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After school program cuts back, relocates

Ark South served thousands of Springfield students.Promise Neighborhood’s $800K grant will help offset loss.

A Selma Road building that has given thousands of neighborhood children a safe place to go after school for nearly 20 years won’t open this school year and will be sold because of continued financial pressure on the faith-based organization that owns it.

The Ark South, which opened in 1994 as The Ark, was the original and most popular of what came to be four after-school programs around Springfield operated by the Children’s Rescue Center with a Noah’s Ark theme.

“The ministry has continued to consolidate and scale back everything,” Nikki Tighe, executive director of the Children’s Rescue Center, said this week. “This was the last thing we had to scale back.”

Like many nonprofits, the locally based Children’s Rescue Center has been grappling with funding cuts that started during the financial implosion of 2008.

Last month, Tighe became the organization’s sole director after it was decided that CRC couldn’t support having a co-director.

Beginning Oct. 7, the Ark South still will offer free after-school fun for those same students in grades K-6. Only it will be at CRC’s Kingdom Campus, 1027 W. High St., and it will be up to the children and their families to find transportation — a decision that hasn’t come easily.

The Ark North and Ark West already moved to the High Street campus last year. An Ark in the Limecrest neighborhood just beyond Interstate 70 was handed off to another organization.

“To move out of those neighborhoods is hard,” Tighe said.

“God loves those kids and families even more than we do,” she added. “We believe he’ll care for them.”

The Ark South, which serves 247 children each month, is located within the Springfield Promise Neighborhood, an initiative launched to ensure that the local children are school-ready by kindergarten and college or career-ready by graduation.

Eric Smith, an organizer for the Promise Neighborhood, called it a loss for the neighborhood.

“Nothing can replace the Ark,” Smith said, calling it a “real backbone” of the neighborhood.

The Promise Neighborhood, however, should be able to partially fill the void left by the departure of Ark South.

The initiative just this week was awarded a five-year grant worth $800,000 to build a sustainable after-school program for children who attend Lincoln Elementary and their families, Smith said.

But, he cautioned, the program will only be available to Lincoln students.

“The Ark was open to anyone and everyone,” he said. “That added something.”

While the Ark South on Selma Road technically is only 1.7 miles from the Kingdom Campus on West High, it’s virtually the Red Sea in between them.

“Those that I know generally walk there,” Smith said. “That will be a barrier.”

The Ark South building, which is owned by the CRC, could be put on the market as early as September, Tighe said.

“There are a lot of kids who go to that Ark because of how long it’s been there,” she said. “The kids who went there have kids who go there.”

Arks North and West closed last year, in part because of finances, but also because the Ark North building was being sold by its owner, Tighe said.

“We know they’re doing what’s right for the ministry,” Smith said. “We want to celebrate all they’ve done and give them our well wishes.”

For Tighe, the consolidation of services at the 14,835-square-foot Kingdom Campus — site of the former Holy Trinity School — also represents an opportunity for CRC.

“We’ll be able to serve the families at a much deeper level,” she said.

In addition to the Ark, the Kingdom Campus serves meals and houses a food and clothing pantry, a community gym and a hangout, The Rock, for junior high and high schoolers.

The grounds of the old St. Mary’s Catholic Church, closed in 2001 by a priest shortage, also contain a community garden and a house used to host missions teams that visit Springfield.

“We do so many other things,” Tighe said. “More and more people are realizing the Ark is just one thing we do.”

The Children’s Rescue Center took over the grounds in 2006.

“Maybe this is what God had planned all along,” she said. “Sometimes, in our human eyes, it takes some nudging.”

Two other nonprofit organizations that rented space before the recession in the Kingdom Campus moved out in 2009.

While the CRC operates the for-profit Un Mundo Cafe coffee shop that brought in $188,126 in 2012, it hasn’t been enough to offset decreased grant money.

In 2012, according to its annual report, the CRC generated $424,088 in income, including $115,588 in grants, but had $424,817 in expenses.

Income is predicted to decrease further in 2013, the report stated.

However, the organization will have less in building expenses to worry about, from 33 percent of all expenses in 2012 to 24 percent in 2013.

Organizers say they have found solace in an updated passage from the biblical book of Matthew that reads in part, “You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment.”

As Tighe explained, they have to live within their means.

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