Agency hangs hope on county funds

Pascal Youth and Family Services needs $150,000 to stay open

September 21, 2005|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

Adel O'Rourke was prepared to walk into the offices of Robert A. Pascal Youth and Family Services on Monday morning and tell her staff of 11 that they were losing their jobs.

But after getting advice from a member of the Anne Arundel County Council, the agency's executive director held off, instead asking the council that night for $150,000 to keep the facility open.

O'Rourke said the fate of the 37-year-old agency - which offers services to help children and adults overcome drug and physical abuse, family conflict and depression and other mental illness - likely rests in the hands of County Executive Janet S. Owens.

"Without assistance, the Pascal Center will close down," O'Rourke said.

O'Rourke is unsure whether Owens will help. Since taking office in 1998, Owens has slashed county funding for the Severna Park facility by nearly 83 percent, from $147,000 a year to $25,000 a year. The Pascal Center serves at least 300 people a year on an annual budget of about $500,000. The rest of the center's budget comes from insurance reimbursements, the state, fundraising and private grants.

O'Rourke is trying to secure funding to expand the facility into an outpatient mental-health clinic, a designation that would enable it to double its insurance reimbursements. Inconsistent funding has left the agency on the brink of shutting down for years.

County Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican, said Monday night that she would formally ask Owens to consider drawing on the county's $8 million contingency fund to help the Pascal Center. Under the charter government, Owens controls the purse strings.

Vitale said she sees the merit of keeping the Pascal Center open. She urged O'Rourke last week to make her case before the council.

"I have personally referred individuals to the center," Vitale said. "I have seen the impact the center has had."

Matt Diehl, a spokesman for Owens, said yesterday that the administration had only learned of the Pascal Center's latest woes from the council session but would be receptive to hearing O'Rourke out. He also pointed out that the money the Pascal Center gets is on par with what other facilities offering similar services within the county receive.

"The county executive would certainly consider the request, as Ms. Owens would consider other nonprofits in similar circumstances," Diehl said.

But Diehl said the contingency fund might have to be tapped for several other reasons, including rising gas prices to keep the county's vehicle fleet functioning and additional costs related to the recent opening of two charter schools in the county. The county also draws on contingency funds to recover from the effects of storms.

O'Rourke said Michael's 8th Avenue in Glen Burnie is sponsoring a fundraiser tomorrow to help keep the Pascal Center open. She's hoping enough money will be raised to keep the agency open until the county or others come to the rescue.

"We keep coming to these terrible crisis periods where we don't know if we will survive," said O'Rourke, who has been executive director for 17 years.

The facility was formerly known as the Harundale Youth and Family Service Center Inc., but changed its name after moving from Glen Burnie to the Park Plaza Shopping Center in Severna Park. The agency also serves clients from Baltimore and the Eastern Shore.

O'Rourke estimated that the Pascal Center has provided more than $700,000 in free services to the county during the past seven years, since the funding cuts under Owens. Although she has asked, O'Rourke said she has never received an explanation of the funding cuts from the county executive.

The Pascal Center recently received $100,000 in state funding to convert the agency into an outpatient mental health clinic, but O'Rourke said she is reluctant to spend the money until she receives a steadier line of annual funding.

O'Rourke said if the county grants her $150,000 request, she would use the money to help hire a psychiatrist, a necessary position to upgrade Pascal's facility.

She said she was recently turned down by the Baltimore-based Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation Inc. for a $300,000 grant to add a psychiatrist and other support staff. O'Rourke said the foundation rejected Pascal's application because the agency lacks the necessary support staff.

"I know what we do is working," O'Rourke said. "We are helping. ... I know we are the best."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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