It's community's job to save Bluffton nonprofit

info@islandpacket.comNovember 12, 2013 

It can be difficult to quantify the good work of our local nonprofits. But Neighborhood Outreach Connection is a proven commodity.

The low-income students who participate in the nonprofit's programs have shown improved test scores during the past two school years, proving that the tutoring, homework help and preparation for standardized tests they receive is paying off.

Adults benefit too, but in ways not so easy to count. At NOC's Bluffton program center, located in the Bluffton House apartment complex on Simmonsville Road, adults routinely receive health screenings and participate in English language classes and job training programs.

Parents too have grown to love and rely on the program. All three of NOC's centers are located within the apartment complexes that they serve. Schoolchildren get off the school bus and make only a short walk for school help at a safe place.

It's unfortunate that the nonprofit's lease in Bluffton House is not being renewed. The property manager, Aspen Square Management, is ordering NOC to vacate the two apartments it occupies rent free at the end of this month.

As of Monday, the nonprofit was in talks with higher-ups in the property management company. NOC may downsize to just one apartment in Bluffton House and pay about $1,000 per month in rent.

NOC board chairman Narendra Sharma says it's an option his board will consider -- albeit not an ideal one. That's because the nonprofit is currently serving only about 60 percent of the Bluffton House families who want to participate in NOC's afterschool and preschool programs, he said. Downsizing to one apartment will mean the number of kids served will be cut in half.

While not ideal, a program that helps some is better than no program at all.

We hope local businesses and other community groups will help NOC pay the rent. While many wish the management company would lease both apartments to NOC free of charge, private business should not be shamed into making special exceptions.

Plus, there's no guarantee that this management company will stick around. In a few years, NOC could be back in the same position, trying to negotiate another rent-free lease.

Instead, local businesses and community groups -- many of whom have generously supported NOC in the past, including helping to build a virtual learning center at The Oaks Apartments site -- should chip in.

Beaufort County needs more programs that serve low-income children. It will take the community working together to preserve programs that make a difference.

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