"WE HAVE to find ways to collaborate with other agencies to better serve and advocate for the most vulnerable children that who cannot advocate for themselves," said Lee D. Grossi, CFO at Children's Friend.
Honored a year ago with the lifetime achievement award in PBN's inaugural CFO Awards program, Children's Friend Chief Financial Officer Lee D. Grossi has a front-row seat for the effects of the Great Recession.
Thanks to reduced state and federal funding, as well as the increased number of Rhode Island families in need, Grossi sees an ever-increasing need for public advocates and collaboration in getting the message out that investing in children now is something that needs to happen.
PBN: Accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award in PBN’s inaugural CFO Awards program, you said Children’s Friend was “literally doing God’s work protecting our children.” Are you still excited to come to work every day?
GROSSI: Every day brings new challenges and new opportunities to help struggling families, yet these families are resilient. Working with 350 employees totally committed to helping as many families as possible is extremely rewarding. I cannot think of anything else I would rather be doing.
PBN: Without the federal stimulus funds responsible for a 2009 to 2010 expansion, how has Children’s Fund moved to grow and accelerate programs?
GROSSI: Due to several new grants that will add more services to augment the [all-encompassing] approach we offer to our families, our budget for 2012 increased approximately 3 percent [over last year]. However, with the exception of the new services, most programs have been level funded at best and some state funding has been reduced. Balancing cost increases for items such as health insurance and fuel costs with level or reduced funding, while trying to serve all the clients in need, is very stressful.
PBN: While there are signs of the country’s economic recovery, Rhode Island isn’t seeing many. What is that doing to the demand for services at Children’s Friends?
GROSSI: The number of core city children living in poverty has grown to more than 25 percent of all children living in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls. Many [of our] programs have waiting lists, and state funding is being reduced at a critical time. We have to find ways to collaborate with other agencies to better serve and advocate for the most vulnerable children that who cannot advocate for themselves.
PBN: What is the most difficult part of your job as a CFO in the nonprofit world?
GROSSI: The most difficult part is not being able to do as much as we need to do for families, foster families, and front-line staff supporting these families every day. When government agencies want to reduce prevention programs or early childhood programs that have proven cost effective, it renews my commitment to what I am doing.
PBN: What will be the key for nonprofits going forward in order to thrive as state and federal budgets continue to struggle with large deficits?
GROSSI: We have to convince policy and decision makers to continue to invest in programs that keep together and reunite families. We have to demonstrate their effectiveness and the return on investment. As a society we cannot fail to invest in our children, especially the youngest and most vulnerable.