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Wilsonville Community Sharing considers new site

Grace Chapel offers space at facility on Boberg Road


(Editor's note: The Spokesman has received word that a special Wilsonville Community Sharing board meeting is being held Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. to determine the final site selection.)

by: JOSH KULLA - Wilsonville Community Sharing is currently housed at Frog Pond Church, but is seeking a larger space.With the clock ticking and time running out, Wilsonville Community Sharing seems to be on the cusp of deciding how it will grow.

The nonprofit, which houses the food bank and offers utility assistance and other services, held its annual board meeting Feb. 25 at Meridian United Church of Christ.

With more people in attendance than ever before, about 13 people sat in and several addressed the board during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Interest in the group is running high because of scrutiny of the board and its actions last year in relation to trying to allocate a new home for the food bank after being awarded a grant.

WCS operates a food bank and assists with utilities, housing and prescriptions for those in need. In 2013, it provided more than 1,200 services and distributed more than 24,000 pounds of food to help 4,020 people in 1,271 families.

Wilsonville Community Sharing was first organized in the late 1970s and eventually reorganized as a nonprofit in 1997. In 2000, it opened the Wilsonville Food Bank, which is housed at Meridian United Church of Christ, also known as Frog Pond Church.

For nearly three years, WCS has wished to expand beyond its current location. In January 2013, the group stated publicly it had identified three potential sites to build a new facility, thanks in part to a $240,000 community development block grant it was awarded in July 2012.

The city of Wilsonville also grants nearly $30,000 a year to WCS. It has been supporting the organization financially for the last 15 years, with the amount growing over the years. This money now comprises fully 40 percent of WCS’s annual revenue.

However, since last fall, changes have been taking place at WCS and time is running out to meet the demands of the block grant.

The board has grown from two members (Rich Truitt and Cheryl Kelly) to seven — with the addition of Wes Morris, Larry Edwards, Claudia Roldan, Ron Owens and former city councilor Michelle Labrie-Ripple.

The board has also made a number of other changes. Bylaws have been updated and may see even further tweaking and adjustments. Meeting minutes are now posted to the WCS website, and the city has stepped in asking the board to make some other amendments such as setting term limits.

Leadership

The board agenda for Feb. 25 included election of the WCS president for the next year, which was of particular debate amongst audience members and board members.

Last year, some questioned Truitt’s leadership style and his intentions.

Nancy Rogene spoke in favor of Truitt and his leadership.

“I hold Rich in such high esteem,” she said. “I, personally, don’t know anyone with a higher sense of ethics than Rich. Rich would never do anything to compromise the well-being of the whole.”

Others agreed.

However, a few also requested a change in leadership.

“I’m really glad for the new board members,” said audience member Taft Mitchell. “I’ve never seen a time when it was under greater scrutiny or seen greater controversy. It seemed the organization was somewhat under attack. We feel it would be in the best interest of Wilsonville Community Sharing for a change in leadership.”

When it came time to elect a board president for 2014, Labrie-Ripple volunteered for the position although Truitt had already been nominated. Labrie-Ripple said it was time for a change in leadership and style of leadership, one that is more collaborative.

“I would be willing to serve,” she said. “I think it’s the only way to get past the criticism.”

However, the other board members wished to allow Truitt to follow through leading the process of securing a new building for WCS and elected him president for 2014.

“Those who don’t think I have a collaborative style don’t know me,” Truitt said.

2013 recap

There was much discussion in October when WCS appeared before the city council with a request to renew its three-year contract with the city that provides the group with quarterly funding. Some councilors expressed hesitation and wished to see some changes at WCS. At the time, Councilor Julie Fitzgerald acknowledged the city has no jurisdiction on how WCS runs. However, she wanted to make sure the city awards funds to an organization that is stable.

WCS representatives are set to appear before the city council again in June.

Fitzgerald and Mayor Tim Knapp were in attendance at the WCS board meeting and spoke.

Fitzgerald cautioned the board to not be a “slave to operational costs” and Knapp reminded the board it needs to return to the city council in June and have its house in order, focusing on developing “movement” and “best practices.”

“I implore you to not wait until June to start making those steps,” Knapp said. “There are tough things to do and you guys are grappling with them.”

Also during the meeting, the board and staff gave an overview of 2013, including the 1,300 phone calls, 182 office visits, 19 homeless/transient situations and 798 referrals.

“We are dealing with a whole lot of different situations,” Edwards said.

He told the board that WCS underperformed on anticipated income by $25,000 for a net loss of $11,000. Several board members alleged that “bad press” was the cause of the loss of donations.

“Much of our shortfall was in individual contributions,” Edwards said.

“Once we get beyond controversy ... then I’m absolutely confident those contributions will come back and increase,” Labrie-Ripple said.

To meet the guidelines of the community block grant, WCS must raise $500,000 by May. Currently, WCS has just $51,124 toward that goal.

Labrie-Ripple cautioned the board that large donors are unwilling to donate toward building a new facility on leased land, instead they want money to go toward providing services. She also said that the recent criticism of the nonprofit is hurting fundraising efforts.

New proposal

The community block grant, though a large chunk of money, comes with a lot of restrictions. That is why WCS was looking to build a facility on leased land. Three different sites were being considered, but the board last year narrowed it down to constructing a building on Meridian United Church of Christ property — where WCS currently sits.

Some have questioned where the site is located. It’s not close to a bus stop and not near the heart of the city. There’s also vested interest among board members, since both Truitt and Kelly are members of the church.

The projected cost of the project, estimated at $800,000, has also raised eyebrows.

However, near the end of 2013, Grace Chapel stepped forward and offered to lease a portion of its building on Boberg Road to WCS at a cost comparable to what WCS currently pays. The church will be vacating the property in May.

According to Owens, Grace Chapel has a vision to turn the facility into a community resource center, with WCS as the cornerstone. The building has storage space for the food bank along with offices, counseling space, a conference room, a kitchenette and restrooms.

Grace Chapel and WCS representatives were set to discuss the proposal Wednesday. WCS members would like to extend the proposed five-year lease to 10 years, to guarantee some longevity at the site.

The community block grant could not be used toward the Grace Chapel space unless the lease agreement is for 10 years, according to Owens. However, since not much is needed to move into the space, that additional funding may not even be needed.

For some, the new proposal makes more sense logistically and financially.

“We are trying to focus on something that makes much more sense for the community,” Owens said.

He said though the space is smaller than what was originally envisioned, it is centrally located, on a bus line, has low lease costs and is easily accessible for delivery trucks.

“It just makes a lot more sense,” he said. Compared to the conditions WCS currently operates in, “this is like the Taj Mahal. Seriously.”

At the meeting, Truitt said the board hopes to “take action with a new site by the middle of this year.”

Moving forward

Owens said he joined the WCS board with a personal story and mission to help those in need.

“There may always be a need for assistance to provide a step up,” he said. “There are people who are hurting.”

He said the goal of WCS is to identify those in need in the community, address those needs and then grow those families and individuals so they no longer need assistance.

“We want to get them to the next level so they don’t need assistance and they can be productive members of the community,” he said.

For more information about Wilsonville Community Sharing, visit wilsonvillecommunitysharing.org.




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