For nearly 100 years, Easterseals has served people and families who face a wide range of disabilities, including physical, emotional, intellectual, social and educational. Locally, the Central and Southeast Ohio chapter is expanding, despite unknowns in federal funding and difficulty finding personnel.
CEO Pandora Shaw-Dupras says Easterseals Central and Southeast Ohio just added its fourth office, which provides adult services in Lawrence County on the Ohio River.
In addition to Franklin County, the organization, which serves more than 4,000 people a year with a budget of just under $5 million, has offices in Jackson and Vinton counties. (Until recently, Vinton was the only county in Ohio without a grocery store.)
In the Columbus market, many other nonprofits offer similar services. But in Southeastern Ohio, infrastructure and services can be scarce. Easterseals has stepped in to help.
“The people are wonderful. Wherever we go, people are always very receptive to our services — the families that we’re serving, the local governments we’re working with,” she says.
Ohio county boards of developmental disabilities have to privatize their programs after a certain amount of time, so Easterseals has taken on some of these existing programs, Shaw-Dupras says. For example, the Lawrence County program cost an initial investment of just over $200,000, but it would have been three or four times that to start from scratch.
The cost to employ a private employee doesn’t include the public employee’s retirement and things of that nature, Shaw-Dupras says. Therefore, Easterseals can run programs more efficiently.
While funding is always a concern, Shaw-Dupras is more concerned than usual in light of changes at the federal level. For example, Easterseals runs an after-school program on the west side of Columbus, as well as an early intervention program in the city. It’s unclear whether those dollars will be in the next federal budget.
The organization has increased its fundraising a bit, but in the disability arena, everything is dependent on Medicaid.
“Fundraising is not something that tomorrow you can go out and fundraise $100,000,” she says. “It’s relationship based. You have to build relationships, so we’re doing that much better.”
Shaw-Dupras also put aside a nest egg for just these kinds of emergencies and budgeted as if this year would be negative.
“We’ve done everything we wanted to do and still the staff has performed better. They’ve watched their costs. They’ve done things above and beyond to try to figure out how to do it without actual dollars,” she says.
As Easterseals increases the people it serves, it is careful to do so in ways that fit. Shaw-Dupras says one program model even pays for itself.