Pascal center buoyed by funding

Owens offers one-time boost of $100,000 to keep clinic open

October 30, 2005|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

The pleas are being heard, and the money is starting to roll in. Adel O'Rourke, who was on the verge of closing a longtime children's counseling center, is feeling more optimistic.

O'Rourke, executive director of Robert A. Pascal Youth and Family Services, is feeling especially optimistic after Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens requested $100,000 in emergency spending this month to help the Severna Park facility stay open.

"I was pleased that she agreed to meet with me. ... I was extremely pleased that she has set aside the money for us," said O'Rourke, who has picked up an additional $30,000 in pledges in recent weeks. "It will help us."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Sunday's Anne Arundel County section of The Sun incorrectly reported the length of Scott Wagner's tenure on the board that oversees Robert A. Pascal Youth and Family Services Inc. He has been on the board for three months. The Sun regrets the error.

Pascal officials are trying to raise $300,000 to expand the facility into an outpatient mental-health clinic. That designation would enable them to double their insurance reimbursements and become self-sufficient. The 37-year-old facility primarily helps children overcome drug and physical abuse, family conflict, and depression and other mental illness.

Inconsistent funding has left the agency on the brink of shutting down for years. So when the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation recently denied O'Rourke's application for a $300,000 grant -- money that could have been used to hire a psychiatrist and upgrade the facility -- the executive director nearly threw in the towel.

On advice from County Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican, O'Rourke went before the County Council on Sept. 19 to make a public plea. She had planned to close the doors and lay off her staff of 11 earlier that day. Since her impromptu speech before the council, the money has started to flow in.

A fundraiser three days after O'Rourke spoke before the council netted about $30,000 in pledges, said Scott Wagner, vice president of Michael's 8th Avenue and a board member overseeing the Pascal facility.

But $20,000 of that was pledged by former heavyweight boxing champion Hasim Rahman, who attended the fundraiser. Rahman will earn $4.2 million for fighting Vitali Klitschko in Las Vegas next month, but he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Oct. 4, pointing to debts of more than $5 million.

Owens persuaded

Within a week of O'Rourke's speech to the council, she met with Owens, who also received several phone calls from former patients and their relatives. They tried to impress on the county executive the value of Pascal's services, and Owens said she was convinced.

"Whatever their administrative difficulties, they have a clinic that provides fine work and saves people's lives," Owens said. "We have so few resources of mental help within the county."

Since taking office in 1998, Owens cut funding for the Pascal center from $147,000 a year to $25,000 a year. Last week, the county executive attributed the cuts to concerns over how the facility's books were being managed.

Owens, a Democrat, said she received assurances from O'Rourke that the board that oversees the Pascal Center "will be strengthened." The $100,000 will come from the county's $8 million contingency fund, and the County Council will hear public testimony on the legislation next week. The bill is expected to pass in November.

The executive said she hoped the one-time funding boost would be all that Pascal needs to achieve financial independence.

O'Rourke said that Pascal's books are audited separately each year by two state agencies, the county and an independent firm. She said that the facility has been in full compliance for several years.

Fundraising demands

When she made her plea before the council, O'Rourke asked for $150,000. She said she's in the process of applying for more grants and organizing other fundraising efforts.

Wagner, who has become involved with Pascal in the past three years, said the agency is managing its money as well as can be expected, given the constant fundraising demands to help give children the care they need.

"They didn't get involved in this project to raise money," Wagner said. "They have to fight tooth and nail for everything they have."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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