Concerns raised reflect harsh realities for nonprofits

Thank goodness for the Billy Golfuses of the world.  They serve as our canaries in the mine shaft, taking great […]

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Thank goodness for the Billy Golfuses of the world.  They serve as our canaries in the mine shaft, taking great risks to tell us when things are becoming difficult, unfair or untenable.  Golfus’ commentary reflects the harshest realities of today’s torn social safety net and failing medical system which for folks who are living in poverty—many of whom are disabled—often is too expensive or inaccessible.

Here are the facts: Courage Center was founded 83 years ago in the spirit of the “social model” Golfus references—a community organization largely dependent on donations, focused on changing society’s biases, improving accessibility, and offering opportunities so people with disabilities can maximize their independence and have full lives.  Our mission has not changed, although today Courage Center also offers aspects of the “medical model,” including an array of therapies and technologies. However, the “social model” is at our core, and includes vocational services, fitness and wellness programming and in-home services that save money and keep people independent.

Our largest non-medical program, with nearly 400 participants of all ages, is referenced by Golfus: Courage Center’s Sports and Recreation program, which co-sponsors an adaptive sailing program, along with the Lake Harriet Yacht Club.  Again, the facts:  the adaptive sailing program fee is $100 for 13 weeks, all inclusive.  Volunteers train our participants, maintain and store the boats and equipment, and individuals and sailing clubs have donated our fleet of Mach 4 Paralympic adaptive sail boats.  If a participant can not pay the fee, Courage Center has a simple, confidential scholarship application. Our long-term policy in Sport and Rec is no one gets turned away. Golfus knows this.

However, his frustration is a grim warning.  Courage Center, like all other venerable non-profits in our community, faces its most threatening financial challenges in its 83-year history. Like investors everywhere, our endowment funds were greatly diminished leaving less foundation dollars for the organization and its operations.  One-third – or $1 of every $3 spent – of our operating revenues comes from donations, donations that provide things like sailing scholarships, or supplement the true cost of keeping our doors open.  Government payment for medical services no longer covers our costs to provide those services; we must supplement the cost for every client we see who is covered by a government program, specifically MA.  This is a problem we share with other organizations that provide medical services.

So if you are interested in an adaptive sailing program, give Courage Center a call or check us out at  If you can’t afford the $100 fee, we would intend to have you covered.  But Golfus is right to sound the alarm about the larger picture. Without a shift in funding priorities, without a change in community values that celebrates all of us no matter our differences, and without the traditional generosity of our contributors, places we count on, like Courage Center, may not all be here when you or I need them.  To assure its sustainability and remain successful, Courage Center must join organizations of all sizes and pedigrees in being creative, nimble and willing to accept that the business models of old are ill-suited for today’s economic reality.  Our business model must evolve, and it will always have the individual and the needs of the community at its heart.  

 – John Tschida is Vice President, Public Policy and Research, Courage Center

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