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Seeking stability

With government dollars shrinking, center operators look to partnerships for funding

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Like many of its clients, the Opportunity Center is still finding its footing when it comes to financial stability.

In the past couple of years, government funding of InnVision, which operates the center, has declined or has been delayed, said Ann-Marie Meacham, InnVision director of development.

"The future is unknown," she said, adding that so far private and corporate donations have funded the facility's approximately $1 million budget. But, she said, there is also more competition for dollars with other nonprofit agencies that are feeling the pinch.

The Community Working Group, which spurred the creation of the center, established a $2.5 million endowment, but recently it has spent into the principal more than the group would like to see, said Dr. Donald Barr, a current board member and former president. Unforeseen expenses, such as a ventilation problem that caused the men's bathroom to mold, have been paid for by the Working Group, he said.

"In the next two to three years, do we need to go back to the community to provide ongoing services? Relying on the Community Working Group to provide services is not a stable long-term solution," he said.

"Another interesting twist is that the Community Working Group formed to help the faith community. When the Urban Ministry merged with InnVision, the faith community stepped back. Is there a role in the long term for the faith community to support services?"

So far, the center hasn't had to cut staff, according to Philip Dah, the Opportunity Center's program director. But Barr said the question is whether the center can continue to maintain or expand its staff levels should it see an increase in demand resulting from the nation's ongoing economic crisis.

Managers of some services offered through the Opportunity Center have sought out new funding possibilities, with success.

Eileen Richardson, who directs the Downtown Streets Team, a jobs program, and Peninsula HealthCare Connection, the center's medical clinic, is looking at partnerships and grants to sustain the programs.

"Early on we were begging people for money all the time," she said of the Streets Team.

But this year, the team has received $250,000 from an Environmental Protection Agency grant to help clean up Coyote Creek in San Jose. And a Community Development Block Grant through the City of Palo Alto for economic development will allow for two full-time trainers from the employment agency Manpower to work with clients to find jobs, she said.

Richardson hopes to expand the model of working with businesses and organizations to make the team self-sustainable. The team still needs to annually fundraise about $50,000 to $75,000 of its budget.

Peninsula HealthCare Connection, which serves 800 primary-care patients, is operated by Opportunity Health partners (OHP), a cooperative venture by the Community Working Group, InnVision, Stanford University School of Medicine, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

In the last few months, the clinic received its state license and has a community care clinic, making it eligible for Medi-Cal and Medicare billing a big step in regaining costs that were coming from other parts of the public and private sector, Richardson said.

Doctor visits, X-rays and other testing are performed through the clinic, which offers internal medicine, pediatric care, mental health care and other services.

Palo Alto Medical Foundation pays for and provides a primary-care physician who works 20 hours per week; a psychiatrist works two half-days each week.

The clinic needs a larger space and to provide more psychiatric services, however, Richardson said.

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