Go! Network will stay open for now, thanks to challenge grants from donors | St. Louis Public Radio

Go! Network will stay open for now, thanks to challenge grants from donors

Jun 25, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 25, 2012 - Donors have stepped forward to begin a campaign to keep Go! Network from shutting down on June 26, said Roni Chambers, executive director of the nonprofit that helps unemployed white-collar St. Louisans re-start their careers.

Funding had dried up for the program, which has reached about 4,300 individuals since its first meeting in February 2009, said Chambers, who volunteers her time as the only full-time staffer at Go!

The campaign would move the program toward long-term sustainability, including hiring paid staff members.

An anonymous donor has pledged $10,000 and challenged nine others to do the same to fully fund program operations for one year. So far, a second donor has pledged $10,000 and the Centene Corporation has committed to the campaign, according to Chambers.

“I’m really excited,” Chambers told the Beacon. “It will keep the doors open while we look for other funders.”

About 100 participants routinely attend the weekly gatherings at St. Patrick Center. The sessions feature motivational speakers, networking opportunities and advice for fine-tuning job searches.

In a news release, Chambers stressed that the program will receive the $20,000 currently pledged only if eight more donors come forward with $10,000 gifts. She is hoping that people who were served by GO! in the past three years will consider making small contributions to collectively produce a $10,000 donation.

"If each gave $2.50 a month for a year GO! Network's operations would be fully funded," she noted.

'We add a value that our region needs'

Go! has scrapped its plans for what would have been its final session tomorrow, and Chambers said she plans to stick around as well. 

Economists say the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, and the national unemployment rate has inched downward from its high of 10 percent in Oct. 2009 to 8.2 percent in May. Missouri’s unemployment rate was 7.3 percent in May, down from 8.6 percent a year ago. Unemployment was 7.4 percent in the St. Louis metropolitan area in April.

But unemployment statistics don’t reflect the depth of the problem because they don’t track the underemployed or workers who have exhausted unemployment benefits, Chamber said.

“I’m not being counted in the calculations,” she added.

Chambers, a former human resources executive at Anheuser-Busch, had the task of laying off workers after InBev bought A-B in 2008. She was laid off in March 2010.

“I don’t see the unemployment rate changing much in the next few years,” Chambers said. “Go! add a value that our region needs.”

The Federal Reserve recently lowered its expectations for economic growth in 2012 to between 1.9 percent and 2.4 percent -- down a half-percentage point from its previous forecast. The Fed also projected that unemployment would remain at around 8.2 percent for the rest of the year.

Go! Network was started as a short-term intervention after the financial meltdown of 2008 to help laid-off middle managers from local corporations. Anheuser-Busch was the major initial donor. St. Patrick Center organized the program with the assistance of the United Way, SLATE and the local business community.

Chambers helped lead the program as it made the transition from a corporate-backed initiative into a stand-alone nonprofit organization. St. Patrick Center has remained the group’s largest in-kind donor, providing downtown office and meeting space at its Catholic Charities Conference Center. Other in-kind sponsors have provided legal and marketing support.

As the urgency of the Great Recession passed, corporate financial backing for GO! dried up, Chambers said. While the nonprofit has continued to receive small donations -- often from grateful recipients of the program who have found work -- they are not enough to pay the bills.

“There just isn’t any money,’’ Chambers told the Beacon in May when she announced that Go! would be ending.