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April 2, 2009

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UCP loses funds for social Services

United Cerebral Palsy’s power wheelchair floor hockey team is part of the organization’s Community Recreation Program threatened by funding cuts. (Photo by Steven Crossot)

For the past 31 years, Joe Scullin has helped families navigate the labyrinth of social programs available to children with disabilities. In his role as director of community social services at United Cerebral Palsy of Philadelphia and Vicinity on Mermaid Lane in Chestnut Hill, Scullin has worked with tens of thousands of individuals and their families at no cost to them.

All of that is about to change. In July of last year, United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania significantly restructured its priorities to focus on improving substandard day care centers, training and internships for middle and high school dropouts, and in-home services for area seniors.

The changes effectively eliminated service providers such as UCP, denying the social service organization approximately $156,000 in discretionary funding, including $78,000 of Scullin’s budget.

Hugh Gilmore, Chestnut Hill Local columnist and longtime Hiller, first met Scullin when his son Andrew was 12. Andrew has mild cerebral palsy. He was born prematurely and is blind in one eye.

“About 10 years ago, we found out about this guy who acts as an ombudsman for people who need services,” Gilmore said.

Scullin helped people understand the range of government and institutional programs available – both financial and therapeutic.

“Joe showed me where to go and what questions to ask,” Gilmore said. “Sometimes agencies don’t offer the full range of resources because funding is limited and they figure if you don’t know it will conserve funding, so you need to know what questions to ask to get the services you need.”

Gilmore described the years before he and his wife Janet met Scullin as discouraging.

“No doors seemed to be open,” he said. “We pretty much lumped it.”

Andrew, now 22, is about to graduate from Arcadia University.

The discretionary funds provided by United Way were split between recreation programs and social services. In response to lack of funding, UCP is canceling its Tuesday and Thursday evening recreation programs. And a fee schedule will be put into place for families seeking social services.

Steve Sheridan, who is the chief executive officer of UCP, said the money from United Way has been slowly decreasing over the past 10 years. UCP will continue to be able to receive funding through United Way’s donor designation program, wherein people can specify which organization they would like to contribute to.

According to Sheridan, United Way made the change to its policy in July 2008 but reduced the funding gradually, providing half of the scheduled amount. But as of July 1, 2009, the funding will no longer be available.

“Next year we will have to make up the rest of the funding gap,” Sheridan said.

To prepare for bridging the gap, UCP joined givephilly.org, a consortium of groups who also lost funding from United Way. The Web site allows donors to make direct contributions to local organizations that are in “extra” need.

UCP will also continue to receive a separate $25,000 to $30,000 grant from United Way for a children’s achievement award.

Sheridan also was confident that the loss of funding would not impact other programs at UCP, such as the day care center, which is fee based. Any new fees or reduction of services would be limited to the areas affected by the loss of United Way funds.

For families like the Gilmores, the threat of losing Scullin’s services is enough to spur them into action. Gilmore, a used bookseller, has already donated $500, which he admitted was not easy for him in light of the current economic climate.

“Joe has been there whenever we’ve needed him,” he said.

For more information on UCP, visit www.ucpphila.org or call 215-242-4200.


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