Herald-Whig

Teen Reach bounces back stronger than ever after state budget stalemate had it fighting for life

Teen Reach President Dennis Williams places a piece of glass on a table at the new Teen Reach house at 1201 N. 12th Street on Friday. The house will be used as an office for Teen Reach, which has bounced back from a near-death experience brought on by the state budget impasse. The program for at-risk youth had to get by for more than two years without the $110,000 a year in state funding. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 13, 2018 10:00 pm Updated: Jul. 13, 2018 10:56 pm

QUINCY -- When Mike Nobis thinks about how the Quincy Teen Reach program weathered the state budget impasse, he's still amazed.

"We were right on the cusp of closing. We were not just day to day, we were hour to hour," said Nobis, chairman of the Teen Reach Board.

Teen Reach, a program that helps at-risk youth stay safe and graduate from high school, offers after-school programs and life skills education, encourages parental involvement, and hosts recreational events. Sponsored by the Illinois Department of Human Services, Quincy Teen Reach also has generally gotten about $110,000 a year from the state.

Those funds stopped in 2015 as the budget crisis in Springfield began. Other Teen Reach sites in the state began shutting down. But the Quincy agency kept going, thanks to a dedicated staff and board, and community support.

"Our staff went two or three months when they didn't get paid," Nobis said. "There was extreme sacrifice by our staff."

When news reports came out about how close the program was to closing, Quincy-area donors provided about $80,000 to keep the doors open.

"To my knowledge, we were the only one in the state that was open under the Teen Reach program," said Cheryl Williams, the agency's administrator.

"Without the community and ongoing support from individuals, churches, the United Way and other organizations, we could not have made it."

Then in July 2016, a state law providing funds for Teen Reach was enacted, but it covered only statewide funding for six months. A year later, the first full state budget since 2014 was adopted and the Quincy program was rewarded for its perseverance.

"Teen Reach programs that had shut down all of a sudden had to get back up fast, but they couldn't do it," Nobis said. "They had to get the kids back and the workers back, and that doesn't happen overnight."

As a result, the Quincy Teen Reach got a bump in its funding because there was more money left in the Department of Human Service account with fewer recipient programs.

Officials with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services also were impressed with the Quincy operation.

A grant to the Bella Ease organization that operates Teen Reach is funding a one-year Family Focus program in Quincy.

Williams said Family Focus helps parents find jobs, get referrals to existing programs, or take parenting classes.

"Now we can address the whole family" with Teen Reach helping youth from ages 6 to 17 and Family Focus working with the parents, Williams said.

Bella Ease took possession of a house at 1201 N. 12th on Thursday and will use that as a base of operations and office.

Williams said the nonprofit organization has a more secure funding stream than ever.

Nobis is disappointed that initial efforts to obtain the Washington School building as a hub for services were not successful. He still believes a Help Us Build program to support struggling families is a concept that can pay dividends for the community.

Nobis isn't giving up hope on the HUB concept. After seeing Teen Reach weather its darkest times and bounce back stronger than ever, he believes in miracles.