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Elgin abuse center calls out state, says it's owed $328,000
By Harry Hitzeman | Daily Herald Staff

Elgin resident Bruce Johnson hangs a banner Tuesday afternoon outside the Community Crisis Center in Elgin, one of the numerous social service agencies hurt by the state's budget mess.


Harry Hitzeman | Daily Herald

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Published: 6/15/2010 11:56 AM

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Gretchen Vapnar isn't into making political statements.

The executive director of the Elgin-based Community Crisis Center would rather help victims of domestic abuse than side with a party or endorse a specific agenda.

But Tuesday, crisis center supporters unfurled a large banner saying that the state owes the center $327,928 and people should call Gov. Pat Quinn's office at (800) 642-3112 to protest.

It was a last resort move by Vapnar who, like many social service agency heads, has been pushed to the brink by the state budget mess.

"It's like dominoes," she said. "If one of us goes down, all of us are affected."

The Crisis Center serves nearly 7,000 people a year, many of them women and children who are victims of domestic abuse.

Clients primarily come from northern Kane County and northwest suburban Cook County, but the center accepts anyone throughout the state who is fleeing domestic violence and can't go home.

Vapnar said Quinn has found funding for some services and cut others. She said everyone is taking about the next budget year, which begins July 1, when the state still has not paid the center for the current budget year, which ends June 30.

"I understand there are challenges. What I don't understand is picking and choosing," she said.

Vapnar said State Rep. Keith Farnham and State Sen. Michael Noland, both of Elgin, have listened to her and been attentive, but "that doesn't help pay the bills."

Last year, the city of Elgin shelved the Fox River Festival of Balloons because of budget shortages. The festival raised $20,000 a year for the center.

Since then, other community groups and individuals have worked to raise money. Elginite Bruce Johnson raised nearly $11,000 and ran 1,158.5 miles from Florida to Texas in a bid to cross the country; and social media expert Sarah Evans helped raise more than $161,000 by starting an online campaign.

Vapnar said the crisis center, which will mark its 35th anniversary next month, has reduced its staff from 72 to 62 people and cut salaries. Additional layoffs are likely and staff members will have to take four weeks of unpaid time off the coming year.

"People are staying because they're dedicated to their work, and there's no shortage of people needing our help," Vapnar said.