City Council committee moves to restore AtWork! grant

November 19, 2008

By Jon Savelle

With one exception, grant funding recommendations by the Human Services Commission were endorsed Nov. 12 by the City Council’s Services and Operations Committee.

Formed roughly a year ago, the volunteer citizens’ commission has been working since December 2007 to evaluate and prioritize funding requests from 44 nonprofit service providers. The group’s efforts won kudos from committee members Josh Schaer, Eileen Barber and John Rittenhouse, who declared themselves delighted with the results.

Except for one thing. The commission denied an $8,000 funding request from AtWork!, a sheltered workshop and job training organization for persons with disabilities. The Issaquah institution has had a long relationship with the city, and for years has received a small fraction of its funding in the form of city grants.

This year was different. Apparently working from incorrect information and simple misunderstandings, the commission concluded that AtWork! did not merit a grant for its employment referral program. It was the only agency that had been funded in previous years that was denied for 2009.

Not surprisingly, AtWork! administrators reacted with consternation and alarm — in part because they had had no inkling of the grant denial until contacted by The Press the previous week. When the committee meeting came up, AtWork! CEO Christina Brandt; Barbara di Michele, a former board president of the organization; and Cheryl Green, manager for King County’s Working Age Adult program in the Developmental Disabilities Division, were there to protest.

They listened while commission members explained their decision, which relied on a belief that AtWork! had ample funds, had lots of other city support and planned to close its sheltered workshop.

Brandt said each of these is incorrect, and that the funding in question is used to find community jobs for AtWork! clients outside of the workshop. That program, she said, has a 100 percent success rate.

After hearing from Brandt, Green and di Michele, the committee was convinced.

“I’ve heard enough testimony for a decision to be made,” said Councilman Josh Schaer.

He suggested that the city restore AtWork’s funding for $8,000 by increasing the city’s overall grant budget a like amount, to $219,000.

Barber and Rittenhouse agreed, saying they would pass that recommendation on to the full council at its Dec. 1 meeting. Rittenhouse suggested to Brandt that she attend that meeting and be prepared to describe the agency’s work and funding request.

“I’ll be there,” she said.

After the committee’s action, Brandt said she was happy with the outcome.

“The city has always been very supportive,” she said. “This was a new process for them. It would have been helpful if AtWork! had been invited to the meetings where defunding was discussed, but I’m really pleased.”

Reach Reporter Jon Savelle at 392-6434, ext. 234, or jsavelle@isspress.com.

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