expenses. All employees of the center have been under a wage freeze for the past two years. He also is dedicated to cutting in places that cannot be reversed when the market goes back to its previous state.

To receive funding from the United Way, White and other centers must present proper documentation that they are using the given money in ways they said they were going to do so. “The application process is a lot more strenuous than we need this amount of money,” White said.

The greatest concern White has for the center is the reduction in donated amounts. Non-profits, in general, have a 40 to 50 percent reduction in donated income, according to White. Locally, International Paper employees contribute substantially to the program, and International Paper matches employee contribution.

Any means people would like to donate to the center would be much appreciated by White. The biggest help has been from the United Way. “Without the United Way funding, the program would absolutely be in jeopardy,” White said.

Total goal for Selma and Dallas County United Way: $350,000

Current amount: $182,000