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Life House trying to soften the blow of a $30,000 deficit

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By MICHAEL NOVITZKI
DCN Correspondent

On the corner of First Avenue West and First Street sits a beacon of hope that seeks to make a difference by reaching out to the youth.

Most of the kids that come through the doors of Life House at 3 p.m. every day seem blissfully unaware of the fact that their favorite hangout is about to be the next victim of the financial collapse. A $30,000 debt has been threatening to force the organization’s doors shut by the end of the year.

Life House is a crisis center in Duluth that has been helping wayward teens stay on track for 17 years. It runs programs that offer employment help, transitional housing, addiction counseling and teen parent assistance being that most of the beneficiaries are teens with kids of their own. However, it is unique as far as charities go in that they give nothing away for free.

“We don’t do anything for the kids. We help them do it themselves,? says Life House volunteer Skye Harrison. “The point is to get them standing on their own two feet.?

The country’s recession which is creating hard times for everyone, is hitting non-profit organizations like Life House extra hard.

Noisy children are drowned out as disheveled Life House director Kim Crawford shuts her office door, sits down at a desk completely hidden by clutter, and with the look of an overburdened mother begins to describe her rather large predicament.

"I have to reduce costs,? she says, “but I can't watch two kids come through the door and say I can help one and not the other... So its like, where can I cut corners?"

In light of the financial trouble, Crawford was hired to replace 17-year director Rachel Kincade as Life House’s executive director in September for her experience in the for profit sector. It was an act of desperation to increase income and cut spending from the typical $900,000 a year budget. On top of the fact that their federal and state funding is being cut, investors who are losing money are starting to cut back their contributions.

However, Crawford’s work so far has greatly helped reduce the probability of closing down.

“I don’t see us just shutting down completely, but we are going to have to make some drastic changes to make sure that does not happen, and it might mean not being able to help as many people as we used to,? says Crawford.

The first thing she did to cut spending was to combine Proctor House and Harbor House, two of Life House’s three transitional homes. The board of directors is also coming up with new ways to approach contributors being that the contributions they receive are often earmarked for programs that do not need it as much as others.

“I don't even want to think about where I would be right now if it weren't for Life House. I was completely lost. It was a nightmare," says 20-year-old Jelayne Sargent, reacting to the possibility of closing.

She was a teen parent who has been using nearly all of Life House’s services since she was 17, but will no longer be eligible after her twenty-first birthday.

"I'll be 21 soon so I'll be on my own soon anyway, but there are a lot of younger kids out there that still need a lot of help staying on track," she says.

The organization has been periodically holding fundraisers in the area to try to make up the $30,000 shortfall and plans to keep the doors open as long as cash flow permits.