Do programs and services in R.I. match needs?

For Karen A. Santilli, president and CEO of Crossroads Rhode Island, bridging the gap between programs and services in the community and those in need means the difference between a healthy, productive nonprofit sector and the opposite.

But “nonprofits can’t do it alone,” said Santilli, noting that Crossroads has “taken over” two organizations in the past three years that could not afford to meet demand. Those acquisitions were mergers with the Women’s Center of Rhode Island the Rhode Island Family Shelter between 2015 and 2016.

A 2018 Alliance for Strong Families and Communities and American Public Human Services Association report found nearly 12.5 percent of human services nonprofits across the country are “technically insolvent, meaning that their liabilities exceed their assets” and that 30 percent have cash reserves equal to less than one month’s expenses.

Recently, Santilli attended a Together RI meetup hosted by the Rhode Island Foundation to see what more nonprofits can do to meet community needs.

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She came away recognizing that, while the state’s economy is improving, “It hasn’t been happening long enough to reach people at the fringes of society. There are still a lot of people struggling.”

‘There are still a lot of people struggling.’
KAREN A. SANTILLI, Crossroads Rhode Island president and CEO

In a report released by the foundation recently, the roughly 1,300 participants who took part in Together RI meetups named “programs and services” the fourth-biggest challenge (among 12 categories) impacting everyday life in Rhode Island. The findings suggest the state, local communities and nonprofits can all do more to meet community needs.

Rhode Island Foundation President and CEO Neil D. Steinberg agreed certain programs and services must be “more accessible” in the state.

“Awareness and availability” need to be increased so that people in need know what is available to them and how to receive it, he said, citing affordable health care, services for the elderly, job training and quality education as priorities.

Together RI participants identified mental health and addiction services as among the most inaccessible. Deb O’Brien, president and chief operating officer at Care New England affiliate The Providence Center, blamed the high cost of some of those services, along with a lack of public transportation.

Views are mixed among nonprofit administrators as to whether available programs and services match community needs.

“For the most part, yes,” nonprofits reflect their community, said Marty Sinnott, Child and Family president and CEO, yet “In some areas there is duplication and in others there are gaps.”

Moving forward, Santilli feels the sector will “respond more effectively” by partnering with stakeholders and others to better connect programs and services with community needs.

“We don’t have to do everything ourselves,” she said of nonprofits.

Emily Gowdey-Backus is a staff writer for PBN. You can follow her on Twitter @FlashGowdey or contact her via email,