Lighthouse among nonprofits to have county contracts extended

The Baltimore County Council approved a measure on Monday that extends the contract to fund three county nonprofits, including Lighthouse in Catonsville, for an additional year.

That was good news for the local organization, that has been offering youth and family counseling services to the area since 1971.

"We're really glad that this is happening," said Rita Platt, executive director of Lighthouse. "It's important for Youth Services Bureaus to be funded because they know their communities well and have important services to offer."

After receiving a letter in May from the Baltimore County Local Management Board (LMB) that their contract would not be renewed, the organization's officials worried they would no longer be able to provide services to residents in the southwestern portion of the county.

Similiar letters were received by Dundalk Youth Services Center and First Step in Cockeysville.

All three are Youth Service Bureaus — community-based, nonprofits that provide low-cost counseling services to children and their families. The organizations are monitored by the Baltimore County Local Management Board, a county agency with administrative, fiscal, monitoring and evaluation oversight of 11 social services programs.

The organizations were notified that their contracts with the county, which expired June 30, were awarded to Catholic Charities of Baltimore, a much larger nonprofit with 2,000 employees, according to Lisa Sansone, chairwoman of the Lighthouse Board of Directors.

"I think the county needs our services," Sansone said. "We really have our fingers on the pulse of the community."

Without the $123,527 in funding provided by state grant funds and a 25 percent county match, Sansone said the Catonsville organization would have been "seriously hampered."

Don Mohler, chief of staff for Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said because of a change at the state level requiring that contracts for Youth Services Bureaus to be awarded to an organization whose programs are "evidence based", it was decided that it would go to Catholic Charities.

As a result, the three county organizations, with the support of the community, joined together to fight that decision.

When the three organizations learned of the Local Management Board's decision, the community mobilized rapidly to ensure the programs received funding, Sansone said.

"People mobilized and it changed very quickly," Sansone said. "It didn't seem that it lasted long before it turned around."

First District Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville, Arbutus and Lansdowne, was part of that effort.

"I think Lighthouse is very ingrained in the community," Quirk said. "They've done a lot of really great work."

After evaluating the situation, Kamenetz decided to extend the contract with the three organizations.

"The local YSB's didn't understand the new guidelines because there was a communication breakdown," Mohler said. "And [Kamenetz] didn't think it was fair to penalize the YSB's."

However, such a requirement has been in place for years, said Kim Malat, chief of the grants and contracts administration for the Governor's Office for Children.

Local management boards determine the guidelines that organizations must follow in order to receive funding and they are funded by the Governor's Office for Children, Malat said.

Mohler said the extension of the contract, "Held them harmless for this year. We want to make sure the local and state governments are on the same page so the YSB's can meet those requirements."

All three organizations were relieved to hear of the one-year extension.

"At the very thirteenth hour, our funding was restored," said Linda Bryan, executive director of Dundalk Youth Services Center. "We're good for this year...We're going to reassess things for ourselves at the end of the year."

Sansone expressed concern about finding funding again when the contract expires June 30, 2015.

"We're very concerned for next year," Sansone said.

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