The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

December 2, 2012

United Way board votes to cut funds to RSVP

By Jean Cole

— The United Way of Athens has suspended future funding for the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program in Athens, citing liability concerns found in the agency’s audited statements and the need for more oversight in the agency’s operation, programs and services.

The United Way, which has been funding RSVP since at least 1990, is currently providing funding for two specific programs — reading tutors for city and county schools and free tax-preparation services.

Kaye McFarlen, executive director of the local United Way, declined to specify at this time the problems prompting the suspension.

“There are concerns about possible errors of facts and figures and there are liabilities on the books, and we want to make sure there is a business plan to cover those liabilities.”

The United Way board of directors voted unanimously Wednesday to suspend future funding until the RSVP board “can supply information and documentation of the concerns,” McFarlen said. United Way is just one of RSVP’s funding sources.

“We believe — as good stewards of our donor’s money and their trust — we must take this action,” McFarlen said. “This will also allow RSVP agency to provide us information and make any necessary adjustments.”

RSVP board members were notified of the suspension by letter this week.

“We want to give them some time to respond,” McFarlen said. “We see a problem and we’ve shared that with the RSVP board. We want them to address the problem and tell us when the problem is resolved.”

RSVP Executive Director Betty Ruth, who has held the position since 1978, could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon and the RSVP office at 409 W. Washington St. in Athens was closed.

The RSVP board, which meets quarterly, requires the agency to hire professional auditing services and its executive director receives a report, according to RSVP board treasurer Jimmy Gill. However, Gill said Friday the board had not received an audit report this past fiscal year and that Ruth had told the board the report was not ready. 

Although the United Way board did not give the RSVP board a deadline, McFarlen said, “We want them to address the problems quickly, certainly by after the first of the year.”

The suspension may be lifted, she said,  “once the evidentiary proof is provided by the RSVP board to United Way in regards to our expressed concerns. Until that time we will continue the suspension of funds for the two requested programs.”

Longtime agency

RSVP is part of a network of more than 760 RSVP’s throughout the United States and provides volunteer opportunities for people age 55 and older in Athens and Limestone County. The volunteers help nonprofit and public agencies such as schools, libraries, social service agencies, museums, county and city offices, the courts, hospitals and others.

RSVP receives funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service, the United Way and the state of Alabama, though a third of its money comes from private foundations, area corporations, and individual donors throughout Athens and Limestone County, according to RSVP’s website.

An RSVP financial statement supplied by United Way for fiscal 2010-2011, shows the agency received a total of $243,715 in funding from various sources, including $165,643 in federal funding, $40,409 in in-kind contributions, $19,000 from United Way and $18,662 in state funding.

The city of Athens also provides funding for RSVP in exchange for services. In fiscal 2011, the city gave RSVP $20,000, though the executive director had requested $40,000. (It is not unusual for an agency to receive less than it seeks.)

The County Commission did give RSVP about $2,500 this year during a recent dinner for storm volunteers, Limestone County Commission Chairman Stanley Menefee said Friday. Menefee, who is also a United Way board member, declined at this time to specify the issues concerning United Way’s suspension of funding.

United Way has had to suspend or terminate funding to other agencies in the past. The agency severed ties with the Food and Shelter Program in May 2008 based on what McFarlen called, “non-compliance and lack of cooperation with the management review process being taken with United Way of Athens-Limestone County agencies.”

She and the United Way board hope the RSVP board will resolve the issues.

“The United Way of Athens-Limestone County takes the trust and responsibility that the public has placed in our organization seriously and will act to take whatever steps necessary to ensure our donors that the operations, programs and services supported by United Way are delivered to our community at the highest level,” McFarlen said.