By Matt Youngfrau
FALLSBURG November 29, 2002 One of the Town of Fallsburgs largest employers, the SYDA Foundation, has told its staff to expect job cuts and organizational restructuring in the near future.
Several months ago, rumors began to swirl that, after 20 years of heavy involvement in the community, the SYDA Foundation was looking to leave the area. Local officials met with SYDA Foundation members and were assured that SYDA was staying in the area.
SYDA officials said they were considering moving the international headquarters of the meditation/religious group from their County Route 52 location in Fallsburg to California, but that would not happen for a few years. In fact, SYDA Foundation CEO Lester Strong reiterated those sentiments publicly last summer at the SYDAs annual community tea.
But on Thursday, November 21, SYDA administrators met with their staff to inform them that the SYDA Foundation was being reconfigured to better serve the community. The changes include the loss of between 230 and 250 positions (made up of full-time staff and volunteers), the closing of one building, and looking to move the international headquarters to California within four years.
According to Strong, the news was met very favorably.
They understood the reasoning behind this and were very supportive, Strong told the Democrat in an exclusive interview Wednesday. They came here to serve SYDA.
Reasons for the reorganization, said Strong, are economic and for the greater global focus. Like the rest of the country, SYDA is also feeling the effects of the economy and the shaky stock market, he explained.
Like all non-profit organizations, we were affected by the economic downturn, Strong commented. We do not know when the economy will bounce back. It is prudent for us to make some cuts so we can do our work over the long term.
The total number of layoffs has not been determined. Strong estimated 230 to 250 people would be transitioned from the staff. The majority of these individuals come from other areas and countries and will probably head back to their homelands, he said. Those people will be phased out over a three- to six-month period, and SYDA will work with them during that time to smooth the transition.
Specific staff members being laid off will be informed of such on Monday, December 9, Strong said.
The building being closed is Sadhana Kutir on Mount Pleasant Street, which is away from the main buildings and is one of the oldest structures on SYDAs campus.
It is not well-placed to serve our needs, Strong stated. It is removed from our body of activity. It is not serving us.
Strong added that all three buildings are between 30 and 50 years old. The buildings were designed for seasonal use, not year-round use, so the decision was made to consolidate operations into two aging facilities instead of three.
The two remaining buildings are Anugraha and Atma Nidhi on Brickman Road. Anugraha will hold SYDAs temple, their programs, and their retreat. Atma Nidhi will house their international and local headquarters in the interim.
But theyre not leaving, said Strong, who reiterated SYDAs commitment to the local community.
The SYDA Foundation has a long-term commitment to Sullivan County. That has not changed. Strong said. Where we are is a beautiful setting. It has been an international retreat for many years. It is an important setting for its easy accessibility.
And although SYDA has been looking in California for a spot to move their international headquarters, no site has been found, and it remains in the early planning stages. According to Strong, the move is at least two to four years off. The retreat will remain here, he said.
We have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with Sullivan County, Strong remarked. County, state, and federal officials have shown us tremendous support and continue to work with us. This is a friendly community. It will serve us well to stay here.
The moves are intended to serve the local and global communities better. While no timetable is set for the headquarters move, the staff transitions and building closing will begin early next year.