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Native American Center Lacks Money E-mail
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Tuesday, 29 May 2007
Native American Center Lacks Money


Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, OH)

By Rita Price

Mar. 2--The gardens outside the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio look the way they're supposed to look in early March: brown, withered, lonely.

Inside, the center is dark and chilly, too.

Carol Welsh wants to believe in a springtime rebirth for both areas. But she knows the flowers are the only sure bet.

"We don't have any money," said Welsh, the executive director.

On Feb. 5, financial crisis forced the South Side center to close and suspend food-pantry service for the first time in its 32-year history.

Welsh said she hopes to reopen the pantry and clothing part of the center on Monday, thanks in part to a minimum-wage employee who is willing to work for free.

"Even if I don't get paid, people still need to get fed," Rick Collins said. "I have a very patient landlord."

Welsh's mother, a Sioux Indian from South Dakota named Selma Walker, founded the center in 1975. Supporters dug and sold earthworms to raise the startup money. Now at 67 E. Innis Ave., the center has outlived Walker, survived two fires and moved various times.

Discontinued grants are another matter, Welsh is learning.

In 2005, the center received roughly $200,000 in grants, and $76,663 from the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County, according to records supplied by Welsh.

For 2006, the only large grant to come through was roughly $70,000 from ADAMH, Welsh said. Counting donations and program fees, the center's reported revenue dropped from $352,336 to $182,963 in just one year.

Welsh said she hasn't looked hard enough for other funding sources.

"We don't reach out. We don't have the savvy to reach out," she said. "I had just kind of quit worrying about funds, because it was going well."

Now she pays herself for five hours of work some weeks, nothing other weeks. Welsh's husband, Mark, also works at the center. Together, the parents of five earned barely $29,000 last year, she said.

"Our credit cards are maxed out. We haven't had health insurance for years."

Still, she isn't ready to give up.

Corinne McManus, a spokeswoman for ADAMH, said the agency is satisfied that the prevention and addiction services it funds are continuing. "We're holding our meetings," Rick Collins said. "Those programs are still going on."

The Mid-Ohio FoodBank stands ready to resume the center's pantry supply, said Evelyn Behm, associate director. In the meantime, other area pantries are available to serve the 200 or so families who use the center each month.

Mrs. Welsh said the center's pantry is for anyone, not just American Indians, although she estimated that about 60 percent of those who visit are of Indian heritage.

According to a 2005 U.S. Census survey, about 2,100 Franklin County residents identified themselves as solely American Indian or native Alaskan.

Even if the pantry is open, other referral programs and on-site social activities might remain on hold after Monday, Welsh said. The Selma Walker Memorial Powwow, however, still is planned for Memorial Day weekend at the Franklin County Fairgrounds.

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