Editor's Note: This is the latest installment in the Deadbeat Illinois series, where reporters from GateHouse Illinois newsrooms examine the real-world effects of the state's failure to pay its bills. Each Monday, we'll share the stories of those affected. See more on the Deadbeat Illinois Facebook page.
ROCKFORD — Eighteen-month-old Ivan Vidales is a walking, talking example of the success stories coming out of social service programs run by La Voz Latina.
Cynthia Torres, Ivan’s mother, enrolled in a teenage parenting program run by the downtown nonprofit organization when she was still pregnant. La Voz Latina provided her with group classes that helped prepare her for childbirth and the job of raising her son.
“Whenever you have a problem, they can help you,” said Torres, now 19.
Torres was one of more than 6,700 Rockford-area residents served by La Voz Latina in 2012, but the outlook for program offerings through the agency isn’t as rosy now. Last year, the nonprofit lost roughly one-third of its annual funding, due in large part to a restructuring of the state’s Department of Children and Family Services and changes within the Department of Human Services.
La Voz Latina has an annual budget of about $735,000.
Executive Director Luz Marina Ramirez has had to lay off some workers, furlough her remaining 20 employees to 80 percent pay and, since March, close the doors on Fridays. Further compounding the agency’s efforts: Illinois is months behind on $125,000 worth of payments for services.
“The state of Illinois warned us a long time ago their finances are not well,” said Caritina Mayer, director of business and human resources for La Voz Latina. “Most of the time, it will take six months to get (even part of) the payments.
“The only way we’re getting through is thankfully we’ve been able to over the years get a little money in the bank for hard times,” Mayer added. “But it’s getting smaller.”
The nonprofit offers dozens of services, including parenting classes, support groups, home visits, adult education courses, work-force development and translations.
“Illinois owes nearly $1 billion in overdue payments to nonprofits, and those organizations are providing critical services ... to all types of people,” said Pam Clark Reidenbach, director of the Northern Illinois Center for Nonprofit Excellence at Rockford College. “Imagine a community without those critical resources.”
Without La Voz Latina, there aren’t many options for education services tailored for Latinos in the region. The Alerta Hispanic American Awareness Committee in Belvidere relies on volunteers and doesn’t provide the same scope of services as La Voz Latina.
Page 2 of 2 - “I’d say we are it,” Mayer said.
The program Torres participated in assists young parents from the start of pregnancy and sticks with those children through age 3. Regular home visits allow agency workers to track the early development of the children and arrange for additional assistance when needed.
“Whatever it takes to make sure the child is not at risk,” Ramirez said. “We also work with the moms to get them back on track, whether that’s going back to school or getting a job.”
The program has been around for almost two decades, and Ramirez considers it one of the agency’s most successful. Torres, for example, is back in school on track to earn her high school degree by next year, and then hopes to go on to get a nursing license. And her son, Ivan, is meeting or surpassing all of his developmental milestones.
“He’s such a healthy little baby,” Torres said, talking about his energy and personality. “He’s on track, and (my caseworker) even said he knows more than he’s supposed to at this age.”