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County fights with its learning resource center

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Published on: Thursday, May 23, 2013

By Holden Wilen

SILVER SPRING – When Kimberly White’s husband died in 2010, she did not know what to do.

Jobless and depressed, White turned to the only place she could think of to go — the Computer Learning and Resource Center (CLARC), a non-profit organization that provides computer training and employment services to individuals with a history of mental illness, with the goal of helping them become employed.

A longtime county resident of more than 15 years, White said she first went to CLARC in 2008 when she became interested in looking for a job but did not have a computer or a fax machine. She found out about the center, paid the $10 membership fee and began using its services.

Then, in 2010, her husband died. Feeling lost and not knowing what to do, White said she began going to the center every day. She was attending computer classes, putting together a resume and faxing documents to potential employers. At the same time, she also became more social and befriended some of the other members at the center.

White began going to the center so often, she said her son would joke when she would leave the house that she was going to work. During her time at the center, White also became close friends with the center’s executive director, Diane McManigal.

Eventually, White found a job working for a cardiologist in Greenbelt.

“Without that place, a lot of things in my life would not be the way they are today, like my work situation, being able to do research and being able to fax documents,” White said. “You network there, and you meet people. You get information about things that can help your life or whatever is going in it.”

Once she began working, White said she stopped going to the center as often. Then, at the end of 2011, White lost her job. Feeling alone, she again started visiting CLARC regularly in 2012. Then, one day in April 2013, White said McManigal told her about CLARC’s funding situation and that there was a possibility of the center closing down.

According to McManigal, CLARC has received funding from the county since 1992. However, during the past three years, she said, CLARC has seen its funding decrease. In 2010, CLARC received $204,000, but last year, the organization received $117,616. The only funding CLARC will receive in the fiscal year 2014 budget is a $20,000 community grant approved by County Executive Ike Leggett.

With expenses greater than $160,000, McManigal said the organization will probably have to shut down. McManigal is the only paid employee, and there are four volunteers.

Concerned about the funding, McManigal attended a meeting of the county council’s health and human services committee on April 26. The committee was scheduled to discuss the 2014 operating budget that day. McManigal and members of CLARC, including White, attended the meeting.

At the beginning of the meeting, Councilman and Committee Chair George Leventhal made an announcement notifying the audience CLARC would not be discussed during the meeting. Unhappy with the news, McManigal asked why CLARC would not be discussed since, in her opinion, it is a part of the health and human services budget. When McManigal spoke up, Leventhal said he would call security if she continued to disrupt the meeting.

“This gentleman was very rude and he kept over-talking Diane,” White said. “Then I thought maybe this was something personal with them. When he said they were not going to discuss CLARC I asked him, ‘I drove a long way — when are you going to do it?’ He would not answer my question and threatened to have me thrown out by security too.”

Leventhal said his intention was to be courteous to the audience and make them aware CLARC would not be discussed so they would not waste their time sitting at a meeting needlessly. County council meetings about the budget are not the forum for citizens to address the council, he said, and the opportunity to do so occurs at public hearings.

“This was a budget discussion of the HSS committee,” Leventhal said. “We are not involved in interaction with the public. Interaction with the public occurs at public hearings. If every meeting the County Council has its business become an interaction with constituents, then the council cannot do its business. That is why we have public hearings.”

Additionally, Leventhal said CLARC received funding through a combination of state and county money. The state, he said, decided that vocational services, such as those offered by CLARC, are billable through a fee-for-service system, and the state chose to no longer give grants to CLARC. McManigal has resisted changing the way she receives funding, he said.

Reader Comments - 1 Total

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Posted By: DMC On: 6/21/2013

Title: CLARC is not a Vocational Center

CLARC is a computer center and not a traditional vocational center. The organization does not resist any funding. The organization is effective in the recovery and employment of over 1400 consumers in the last 12 years. Founded in 1989 it meets the Federal Requirements of SAMHSA for Grant funding and meets the Service Requirements of putting people to work and should continue to be funded not Eliminated, which is currently the solution suggested by Councilmember Leventhal.


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