REC Center 'on the edge'

By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein |
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Ask 6-year-old Yajaira Vizcarra what her favorite activity is at the North Roseville R.E.C. Center, and she’ll give you a simple answer: “Coloring,” she said. But those days might be numbered as the Roseville Heights after-school program faces the possibility of running out of money sometime next month, raising the very real possibility that it could shut its doors. “We are right on the edge,” said Machel Miller-Presley, the nonprofit’s executive director. “We are running out of reserves.” The R.E.C. Center isn’t alone. According to a Johns Hopkins University study, 40 percent of surveyed nonprofits said they were experiencing “very severe” fiscal stress. While only 8 percent of nonprofits reported being in “imminent danger” of closing, 52 percent reported a decrease in contributions, another survey found, according to the National Council of Nonprofits. And that’s while they’re seeing a corresponding increase in demand. At the R.E.C. Center, which serves kids with supervised homework help, outdoor play, and computers, the problem is twofold. The money that’s out there is shrinking as foundations and donors cut back. And what is available is often focused narrowly – for instance, for new computers or play equipment. Although Miller-Presley is grateful for it, “It’s allocated money,” she said. “You can’t just use it for your lights.” The closure of the center would be a blow to its neighborhood. Roseville Heights is one of the city’s oldest areas, but also one of the more troubled. Started by a Roseville police officer, the REC Center has provided a safe after-school space for children – away from gangs – since 1999. REC stands for Recreation, Education and Creativity. On most weekdays, about 40 children from kindergarten-age to teenagers drop by the center, which is open until 6 p.m. They get help with homework, a meal, and can play outside on the basketball courts. On Wednesday, Yajaira and sister Janette, 5, and Cynthia Mendez, 6, were practicing their printing with Cassandra Thompson inside the center’s trailer. It’s a snug fit, with a a computer room, kitchen and library. At the same table, Wayne Hewlett was helping Raniro Gutierrez, 12, with fractions, while Blanca Arciniega helped Ricardo with a word search. “The programs themselves are doing awesome,” said Miller-Presley. Right now, she is scrambling to find alternative sources of funding. But holding a big fundraising shindig like a bingo fundraiser also takes money. She has several promising grant applications out right now. But even if the center receives them, they wouldn’t pay out until next year, she said. Which leaves Miller-Presley and the center’s users simply trying to get the word out that this time, the alarm is very real. “It doesn’t take much for us to run on,” she said. “We can run on $6,000 a month to cover our overhead. “They depend on us so much, the kids and the parents,” she said. “And they’re so looking forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas.”