At this time of year, I usually send out a press release that outlines the holiday wish list for the children at Austin's House. Last year, it listed items like gift cards, movie tickets and video rentals. Our generous community stepped forward and donated all of the gifts requested and even more. This year's wish list is a lot different.
Austin's House is a group foster home with 10 bedrooms. Unfortunately, this wonderful facility has been empty for too many nights this year. Nothing has changed at Austin's House. Our mission to provide love and nurturing to these children during the most difficult time of their life has never wavered. There still are many children being removed from their homes that desperately need the emergency shelter of Austin's House.
The difference is most likely the result of the recession and the severe financial pressure on the agencies responsible for placing these children in crisis.
Austin's House is a nonprofit corporation. Our goal is to help change the lives of children, not to make any money. Austin's House does charge a fee that is higher than the rate for placing children with foster parents in their home. The annual budget is set up to balance this income with donations from the community to meet the operating expenses.
The huge drop in the number of children staying at Austin's House has forced the board of directors to make some very difficult decisions. Staff has been greatly reduced and expenses cut to the bare minimum. This is still not enough. Now the board must seriously consider the real possibility of closing Austin's House. That would be devastating for everyone involved but mostly it would hurt the children who need help the most.
The construction and opening of Austin's House was truly a miracle. It was built entirely with donations from our generous community. My holiday wish for 2009 is for another miracle. I wish that we could increase cash donations to $300,000 per year. That would cover the annual operating expenses. Then we could charge nothing for children in crisis to stay at Austin's House.
It would be incredible if those in charge of placing the children could make the best decision for the child's sake and not be worried about how much money is involved. That would ensure that the child's best interests would come first.
I am asking for a lot but there is no better cause than saving a young life. I hope that you agree.
• Conrad Buedel is on the board of directors for Austin's House.