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Nonprofits Running Government Services: Fire and Forget?

Steve Patterson offers this Times-Union article discussing the trend of nonprofits taking over city run community centers. This is an approach that is not limited to Jacksonville. Privitizing city services by moving them to the nonprofit sector is quite common. The problem is, some nonprofits are not ready to take on the responsibilities and the government tends to look the other way after the hand off. Successful nonprofit ventures of this sort require continued local government support in the form of training and appropriate funding

Ian Greene,  a York University professor, argues that there are five essential conditions for successful nonprofit delivery of city services: the capacity of the nonprofit to host a quality board of directors,staff and executive director, adequate training for the board;fair funding for the nonprofits;open lines of communication through effective liaison committees, and effective oversight by government funding authirities to prevent the malfunction of nonprofit agencies delivering services.

Jacksonville taps nonprofits to run neighborhood centers

Sirretta Williams, a church pastor, went to a community center thinking she might volunteer there. She ended up volunteering to run the place.

Last week,  Jacksonville’s City Council voted to lease the Joseph Lee Community Center to Williams’ Lion of the Tribe of Judah Ministries for 10 years. After renovations to the center on Perry Street, a few blocks from the Gateway Mall, church volunteers plan to tutor kids and teach them music, tae kwon do and financial skills.

With governments short on cash, “this is the time where the religious sector and the community and businesses are going to have to come together and help,” Williams said.

City Hall couldn’t agree more.

By summer, the city wants to finalize deals for three other nonprofits to run community centers in Arlington, the Southside and Northwest Jacksonville.

Others are already up and running.

Those arrangements are part of a city push to remake centers that are under-used — often closed — into sources for youth programs and services the city’s budget doesn’t cover.

“With community centers closed, that’s not a good sign for the youth,” said Pam Wilson, marketing and community relations manager for the city’s parks.

Money from the Jacksonville Journey anti-crime effort is helping make deals happen.

Nonprofits invited to bid on running six centers were offered up to $100,000 apiece for repairs and improvements to the buildings, which are often a few decades old. A similar deal was made with Williams’ church, which was already asking about operating the Lee Center.

During a 2007 venture into private management, a loose agreement between the city and a group that wanted to run a center on Moncrief Road prompted questions about how much the deal would really benefit the surrounding neighborhood.

That deal, with a foundation launched by former Jaguar Tony Boselli, was eventually retooled and the same foundation later set up programs at a second center, on East 23rd Street. The second center opened last summer.

The city’s approach to management deals has become more formal. The three agreements pending now are with nonprofits who answered a public notice inviting bids to operate closed centers.

Besides showing insurance and tax-status records, their applications outlined the five-day-a-week children’s programs they would offer, staffing ratios, public-access rules and optional adult programming.

Children could only be required to pay for services if the city collects similar payments at other parks — for example, for summer camps.

Bidders had to find their own ways to finance day-to-day operations.

Seven centers were targeted for private partnerships as part of the Jacksonville Journey’s push to keep young people busy and out of trouble.

The first of those, at Normandy Park on the Westside, reopened in April under the management of Community Connections, a social service nonprofit with a long track record locally.

The organization wanted a new Westside location where it could move a youth program formerly based at an apartment complex, and Councilman Daniel Davis steered them to the parks department, said Pat Hannan, the nonprofit’s executive director. The Normandy center, which had been vandalized by spray paint, was undersized and needed updating.

Builders Care, a charity operated by the Northeast Florida Builders Association, lined up contractors who more than doubled the size of the community center, Hannan said.

About 120 children now use the upgraded center, which will start offering summer camp next month, she said. Money the group already received under a separate deal from the Jacksonville Children’s Commission pays part of the operating cost, with the rest coming from private sources, Hammond said.

One of the sites targeted for partnerships, in Arlington’s Fort Caroline area, was scratched from the list because of neighborhood opposition.

A series of neighborhood meetings and a public bid process brought responses from groups wanting to operate three of the five other closed centers — in St. Nicholas, the College Park area in Northwest Jacksonville, and off Merrill Road in Arlington.

All of those offers involve nonprofits that already work with people in surrounding neighborhoods, Wilson said. 

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