Affirmations Suspends Executive Director Search, Announces Layoffs

Eve Kucharski
By | 2018-11-26T13:00:31-04:00 November 21st, 2018|Ferndale, Michigan, News|
Affirmations will host a Dec. 12 board meeting at 6:30 p.m. that will address concerns about the center’s future. It is located at 290 W. Nine Mile Road in Ferndale. Find out more information about the center by going online to goaffirmations.org or by calling 248-398-7105.

In a Nov. 14 press release, Ferndale’s Affirmations LGBTQ community center announced that it has suspended its nearly year-long search for a replacement executive director and laid off three employees: Development Director Katie Koch, Education and Training Manager Becca Budde and Offices and Facilities Coordinator Ryan Fowler.
This notice come just days after the announcement of the community center’s Interim Executive Director Lilianna Reyes’ resignation, that officially went into effect Thursday of last week. The release went on to describe the financial struggles the organization has been facing in recent years.
“Over the past several years the cost of running a large community center like AFFIRMATIONS has outpaced the level of revenue. This has led to the continual utilization of reserve funds to supplement the ongoing shortfall,” read the release. “Thus far in 2018 a total of $80K was needed from reserve funds to offset center costs. This strategy is not sustainable for the long-term survival of the center.”
Board President Mike Flores said there was not a specific reason why the center’s financial struggles were announced when they were, but that the center had to “withdraw funds from the reserves to address cash flow concerns for the month of November.”
“In doing so, the board recognized that we need to take additional actions to prevent additional funds from being withdrawn from the reserves at this rate,” Flores said.
As funds stand now, Flores said that the organization has enough money left to keep the center open for another six months. The news of Affirmations’ financial woes came as a shock to many in the local LGBTQ community, especially as according to 2017 financial records the center ended last year with a surplus of funds.
“In 2017 there was a slight surplus which was (due to) the strong effort from the staff and that ED at the time,” he said. “Moving into 2018 again, grants and donations have to be applied for and have to be awarded on a yearly basis and unfortunately some grants did not come in as expected.”
Flores said that there is roughly $130,000 in grants that have yet to be awarded that are scheduled for 2019. He is hopeful that before the new year begins the center will have sent out year-end appeals for funding, and that he, along with the board, will have devised a more efficient strategy for not only gaining revenue, but maintaining it.
“In addition, we’re going to make additional efforts to do touchpoints with the community and with key stakeholders to make them aware of the current situation. And if there are any opportunities for additional donations then of course we would be extremely appreciative of any additional support the community would be able to provide to Affirmations,” Flores said. “Right now, this is what the next couple of months look like: basically, identifying what our existing revenue streams are, and are there additional revenue streams that we could tap into that we could work and align with.”
Flores said that he is reaching out to “subject matter experts” both from the Metro Detroit area and beyond to help the community center find ways to get back on its feet, along with stakeholders and former donors who have helped the center in the past. However, under tax law, Affirmations is classified as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. If Affirmations’ efforts should be unsuccessful, the organization will be required under law to give its assets to another 501(c)(3) if it should go out of business. When asked if either Flores or the board had given thought to any local organizations that they might consider to receive those assets, Flores was firm that they had not.
“The plan is for us not to go out of business. That is not the plan, so at this time we have not identified any of those actions because that is not our plan,” he said. “Our plan is to have Affirmations survive as an organization. That may look different than what it looked like earlier this week, but Affirmations is going to survive in some form and function.”
He said that the organization’s existing plans to restructure will reaffirm its unique mission to help community members “become the best version of themselves” and allow the center to become the “best version of itself.”
He added that as of now, merging with other existing organizations is not being considered either.
“With that being said it requires us to leverage the partnerships that we have so we are working synergistically with all of our partners across the region, so that way we are using our resources as effectively and efficiently as we can,” Flores said. “So, what comes to mind now is the Ruth Ellis Center. How do we continue to strengthen our relationship with the Ruth Ellis Center? … LGBT Detroit, how are we working synergistically with them? The Corktown Health Center, how are we working synergistically with them? Stand With Trans, just to name a few organizations. … These are organizations that are experts in their area and we want to make sure that we’re not overlapping with them.”
Flores said that the largest cost expenditure for Affirmations right now is its staff salaries.
“They support all the programming that goes on at the center, they support all of the management and logistical requirements to be able to support the community. That’s actually our largest cost on a monthly basis, hence why when we needed to tackle cost concerns when there was no other option available, we had to look at restructuring to be able to address the cost structures of the organizations and to prevent additional requests from the reserves,” Flores said, referencing its laid off employees and those whose positions have been removed.
However, Flores said that there are no current plans to lay off any more employees, adding that the responsibilities of those no longer with Affirmations will be distributed among existing staff and the board of directors. Flores left the country the morning after the announcement for a month-long work assignment overseas.
During a previous financial crisis in 2011, Affirmations was forced to take a mortgage out on the new building in Ferndale of $460,000, but they were able to eventually pay that off and rebuild a substantial cash reserve from better operating results and several large gifts and bequests. Flores told BTL that only $70,000 remains in the cash reserve account.
Community members can expect an update at the center’s next board meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 6:30 p.m.
More information about the center can be found online here.

About the Author:

Eve Kucharski
Writing became my life when I enrolled in Michigan State University's journalism program. In May 2017, I earned my bachelor's degree in journalism with a concentration in electronic news media. I am thrilled to be working as the news and features editor at Between The Lines.