Dan Hust | Democrat
RISE DIRECTOR CINDY Zingher is proud of her staff, volunteers and services but worries that funding cuts will result in its closure later this year.
RISE faces fall
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Ed Price was devastated when he found out his four-year-old granddaughter had been sexually abused.
Twice, in fact, by two other children.
“It’s been difficult,” he said. “The questions they come up with how do you answer them?”
The Sullivan County resident and his wife now have custody of their granddaughter, and they began seeking answers to their own question of who can help a family in upheaval.
Enter RISE (Rape Intervention Services and Education) in Monticello.
“RISE has just been fantastic,” said Price.
RISE Counselor Lisa Pontorero has taken a keen interest in the Price family, keeping Ed and his wife apprised of the progress of one-on-one counseling sessions with their little girl.
“Lisa suggests things we should do,” he explained. “We’ve done it, and it’s worked.”
It’s turned what could have been a deeply embarrassing, horrifying process into one full of compassion, comfortability and courage.
“We’d have been absolutely lost without them,” Price said.
But that’s what the Price family and hundreds of other RISE consumers are now facing.
By this time next month, two of the three paid staff will be laid off, and by the end of the year, RISE’s 22 years of existence may come to a close.
Earlier this year, RISE’s sponsoring agency, Planned Parenthood Mid-Hudson Valley, re-evaluated its services and, in a cost-cutting measure, decided to excise two agencies, one in Orange County, the other being RISE.
The decision was a tough one, said Planned Parenthood’s new CEO, Ruth-Ellen Blodgett, especially since RISE had been under Planned Parenthood’s wing ever since being founded by Liberty pastor Bridgette LeConey.
“But it wasn’t strictly the dollars,” said Blodgett, noting that Planned Parenthood has also been trying to refocus its efforts on its core offerings pertaining to reproductive health.
And the plan was to transfer RISE to the Recovery Center, also in Monticello, so that services would not be interrupted.
“We were going to help them [the Recovery Center] write grants,” Blodgett explained. “RISE fits much more into the kinds of programs they run.”
The Recovery Center was happy to take on RISE, said the center’s CEO, Izetta Briggs-Bolling. They even had office space ready.
But the key state grant upon which RISE depends for its operating funds, the Crime Victims Board’s Victims Assistance Program, won’t be coming RISE’s way this coming fiscal year. The loss totals more than $300,000, and it’s a gap the Recovery Center cannot make up on its own.
“We were disappointed we did not get the funds,” acknowledged Briggs-Bolling, “because RISE is such an important program for the county.”
She explained that the Recovery Center and RISE are working closely together to seek other grants to at least retain one or two staff members.
“Our goal is to make sure the RISE program continues,” she said.
But RISE Director Cindy Zingher is worried that the lack of money and heavy competition for existing grants may doom the program.
“I have one more grant to apply for, but it won’t even pay my salary,” she noted.
But like Briggs-Bolling, she’s committed to saving a program that in 2008 alone conducted 1,345 counseling sessions, handled 1,015 hotline calls, held 371 support group meetings, served as victims’ personal advocate 331 times and went to court with clients 105 times.
Approximately 60 percent of those served were the most helpless among us: children under 17.
“So what’s going to happen on January 2?” Zingher wondered. “I don’t know.”
But that doesn’t mean she’s waiting for the curtain to fall. Zingher plans to spend her last few months not just serving rape victims and their families but calling every politician and government official she can think of.
“I’m just asking for $250,000 a year,” she said. “Doesn’t [football star] Michael Vick get $390 million? Somebody out there has money and could help.”
Not the Crime Victims Board, however. It hasn’t raised RISE’s funding level in a decade, and the state’s economic crisis led to a five percent cut in the CVB’s budget last year.
NYS Dept of Criminal Justice Services spokeswoman Janine Kava explained that while the CVB did have $95.5 million to give out this year, it received 227 applications seeking $147.7 million. Thus, the five-member board used a scoring system to determine who got what funds: up to 50 points for the application’s narrative, 30 points for the goals and objectives, and 20 points for the budget.
A minimum score of 70 was needed to obtain funding, and 189 agencies passed that threshold including NY State Police Troop F’s victims advocacy program and the Sullivan County Probation Department’s Crime Victims Program. RISE, however, did not make the cut, said Kava, scoring 68.4.
“No appeal was filed,” she added, and so the determination became final in July.
“They said we were asking for too much: five full-time staff,” Zingher explained. “And they’ve only ever paid us half-salary.”
The CVB’s rejection also means RISE cannot reapply for funding for three years.
In the meantime, RISE’s client base and nine volunteers are spreading the word themselves.
“We have very dedicated volunteers,” Zingher beams, pointing out that RISE’s hotline 791-9595 is manned 24/7 by those volunteers, all of them local.
Zingher herself has been part of RISE for the past 11 years, but she’s not so much worried about her own future as that of the people she serves.
“This is a necessity,” she said firmly. “This is not a luxury.
“The idea of someone being raped and having no place to go … it just breaks my heart.”