BDC of the Northern Panhandle lends a helping hand - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

BDC of the Northern Panhandle lends a helping hand

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The Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle rallied to help A Child's Place CASA, the voice for abused and neglected children in Brooke and Hancock counties, find new quarters when the nonprofit was evicted from its Wellsburg office this month after falling seven months behind on its rent.

The BDC is allowing CASA to use one of its properties, an office across from its Beech Bottom industrial park, as its home base for at least the next six months. While the space is small and by no means luxurious, BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said it is sturdy and, best of all, free.

That will allow CASA to sort out its finances while at the same time continuing to advocate on behalf of children who've been subjected to abuse and neglect, he said.

"They represent some 190 kids in Brooke and Hancock counties," Ford said. "That's a job that just doesn't stop. I told her when I talked to her that we'd help, but I just didn't know how. I immediately scheduled an emergency board meeting, and when I told my board what it was about they dropped everything to be there so we could find a way to help."

The space CASA is going to occupy had at one time housed a credit union. Ford said the BDC board had figured to rent it to someone in the oil and gas business as a construction trailer or office space, "but we're in a position now to help CASA and we need to help them."

"Even though our primary role in the community is industry recruitment and retention and job creation, we still have a stake in helping create a strong community," he said. "And at the end of the day, a strong community makes it more attractive for business and industry to locate here, so clearly it's within our mission."

But it's not just the BDC that's helping. Since the Beech Bottom building is small, Ford said Brooke County commissioners are allowing CASA to store excess items in one of their properties. Beech Bottom Mayor George Lewis arranged for village employees to go to the property on their day off and turn the water on, while Councilwoman Becky Uhlly packed up enough hot dogs, doughnuts and cookies to feed the volunteers during the hastily arranged move.

CASA Executive Director Rhonda Stubbs sees it all as something of a Christmas miracle.

"We're over the moon," Stubbs said. "That they dove into action so quickly was fantastic. Within hours of finding out we'd been evicted they'd dropped everything they'd planned to take care of that day and were focused on helping us."

Stubbs also pointed out the eviction was not without cause. CASA was seven months in arrears on its rent, "so we're talking a significant amount of money."

"It left us in a bind, but I just want people to be very clear on the fact that we were behind on our rent," she said. "Eviction wasn't a solution I wanted to see him choose, but he had every right to."

She said the cash-strapped organization intends to pay its former landlord "every cent we owe him" and said being able to operate rent-free for a few months will help.

"It will alleviate the financial strain on us for a period so we can get our ship righted and get back on track financially," she said, adding, "It's clear to us that not only is BDC committed to the children, but they also ... understand our plight and they're doing what they can to alleviate (the situation) so we can focus on our job."

CASA's two-person staff supervises a cadre of trained volunteers assigned by the court to research each child's situation and help the judge decide if the child should go home, be fostered or placed with relatives or be freed for permanent adoption.

Stubbs said 2013 was "the perfect storm for us, financially."

"We always hover precariously," she said. "There are no line items for CASA in any city, county, state budget, so we struggle to take care of our financial needs on a regular basis. Grant money and donations always fluctuate, and we always struggle financially in the summer. This year, summer just rolled into the government shutdown, which held up our grant money from being released. But just because government is up and running again doesn't mean all the processes are in place and working, so we just got behind even more."

CASA's growing caseload compounded problems: In 2012, CASA advocated on behalf of 137 children. This year it has represented 189 children, leaving little time for fundraising.

"This past year we spent a lot of time in court serving the children," she said. "We need to keep a better balance between serving the children and going out in the community to explain what we do to donors. We need to get a proper cash flow."

Stubbs said the BDC's generosity affords breathing space "so we can go about our real work, which is serving the children of Brooke and Hancock counties."

"We have 113 gifts to assemble for the children, so for the next week we're going to be focused on that," she said. "We want to make sure all of the kids we serve have as merry a Christmas as possible."