• Affirmations Board President Mike Flores addresses attendees. BTL Photo: Jason Michael

Affirmations to Community: ‘We Apologize’

Center Pledges to Continue Operations Amid Financial Crisis

Jason A. Michael
By | 2018-12-12T13:01:44-04:00 December 12th, 2018|Michigan, News|

A crowd of almost 60 gathered at Affirmations’ community chat to discuss the future of the center. BTL Photo: Eve Kucharski

Searching for answers and concerned about its future, a crowd of 56 came out to Affirmations Monday night for a community chat. Less than a month after the center announced it had suspended its search for a new executive director and was laying off three employees, members of Affirmations’ board of directors – the majority of whom joined the board earlier this year – spoke candidly about the center’s financial condition and its future.
“I’m sad tonight,” said Board Vice President Paula Kirsch when she opened the meeting. “I know a lot of you in this room are concerned and may be sad, too. I thank you for being here and I thank you for caring.”
Kirsch was one of five current board members in attendance. She was joined by Cheryl Czach, Tim Lantzy, Anthony Sherman and John Staneszek. Board President Mike Flores, fresh from a business commitment, joined the meeting while in progress and quickly took control.
“I want to start by saying that we apologize,” Flores said. “We apologize that we find ourselves in this situation. We apologize that the actions that have been taken over the past five years have put us in this particular predicament. We apologize that we only have $60,000 in reserves and we apologize that we had to make a decision of restructuring to make sure that we are able to keep our doors open.”
Flores, who said in a May community chat that the center was operating in the black and predicted it would end the year that way, blamed the center’s financial crisis on overly enthusiastic projections.
“The projections were very optimistic from the people that were in leadership,” said Flores. “However, when we started to question those numbers and the leadership started to ask for monies from the reserves, we started to do a much deeper dive to understand, why, if the cash flows are [on track], why are we being asked for money from the reserves?”
Minutes from the July 25 board meeting of Affirmations’ records that as of July the center was still operating in the black. On three separate occasions over the past eight months, Flores said requests were made to pull from the center’s financial reserves. A total of $70,000 – an additional $10,000 was taken to conduct an executive director search but not used and returned untouched – was removed from the reserves. After the third request, for $30,000 in October to meet payroll, Flores said the board knew it was time to act.
“When that happened we said that’s it,” he said. “We can no longer do this. If we let this continue [to keep pulling] from the reserves we’d be bankrupt in two months. So we decided to restructure.”
Board members said it was a hard decision but the only solution they saw to keeping the doors open. Not hiring a new executive director and laying off three employees allowed the board to cut the center’s monthly payroll commitment from $30,000 to $10,000 and bought the board roughly six months to turn the center’s financial condition around.
Currently, the center is operating on reduced hours with a full-time staff of four. That staff includes Heather Aymer, community resource coordinator; Kyle Taylor, development coordinator; Angela Sawyers, finance director; and Ian Unger, youth program coordinator. The center’s youth programs are continuing to run as before and most support groups are still meeting at the center. However, several groups that were previously scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. have been affected by the center’s new 8 p.m. closing time.
Short on specific answers about a plan to restore the center to financial health, Flores did outline the board’s current priorities.
“Number one is to stop the bleeding, number two is to only keep the essential services, number three is to reach out to our major donors and number four is take a breather,” he said. “What we don’t want is to burn out the board that we currently have.”
Affirmations, Flores said, is not alone in its financial struggle.
“This is not the only center that’s going through a challenging moment,” he said. “You can google LGBT centers across the nation and you’ll see that there are lots of them that are struggling to identify how do they fit in this new modern world. And that’s what we’re trying to do.
“We need to make sure that we align the services with the revenue that’s being brought in and of course those are difficult discussions, but they are necessary discussions,” Flores continued. “We’re trying to correct the errors, or the challenges or the opportunities that have happened in the past five years. So this board is trying to solve those problems and we ask for patience from the community.”
Dozens of attendees asked questions and voiced their opinions during the community chat, including on how to share their skills to fill areas of need in the center. Affirmations will be holding regular monthly chats to allow for more transparency between the center and community members. The next one is scheduled for January.
More information can be found about the center’s schedule and upcoming events and services by going online to goaffirmations.org.

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.