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Finances, politics at the forefront of impending demise of Sunnyside's Promise

Unless a miracle occurs, Sunnyside's Promise will shut its doors on Sept. 30.

The organization will continue to exist, but it will no longer have a full-time staff and will not be able to run programs such as the Lucky 7 Bike Shop or the community center.

Sunnyside's Promise was hanging on by a thread, but after losing financial support from the city of Sunnyside the board decided the organization could no longer continue to function as it had been and voted to go back to being a volunteer organization.

"It's primarily a lack of funding," said Sunnyside's Promise Executive Director Mark Baysinger. The organization was originally funded by a coalition of the city, the Sunnyside School District and Sunnyside Community Hospital.

"We started off really strong," said Baysinger. "We did a lot with very little."

The decision to cut back on operations was not made lightly, according to board member Nate Bridges, who said the organization was "scrambling around" all the time for funding for administrative costs.

"Realistically, if we could find a funding source we would continue as we are," he said. "If we had $150,000 every year with no fighting over it, Sunnyside would be a great place."

Support for the organization was strong, but the funding sources dried up. Both the hospital and school district opted out of the financial commitments, leaving the city to shoulder the burden. Attempts to raise enough money for administration took a lot of staff time.

"I can't work when I'm continually trying to find funding," said Baysinger. He noted that the organization brought in a lot of grant money to Sunnyside, but that money could only be used in certain ways, not for basic administration.

The future of the programs

The programs Sunnyside's Promise started at the community center will continue under the city, according to Baysinger. Bridges said he hopes the city will hire the employees that currently run the Sunnyside's Promise program.

"They are dynamite," said Bridges. "They go well beyond the call of duty to help people."

The city will also take over the soccer fields at the Law and Justice Center, and Sunnyside's Promise will give the city the equipment it had received for the fields, including the lawnmower and some soccer equipment.

The organization is still looking for someone to sponsor the Lucky 7 Bike Shop.

"It was a very successful program," said Bridges. "It ran along on donations. It helped a lot of kids."

The bike shop supplied children with their own bicycles that they built from donated frames and parts, but in order to earn their bike they had to mentor another child.

"It gave kids some good skills," said Bridges. "And it gave them mentoring time."

Political issues

Bridges contends that the funding issues were caused by politics, particularly dismay over a grant the organization received to fight sex trafficking in the Lower Valley. He said some officials were embarrassed that the issue was brought up as a problem in Sunnyside.

"I don't think we can embarrass our town any more than it already has, itself," said Bridges. "I think going after domestic sex trafficking is not embarrassing at all. On the contrary, other cities are looking at us as an example."

The grant, provided by the Washington State Children's Justice Task Force, was extended until 2014, and may continue in some form, according to Suzi Carpino, the case manager whose position is funded through the grant.

"It's out of my hands. It's up to the grant people," she said. The program is looking for a new home with another Sunnyside organization.

As for Sunnyside's Promise, Baysinger said the doors aren't closed yet. He believes it is still possible to work out the issues and keep the organization running. But for now he's focused on closing up shop.

"I don't know what the possibilities are," he admitted. "I know what my mandate is, and that's to shut this down."

Baysinger hopes the organization will be remembered for all the good it's done for Sunnyside, and not for the politics and disputes.

"There's a lot to celebrate," he said.

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