Often going through a crisis gives you the courage to do things differently. This definitely was the case for the Urban League of Kansas.

Last month, when years of United Way funding was discontinued and a hoped for grant fell through, the organization was left with few if any recurring sources of funds to support their operations. It was a crisis situation that demanded a courageous step and, the organization’s board of directors took it.

They laid off all of their staff, discontinued all of their programming, and decided to take a look at a different models for moving forward. A core “vision” committee made up of a few high-powered board members, mulled over ideas to move forward, used connections to make things happen, and just more than a month later, the Urban League is back.

Well, they’re not actually back. They want the community to know, they never went away. Thanks to dedicated volunteers, the organization never closed their doors. They kept abbreviated but daily office hours, and the lights and the phones were always on.

They have a number of success and new opportunities they’re ready to tell the community about. Among the most exciting successes is the return of the League’s successful CNA Training Program. Last week, the Wichita City Council approved the use of $150,000 from their Community Development Block Grant to help fund the training program. The money will pay for four, eight-week training classes of up to 15 students each. The first class is scheduled to begin Feb. 3.

Desmond Blake, who successfully ran the program for the past seven years, is returning as a paid project manager. Frankie Brown-Kirkendoll, an active League volunteer will assist with the program.

By all indications, the City’s funding will be recurring. League board members are glad to have the much needed program back, especially since it helps participants gain employment skills and ultimately self-sufficiency, all of which are core tenants of the National Urban League.

Another success, both programmatically and financially, is the League’s successful renovation and sell of a house in Northeast Wichita. Last year, Wells Fargo Bank gifted the foreclosed house to the League under the Federal Community Reinvestment Act, banks can gift some houses in their foreclosure portfolio to community non-profits. The League partnered with a local Community Development Corporation on the revitalization effort. The good news, is they were able to find a buyer for the house, located at 2344 N. Prince, for a nice profit.

It’s the kind of programming the League hopes to do more of because it’s profitable and because it meets several of the national League’s programming goals: improving the neighborhood’s housing stock and converting renters into owners.

By far the League’s biggest asset is their building, located at the corner of 9th and Grove in Northeast Wichita. As part of their reorganization, the League is working to turn unused space in their modern and well-appointed building into a source of income. They’re one existing tenant, David and Lynn Gilkey’s Rise Up For Youth Program, have signed on to stay in the building. In addition, William Polite has agreed to move his Build Rebuild Academy, a math tutoring program, to the Urban League building.

Another positive change is the hiring of Melody McCray-Miller as the League’s new CEO and president. McCray-Miller was a long-term member of the League’s board and served most recently as board chairwoman. McCray Miller is a former State Representative and Sedgwick County Commissioner, as well as a successful businesswoman with her Miller’s Beans. She brings a wealth of experience, skills and contacts to the position.

In addition, it’s obvious McCray-Miller has a passion for the organization. She’s dedicated numerous volunteer hours to the organization during her years on the board and as board chair. Her position as the new CEO has already been approved by the national office. McCray-Miller admits she’s currently unpaid, but the agreement is, she will eventually be paid and at a fair market price.

Her ability to get a check depends heavily on the league’s ability to raise rev to develop a successful fundraising campaign. According to Good, his role is as a coach to McCray-Miller and the board.

The organization has set a $1 million fundraising goal. They expect to raise those funds via grants, corporate donations and memberships. For February, they’re kicking of Love Your Urban League Membership Drive. The goal is to raise $50,000 from memberships.

Memberships are $35 for seniors, $50 for a general, $60 for an Urban League and Guild membership, and $125 for organization memberships.

McCray Miller says, you join, “not so much for what you get out of it. It’s more about making an investment in the community.”

One thing McCray-Miller says the board learned from the shutdown is that the community values the Urban League and does not want to see them go.

“The membership drive gives people an opportunity to help keep us here working in the community.”

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Bonita Gooch

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...

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