Youth center cuts its director

Mindy Gardner, a founder and executive director of the South Whidbey Youth Center, stepped down last week as a cost-cutting effort. The two top jobs at the center have been combined into one position.

Gardner, who is credited with helping to take the organization from an after-school drop-in center to a multi-faceted organization serving South Whidbey youth, is leaving her position after 12 years.

Gardner helped fund the Youth Center in 1989 and was hired as its first executive director in 1992. Moving into the executive director’s position is Holly Morgan, the youth center’s program manager. Morgan has served in that position since 2002.

The youth center’s board of directors cited budget concerns when they decided to combine the two positions. The board is looking to have more of the center’s funds go directly to youth programs.

Ann Gallagher, board chairman made the announcement last week. In a press release, Gallagher said grant income to the youth center is down this year. The board chose to reorganize management rather than cut programs.

“We want more of our funds to be used in direct services to the kids we serve,” she said in the release. “Combining the top two jobs will greatly reduce our overhead.”

Gallagher said that it was Gardner who recommended that Holly Morgan take over as executive director.

Speaking of her successor this week, Gardner said, “I think I’ve left the youth center in competent hands.”

Last year’s SWYC budget was about $350,000. According to Gardner, several factors are contributing to the tighter budget.

“We needed to raise another $40,000 in the major donor campaign and the center is waiting on another $40,000 in grant money that is slow in coming,” she said.

The center is also in the last year of a three-year Gates grant.

In leaving, Gardner said she is hoping to join the “foundation world so I can give money away to organizations instead of raising it.”

Incoming youth center board president Allan Ament said some major donors match previous gifts and some grants are not being funded to the degree that they have been in the past.

“As hard as it is, we are excited about the future.”

He also said the center is committed to the South Whidbey Commons, an effort undertaken to build a center for South Whidbey residents of all ages.

The South Whidbey Youth Center’s drop-in program is located in the basement of the Langley United Methodist Church. According to youth center officials, the program serves several hundred youths.

Part of the re-organization will include expanded duties for the coordinator of the center’s after-school program, the leadership council and the tutoring program. With the change, the youth center will have just two full-time employees, Morgan and Holly Adams, director for Seeds of Change, a substance abuse prevention program.

During her tenure Gardner saw the development of the Tutor-Mentor Program, which serves over 150 students at Langley Middle School and South Whidbey High School. Substance abuse prevention programs, the Youth Leadership Council, summer programs for students, a teen Jobline, and teen pregnancy prevention programs were also developed since the center opened.

The new director, Morgan, moved to Whidbey Island in 1998. She was a social worker in her hometown of Chicago, working mostly with children and families in poverty. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology and is a masters candidate in organizational management at the University of Phoenix. Gardner will assist her with the transition through August.

“Although this opportunity is really bittersweet for me, I’m looking forward to continuing the standard of excellence Mindy has established for the South Whidbey Youth Center,” Morgan said.

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