Phyllis Wheatley Center nears 90 years

Director says strength comes through community support 


By Charles Hallman Staff Writer   Phyllis Wheatley Community Center (PWCC) annually serves on average nearly 500 individuals and families on Minneapolis’ North side. The legacy nonprofit community organization, which this year celebrates 89 years of service, last year completed renovation of classrooms for its early childhood development program, one of several family services programs Phyllis Wheatley operates. “Phyllis Wheatley has a value and a principle to serve the community,” says PWCC Executive Director Barbara Milon in a recent MSR interview. She admits that a slowly recovering economy, where cutbacks have become more commonplace, has affected her organization as it has other nonprofits. “It is definitely a challenge when you are serving the population we are serving,” she says. “We are seeing more people who need to have the services. Our staff is great because they are continuing to try to serve the same number of people even though we don’t have the resources that we’ve had before. Where we see a gap [is] in our ability to get resources to support adult literacy [programs],” such as PWCC’s Stronger Together men’s program for former offenders. Also, according to Milon, PWCC showed an 84 percent success rate among students in reducing absenteeism, and their family services programs “have very good outcomes” as well, she says.

Barbara Milon

“We certainly know that in 2008 with the recession that there were a lot of shifts by various foundations. There are some foundations that have eliminated [funding] youth services as an area of interest. It seems like there are less funds available for youth programs” continues Milon, who believes that a DFL-controlled state legislature and governor’s office have helped increase funding for early childhood programs. “We are seeing more support for our kids,” she points out. Are there better days ahead, economically speaking? Milon said of a recent Minnesota Council of Non-Profits meeting she attended several weeks ago, “One of the

Photo by Charles Hallman

things that we identified at that meeting was that we need to look at a new revenue model for nonprofit organizations,” she recalls. “We are the safety net for the community. We are providing the services for the people in our community who need the services the most.” The growing income gap does bother her, admits Milon. “If we have one person put together billions of dollars to buy out another company, why can’t we look at [helping] 10,000 people living in poverty and change that situation? I think we have to start looking at what is happening to the people in our community who have the least capability, and we know that…they are people of color, African Americans, our very, very low-income. “People who have disabilities also are impacted,” she continues. “We have to look at how we are investing our resources and how we can do it better.” A “social investment” from the corporate community also is needed, she points out. “What can we do so that we can jointly have an impact on the social condition that we see as a result of poverty?” asks Milon. “The Twin Cities and the State of Minnesota have great support from the corporate community, but I think there is more that can be done. I’m an optimistic person, so I feel optimistic and believe that we have the leadership. I know we can apply the will, and we have the intelligence where we can look at what we are doing and make some changes.” As discussed in last week’s story, the Minnesota Council of Non-Profits does not require such organizations to hold public board meetings, and most do not. But when the MSR asks the Phyllis Wheatley executive director if nonprofit organizations such as PWCC should be more accountable to the specific populations that they serve, she responds, “One of our standards is transparency as well as accountability. There’s an expectation that nonprofits are accountable. There is an expectation that we are transparent, and we seek to do that. “Phyllis Wheatley Community Center is a very special organization,” says Milon. “I’m always amazed at how many lives that Phyllis Wheatley Community Center has touched. It would be tragic that people would wake up one day and no longer was there a Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, no longer was there an Urban League or a Hallie Q. [Brown] or [other such] organizations that exist now. “We have [Black] community organizations that are providing services, and we need the community support,” Milon continues. “It can be a donation of a few dollars, or it can be volunteering time, but we exist because we have the support of the community. “We will be 90 years old in 2014. I believe that the whole state of Minnesota should be proud that there is an organization that has a history of serving families and children. Our ability and our capability to provide services, we can’t take that for granted. “We need the public to know that these are very challenging and difficult times for us,” she continues. “If we don’t have the support of the community, we are not going to be able to survive.”   Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to   To see more stories by Charles Hallman stories click HERE

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