Buena suerte al Centro Latino

This weekend, Eric Muller's blog pointed me to a story in the Chapel Hill News about El Centro Latino. I'm not sure whether I should write that El Centro is having trouble again, or that their struggle continues.

There's no doubt their path has been rocky. From my vantage point, it's difficult to tell how much of these problems are from working with a low-resource population on problems that the majority of people may not know exist, and how much of it stems from poor management. It's likely to be at least a little of both. But having worked professionally in the nonprofit sector for over a decade, I have a lot of sympathy for the challenges of a brand-new organization just trying to get on it's feet while the problems it hopes to address are exploding. It's certainly annoying to see people take the time to complain about them instead of volunteering or donating to make the programs better.

The organization now appears to be in dire straits, with five major funders asking for some assurances, and another executive director leaving El Centro this year. There can be no doubt that some radical changes are called for. However, it does seem that they have made some improvements as they recover from previous debt and get staff trained to better document their accomplishments.

Eric complained of political correctness in the News' headline "El Centro planning big move." The Herald's headline focused more on the funders' concerns. Both are important, but I appeciate the News telling me what I really need to know: how El Centro is going to survive (sharing space with the IFC) and where to find them in the future (on Main Street in Carrboro).

The move sounds like a good idea, and I wish the best for El Centro. ¬°Buena suerte en su nuevo hogar!



We at the Orange County Partnership for Young Children are taking the same approach you are on this, Ruby. Our mission is to make sure that the services are reaching families with young children. Without El Centro as a partner, it will be much harder to achieve that goal. As an OCPYC board member, I have asked the OCPYC staff to do whatever they can to support El Centro through these tough times.

Sorry, Eric, but I have a hard time seeing it your way. Now is the time to be more supportive, not less.

The point of the post to which Ruby linked was that the coverage of El Centro Latino's big troubles in the Chapel Hill News is slanted to read like a public relations piece rather than a news story. (The Centro is publicly reprimanded by its five chief funders, and the CHNews's headline is "El Centro Plans Big Move" or some such nonsense.)

Mark, you respond by saying that you "have a hard time seeing it my way," and that "now is the time to be more supportive, not less."

So am I understanding you correctly, Mark? Are you saying that it's the job of the Chapel Hill News to report about El Centro Latino in a way that is "supportive?"

The newspapers make judgments about how to cover stories all the time. I don't believe in the idea of "objective" reporting. (Whose definition of objectivity should we use?) All the essential facts are laid out in both newspaper articles.

My point was not about the newspapers, but about your body slam on El Centro. It is not helpful.

Mark, what "body slam?"

I posted something on my blog that repeated facts appearing in both of our local newspapers, and criticized one of those two newspapers for powder-puff reporting.

My post did not criticize El Centro Latino, except insofar as it repeated the facts about the troubles El Centro is having. It criticized the CHNews.

Is it a "body slam" on El Centro simply to say publicly that the organization is having serious difficulties?

If so, was the public letter from the Centro's five funders a "body slam?" The article in the CHHerald?

And, to get back to the point I actually blogged about, in the context of recent events involving El Centro, do you think that "El Centro Planning Big Move" fairly summarizes what's newsworthy about a week in which its five top funders publicly call it to task?

You say you don't believe in "objective reporting." What if the Washington Post had gone to press on August 9, 1974, with the headline "Nixon Leaves For Well-Earned Early Retirement?" If the body of the article mentioned Watergate and Nixon's resignation, would that have made the headline OK?

My problem with the reporting was the implication that the funders had lost confidence in El Centro. My impression, based on conversations with folks around town, is that El Centro is going through the same kinds of problems lots of new not-for-profits experience, and the funders letter was intended to serve as a guide to help the organization get back on track. The letter said 'we want to help you' but you need to be more accountable and here's what we think you should do. One of the recommendations was to write a strategic plan.

The Chapel Hill News would have better served the community by reporting accurately about the challenges of non-profits, and the role of the Human Services Advisory Boards in helping locally based non-profits operate more efficiently (and legally) with taxpayer dollars.

I read the below excerpt from the N&O, and I think, "it sounds to me like at least Orange County has lost confidence in El Centro." Doesn't it sound that way to you?


Local governments and agencies that help fund El Centro sent it a letter last week expressing their concerns. The group -- Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Orange County governments, the Triangle United Way and the Orange County Partnership for Young Children -- requested a meeting as soon as possible.

That meeting is likely to take place within 30 to 45 days, said Gwen Harvey, assistant county manager.

"I believe that there were general concerns expressed about how services were being conducted," said Harvey, one of six officials who signed the letter. "There were concerns about having a strong staff with the proper skills to do the financial management and the report writing that funders rely upon."

The county and towns have been involved in El Centro's strategic planning for the past few months, since the center asked for more money in late May. Harvey and James Harris, Carrboro's director of community and economic development, both said that sometimes happens when an agency seeks help.

But even after those meetings, "the concern was still that El Centro was still in a state of transition," Harvey said.

"We recognize that El Centro is trying to work through the dual challenges of financial stress and staff turnover," the letter said, noting that funders had received different information about the organization's status. Given that, it continued, "our capacity to support El Centro through these challenges is compromised."

In the meantime, Harvey said, Orange County has frozen the $20,000 it had earmarked for El Centro. "I believe that was the intent, to not issue funds until there has been further conversation and some clear resolution," Harvey said.

This is no "body-slam" on El Centro, incidentally. It's just a quote from a newspaper.

So it doesn't look to me as though the "implication" that some funders are losing confidence in El Centro is unwarranted. In fact, in light of Harvey's comments (and the decision of the funders to make the letter public) it looks just about spot-on to me.

What's not spot-on is summing up this mess with the pollyanna headline "El Centro Planning Big Move."

If they had really lost all confidence in El Centro, wouldn't they have reallocated the $20,000 instead of frozen it? My understanding is that the funders have shared their concerns with El Centro mgmt along with some suggestions for alleviating those concerns, and now they are waiting. If the organization comes up with a strategic plan and whatever else was requested, then the funds will be released. I'm not clear on how the executive directors decision to step down factors into the resolution, but clearly her resignation, the move, and the funding are all interrelated.

I understand your point about the headline Eric. It is definitely misleading.


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