By VIRGINIA HENNESSEY
Herald Staff Writer
Good fortune has shined down on Sun Street Centers’ substance abuse prevention center in Salinas.
An announcement in June that it would close for lack of funding prompted an outpouring of public and private donations that will keep the educational operation afloat another year. By then, Executive Director Anna Foglia said she hopes to have obtained a new federal grant.
One of several operations run by the nonprofit Sun Street Centers, the prevention program goes into schools to teach students about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. The problem is so pervasive, with middle schools seeing incoming students already using alcohol and marijuana, Foglia said, Sun Street expanded its outreach into the elementary schools this year.
The program has been funded for the past five years by a federal Drug Free Communities grant. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which issues the grant, encourages groups to be self-sufficient after the five years, but allows for one extension. Unfortunately, Foglia said, Sun Street was not one of the 140 of 690 applicants that won a grant this year.
While the program’s annual budget is only $250,000, in a tough economy with philanthropy drying up, Foglia was not optimistic. She announced the program would close its doors Dec. 31.
“It’s actually easier to fund treatment (programs) than prevention,” she said. “It’s hard to explain how you’re going to prevent something from happening.”
But the community stepped forward. Major grants came from Monterey County Behavioral Health and the Nancy Buck Ransom Foundation, with dozens of smaller donations bridging the gap.
Those gifts will keep the program afloat at least until the end of the year. Pending grants could put the organization on firm ground through 2014. Those grants are from the Harden Foundation, Community Action Partnership and the Community Alliance for Safety and Peace, which is part of the California Gang Response and Intervention Program.
“All of this has come to bear over the last three months,” she said. “It’s hard to live like that, but also wonderful to be in a place where people care.”
The donations also saved the jobs of three full-time and eight part-time employees, most of whom are in their first paying jobs.
Salinas Mayor Joe Gunter, a retired police detective, said the Sun Street prevention program, which serves 5,000 mostly low-income students and their families, is invaluable in the fight to keep kids out of gangs.
“They’ve been doing good work,” he said. “They’re a huge partner in the Community Alliance on Safety and Peace.”
With the help of Rep. Sam Farr’s office, Foglia is hopeful the grant will come through next year. Five years after that, she said, the program should be self-sufficient.
One of the major efforts to achieve that status opens this week with Sun Street’s third annual Castle of the Dead Haunted House and Pumpkin Patch, which runs Saturday through Oct. 31 at Storm House, 185 Maryal Drive, next to the Salinas Rodeo Grounds.
Foglia said actors turn nine rooms into a “very scary” haunted house, while the pumpkin patch offers family fun. Proceeds benefit Sun Street and Salinas Girls Fastpitch. For hours of operation see sunstreetcenters.org.
Virginia Hennessey can be reached at 753-6751 or firstname.lastname@example.org.