The awful news came via an email to supporters on Wednesday morning: The UNISON Interfaith Neighborhood Outreach Program’s South Shore Regional office, based at South Milwaukee’s Trinity Lutheran Church — and nine other Outreach Program offices — was closing.
The news was confirmed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
This is a huge blow to hundreds of area senior citizens who rely on this agency for everything from rides to appointments to grocery delivery to yard work. My family has been a part of that work: My son mowed a senior’s lawn last summer through Interfaith, and my dad gave rides.
The program description on the UNISON website says it all …
UNISON’s Interfaith Neighborhood Outreach program engages volunteers to provide valuable one-on-one services for free to thousands of older adults (age 60+) living in Milwaukee County. This ensures our older adult neighbors remain safe, independent and connected in their community.
Without assistance, many older adults would suffer from complications of being isolated without sufficient access to food, medical care and friendship, which could result in premature placement in a long-term care community. …
The Interfaith Neighborhood Outreach staff and our volunteers are a connection to the community for older adults. They provide information about local resources as well as these vital services:
- Rides to medical appointments
- Rides the grocery store and assistance shopping
- Minor home repairs
- Seasonal outdoor chores
- Friendly in-home visits
Now, that’s gone, at least until Milwaukee County finds another provider of those services.
Indeed, this stems from the county’s decision to revoke nearly $2 million in funding for UNISON following the arrest of the organization’s former director for allegedly misusing funds — she has never been charged — and concerns over UNISON’s internal financial procedures, according to this Journal Sentinel story. UNISON leaders disputed the claims, and an audit showed no evidence of embezzlement.
As local Neighborhood Outreach Program leaders said in an email to supporters today …
The lack of funding had been a major concern during the past few months and we were hopeful we could find a way to continue the program. It did not happen. This does not mean the end of the program; we are hoping that the layoffs and closures will be only temporary.
We believe funding can be restored if we can find a 501(c)3 organization to absorb our program. There are discussions in progress to move the Interfaith NOP program to a different organization. …
The good news is that the Milwaukee County Department on Aging, County Board Supervisors, donors, supporters, mayors, city health departments, community social workers and churches all support the NOP program. That means the chances are very good for a newer and stronger program to rise.
Let’s hope that comes soon.
In the meantime, I thank everyone who has helped deliver Neighborhood Outreach Program services, from the employees who did God’s work every day to the volunteers who stepped up in so many ways.
And I pray for the seniors who will now have to find help in other ways — or, as I fear, go without that help entirely.