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Published: Wednesday, 10/20/2004

Neighborhood group to initiate fund drive

A two-year fund-raising campaign to save the Neighborhood Improvement Foundation of Toledo Inc. from its financial woes is to kick off at 5 p.m. today at Jackson's Lounge & Grille in downtown Toledo.

"We are starting this campaign to let people know that we are in a financial emergency," said Sonya Williams, executive director of the nonprofit agency that provides cleanup and debris removal services in Toledo. "Services we provide, like cleanup and debris removal and maintenance of neglected buildings in some neighborhoods of the city, are in danger of elimination."

Founded in 1957 by the late Wayne Snow, a community activist who lived in a central-city neighborhood, NIFTI was created as a grass-roots organization that would empower people in blighted areas to spruce up their neighborhoods.

Today, the agency no longer relies on volunteer staffers to provide community service needs. Instead, it is a organization caught in the economic realities of funding cuts, increased expenses, and a lack of private and corporate donations.

"We have never experienced this kind of financial crisis. We face increasing fuel costs for our trucks, insurance rates are skyrocketing, and we're seeing a decline in the number of people who pay for our services," Ms. Williams said.

She noted that NIFTI's financial problems are greater this year because, in the past, it was funded by the city through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant.

This year, the NIFTI Board of Trustees voted to opt out of the program, which provided the lion's share of its funding, because the agency no longer could match every dollar it received from the block grant as required. "For every dollar we got, we had to match it with our own funding. But because we were not making enough money from our service sector, our revenues were dropping and we had to opt out of that program," Ms. Williams explained.

Instead, in an attempt to reinvent itself and its funding structure, the organization decided to take on a service agreement with the city, taking referrals and clean-up projects in parts of Toledo and outlying areas.

NIFTI, which normally operates on a $300,000 annual budget, hopes to raise more than $500,000 in the next two years.

"Our objective is to target neighborhoods of the city where low to middle-income earning families live. People in these areas don't have the kind of resources they need to clean up illegal dumping, vacant buildings, parking lots covered with weeds, and trashed alleyways," said Ms. Williams, who has been at the helm of the agency since 2000.

"In this campaign, we're going to appeal to corporate sponsors and the people who live in these communities and depend on our services," Ms. Williams said.



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