By Aaron Retherford
It’s not an easy time to be a non-profit these days.
For non-profits to survive during a time of decreasing funding, they truly have to provide effective and valuable services.
Central Vermont Council on Aging has been in existence since 1972 and has become a centerpiece in the central Vermont non-profit world due to the bountiful list of services it provides, which includes everything from meals and nutrition to fuel assistance and even caregiver support.
About half of CVCOA’s funding comes from the federal government through the Older Americans Act. While that is a consistent source of funds, the well has been drying up over the years as the federal government has tried to decrease its own expenditures.
Counting money CVCOA receives from the state, about 75% of the organization’s funding comes from the government.
That needs to change according to Executive Director Beth Stern, so CVCOA is no longer subject to the whim of the government.
Kern said when the federal government did sequestration, it affected CVCOA’s bottom line by several $100,000. When the state struggles, CVCOA feels it.
“While we’re not having to beg on the streets for our money, we are dealing with dysfunction, especially the federal government these days. That’s very challenging for us,” Stern said.
With the population of seniors expected to double in Vermont over the next few decades, Stern said this is an inopportune time to see its funding decrease. Complicating matters is the fact the federal government doesn’t pass a budget until the middle of CVCOA’s fiscal year, so it never knows how much money it will have each year.
“It’s a really inefficient way to do long-term planning,” Stern said. “We’ve had to really think outside the box about how we can get off our dependency on these funding sources and be a little more creative about how we can get income to support this community. It’s hard.”
Stern brought on Scott Robbins as the organization’s first Director of Development and Communications. Robbins has been trying to increase CVCOA’s name recognition in the community, which hopefully translates into individual donations as well as business support.
While CVCOA does have a paid staff of 33 people, half the money it takes in goes directly to senior centers, meal sites, transportation providers, meals on wheels services, and other organizations that directly work with seniors.
There are 14 senior centers and meal sites within CVCOA’s coverage area, but CVCOA hasn’t been able to increase the amount it spends per meal in the last five years. Part of that is the meal sites are serving more meals, but a decrease in funding also doesn’t allow CVCOA to provide more money for meals.
However, it does help that CVCOA found an executive director with a love and passion for what she does and the organization.
Stern has been executive director for 10 of her 25 years at CVCOA. Stern has degrees in anthropology and intercultural management and said she fell into the job when she first moved to Vermont, but it was a good fall.
“I really appreciate the fact we make a difference for seniors,” Stern said. “We see seniors come in the office all the time full of questions and anxiety, and when they leave, they’re always thanking you. What keeps me and most people here is certainly not the pay and the status, but at the end of the day, feeling like you helped somebody stay in their home, get more income, solve a problem, be more independent, or simply help them find opportunities.”
Stern believes it’s also important to support caregivers of these seniors, but also hopes we realize we’re all in this together.
“I really want people to think of gerontology or working with seniors as a viable profession,” Stern said. “If you look at the senior population, the baby boomers, which I’m one of, are going to be the ones who are going to need people to work with us.
“I believe we need to do a better job in this state of talking about the senior population, and bringing together the social service agencies, the business community, and the educational community. It’s not just us (CVCOA) and the seniors anymore. It’s companies like Ben & Jerry’s, which has a whole bunch of employees whose parents are getting older and they have to take time off to take care of them. It’s UVM, which has a school of social work, and they should be helping people decide to go into gerontology. It’s everybody who knows an older person, and that should be everybody. We’re all in this together, but I don’t think we’ve done a good job with that.”
One of the ways people can contribute to the agency is by volunteering as a board member or on the advisory council. Board members don’t have to be seniors but must live within Washington, Orange, or Lamoille counties. If you’re interested in serving on the Board, contact Stern at firstname.lastname@example.org.