Habersham Christian Learning Center in dire need of support
Fri, 07/08/2016 – 12:05am NortheastG1
CHRISTINA SANTEE and ETHAN JORDAN
Lack of funding could mean the end is near for Habersham Christian Learning Center (HCLC).
HCLC is a non-denominational, nonprofit, community-based educational service organization. Since 1982, almost 3,700 Habersham Central High School students have learned Bible-based relationship skills at HCLC.
But financial hardship, something HCLC officials say the nonprofit has experienced for a number of years, could mean the program will continue making cuts as early as January 2017.
“We will be able to make it through December, but that’s it,” HCLC Executive Director Amy Walker told The Northeast Georgian. “Come January, if we don’t receive additional funds, we’re going to have to cut a teacher.”
Walker said that’s in addition to cuts already made. HCLC has since released its clerical staff, while all other staff took a pay cut. Salaries for those in HCLC roles are about two-thirds that of local school system educators, with no benefits.
HCLC’s two instructors teach “life-based, skill-based, faith-based” courses, with the Bible as the core, Walker said.
In the nation, HCLC is one of five similar programs, offering the classes to participating students free of charge. However, because HCLC is a separate entity from HCHS, it receives zero tax dollars.
Without the help of the community – from which Habersham County United Way, several churches, businesses, civic clubs and individuals have already provided support – HCLC is unable to support itself.
And while experiencing a decrease in income, HCLC is simultaneously experiencing an increase in expenses, such as insurance, transportation costs and utilities. According to HCLC officials, the nonprofit is at its lowest point in 20 years.
“Yes,” Walker said. “In fact, it’s been a little longer than that. It’s been many, many years since we’ve been able to make our budget.”
In fact, Walker confirmed the nonprofit has come up with a negative balance of $30,000 the last two years.
“Every now and then, we are gifted a substantial amount by an organization or an individual, so the board tries to safeguard those funds,” Walker said. “It’s a cushion, if you will, but our cushion is gone.”
Of 200 students served every school year, Walker said HCLC may have to cut up to half if an instructor is let go in the near future.
“If we had another teacher, we could serve a good 30 or more students a year,” she said.
As it stands now, Walker said HCLC has to turn away students every semester.
“We’ve already had to cut personnel and salaries just to make it through this past school year, and so we’re looking at having to do more cuts,” she said. “… That breaks my heart.”
Should HCLC continue down the path it’s on, Walker said as many as half of participating students could be cut from the program.
“We have a lot of good things in Habersham – good schools, good families, good churches, but our kids need an opportunity to let everything that they’ve learned just mesh and gel so they can use it instead of letting it go in one ear and out the other,” she said.
According to HCLC officials, nearly 60 percent of students are unchurched.
“I know I’ve heard many students say that classes, what they learn here, helped ground them, help to solidify the direction they wanted their life to go,” Walker said. “I even heard one man tell me it saved his life – literally. I know for my own child’s sake, she told me it provided her a sense of completion, just helping her again to solidify what she believed and help to actually use and put those beliefs into perspective and use them in the real world.”
Walker said a former HCLC student, who’s now a volunteer for the nonprofit, has also been impacted by the program.
“Her experience was healing,” she said. “And bless her heart with tears in her eyes, she said that.”
HCLC Board Chairman Janet Brooks, who’s also a history teacher at HCHS, also said it’s a very real possibility HCLC could close its doors for good.
“Absolutely,” she told The Northeast Georgian. “Really, right now, we’re running on deficits every month. The staff has done an excellent job cutting down to the bare [minimum]. There is a real possibility we could have to close the doors. …”
Brooks said HCLC is looking for increased support from local churches, many of which may not know of the efforts by HCLC with students.
“We only have about 20 churches in this community that support HCLC of about 150, so if we could get our church support up, that would be great,” she said. “Really, we’re just asking people to talk to their church leadership and try and get involved.”
Even if people cannot support HCLC financially, the nonprofit is always in need of volunteers.
“We’ve invited pastors to do devotion or short Bible lessons, but that’s one of our main focuses right now, is getting the churches involved because that’s our base,” Brooks said. “People say we want prayer in schools. Well, we have it here; it would be such a shame [to lose that].”
Being a teacher at HCHS, Brooks said she also sees the good HCLC does in the student body.
“I see what these kids face in the normal everyday life, and HCLC really gives them a break,” she said. “The kids call it an oasis because it’s a place where they can go where they’re accepted and loved no matter what. It’s just a great organization.”
Rachel Wilson of Mt. Airy, a 2015 graduate from HCHS, said, “I loved the class and I wished that I had known how much I was going to like it so that I could have taken more of the classes they offer.”
Wilson added, “I think it’s an awesome program.”
When asked how she would feel about HCLC no longer holding a place in the community, Wilson fell silent.
“I would hate for the program to end,” she said. “You learn about God and life skills in a Christian setting. …”
HCLC is run by a 15-member “working board.” Walker said she believes HCLC does help increase the graduation rate, “one student at a time.”
HCLC will hold a Community Summit and Munch & Mingle at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18, in the Habersham Electric Membership Corp. Conference Room, 6135 state Route 115, Clarkesville.
To donate to HCLC, Walker said checks – made out to Habersham Christian Learning Center – may be mailed to HCLC, P.O. Box 427, Cornelia, GA 30531.
Donations may also be made online at habershamclc.org through PayPal, Walker said.