By: Jennifer Brehm
America's economy may be slowly improving, but a new survey by the Nonprofit Finance Fund shows the nation's nonprofit organizations are still feeling the recession. The survey shows 85 percent of organizations say they expect an increase in service demand this year, but only 46 percent expect to meet those demands because of drops in donations.
Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services, better known as PAALS, is a nonprofit in the Midlands that's not getting the money it needs. PAALS trains service dogs to help people with disabilities, veterans and children with autism.
PAALS Executive Director Jen Rogers has run the organization out of her home for almost five years. She started it with her own savings, and PAALS runs almost entirely on private donations.
Those donations are down.
"When you run on private donations and people are worried about losing their jobs, you definitely feel the effect of it," Rogers says.
She says she used to get some small grants, but they're harder to come by.
It costs an average of $25,000 to raise and train a service dog. PAALS asks their clients for $5,000 of that as a tuition fee. But Rogers says if they can't pay that fee, even after making the effort to raise the money, PAALS won't turn them away.
To make up for the loss of donations, PAALS has doubled the number of its fund raising events this year. Rogers and her volunteers went out to raise money twice in just four days. They volunteered at St. Pat's in Five Points to receive a portion of the profits, and Dori Tempio, a PAALS client who already has a dog, held a percent night at McAlister's Deli.
"It's a lot of work for us," Rogers says.
Rogers hopes to move the organization out of her home and some donated space and to a new facility in the future. She says it's hard to predict when since she doesn't know what's going to happen with the economy.
"Our partners who have been donating spaces are now having to charge fees for those spaces," Rogers says.
Rogers says this is the first year PAALS isn't able to add anything new to their program.
"We're pretty much maxed out with our resources at this point. We really couldn't handle any more dogs here."
There are five people waiting for a service dog and Rogers is expecting the wait list to double in the near future. She says they're going to have to do a lot more to meet those needs. One way they can handle it is with lots of dedicated volunteers.
"Once you see the dogs you helped train help another person, it just puts an A plus on it. You just keep coming back for more," volunteer Rose Walker says.
Tempio continues to raise money for PAALS because she has experienced first hand how it affects people. She has a rare neuromuscular disorder that confines her to a wheelchair and makes it difficult to grasp things.
"Having a service dog has changed my life dramatically," Tempio says. "There is no amount of money that could ever equal the amount of independence he gives me and the freedom he enriches my life with."
Tempio says it can be awkward to ask people for money for PAALS when they have their own challenges they're dealing with.
"It's not that people don't want to donate. It's very hard to come up with that extra money for somebody else, especially if you're just trying to put food on the table," she says.
So Tempio is doing all she can to make sure PAALS can continue to help people like her.