State budget has kids center in a cash crisis

The sounds of children laughing, playing, crying and eating fill Cricket's House most days. The Modesto house, run by the Children's Crisis Center, provides care for children, mostly under age 5, who have been abused or neglected.

But the house was closed for 12 days in July because more than $200,000 in reimbursements from the state owed to the center had been held up during the budget impasse.

The children — 72 of them from 50 families in June — had to remain in their homes, where they are at risk for more abuse.

"Lots of social workers were frantically calling the center saying, 'My client needs those services,' " said Colleen Garcia, the CCC's executive director. "We didn't want to do it.

"When we close, high-risk children are left in volatile situations. That's the plain and simple of it. They may or may not get hurt; they're left at risk. Most of the children we serve, particularly at Cricket's House, are really young and even more vulnerable."

Garcia said the nonprofit agency receives about 60 percent of its funding from the state. The rest comes from fund raising set up by the board of directors at each house — Guardian House in Oakdale, Verda's House in Turlock, Cricket's House and Marsha's House in Modesto, and the primary center, Sawyer's House.

The five were closed July 1-5. Marsha's House shut its doors for most of June. The others had additional closures.

"It was tough," Garcia said. "We were trying to navigate and survive through this tough state crisis. We had to close last year, too, but not the main center. Fortunately, some wonderful people pulled together and gave us some donations and loans so that we could reopen on July 6."

She said the state recently paid about half of the money owed, leaving a tab of slightly more than $100,000.

"They paid us for July and gave us an advance for part of August, but haven't paid for June yet," Garcia said. "It makes no sense, but mind you, we're not complaining."

The shortage puts more pressure than usual on the fund-raising boards.

Velma Farinha, a Modesto insurance agent, is board secretary for Cricket's House. She is helping to organize a benefit golf tournament Sept. 14 at Spring Creek Country Club in Ripon.

Fees for golfers are $125, which includes a cart, drinks, a barbecue lunch and tee prizes. Last year, the event netted about $50,000.

But what she especially lacks this year are sponsors, which is where most of the money is raised, she said.

"This year, with everyone watching their expenses, we're having a hard time," Farinha said. "We want to raise enough to keep the house open."

Sponsorships are $50 to get your name on the scoreboard, $100 for a name on a green and $200 for the tee.

"It's really an inexpensive way these days for businesses to advertise," Farinha said. "For $200, your name is out on the golf course all day."

It's also a chance to mix pleasure with helping children, Garcia said.

"If they're golfers, this is an opportunity to do something they love while helping a cause," she said. "It's going to make a huge difference for young children who have no other opportunities. If they're not a golfer, there are other ways they can participate."

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Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or