Let BOC know that Hi-Hope is a great investment

Has Gwinnett County lost its way? When an entire population is disavowed, does that serve a community?

Individuals with disabilities, abused and neglected children, seniors and others who need assistance are being denied access to needed services with decisions being recommended by our board of commissioners. Hi-Hope Service Center is one of the agencies whose total subsidy funding is going to be cut unless we can change their minds.

I believe it is a community's responsibility to support its residents - all of them. That responsibility does not reside with any one entity but with the community as a whole. Over its 50-year history, Hi-Hope has collaborated with other organizations and individuals to leverage needed funding to meet the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities.

The decision to cut all county subsidy funding, leaving such a negative impact on its constituents, is a crime. There is little interest on the part of our elected officials to see for themselves the benefits Hi-Hope makes available for the residents of Gwinnett. The response to several invitations to visit has been disappointing.

There are 28 individuals living in six group homes and two host homes in our community and 144 adults participate in day and employment services on a daily basis. Of these 144 adults: 48 percent are over the age of 40; 12 percent have a single diagnosis of mental retardation; 88 percent have a secondary diagnosis and/or medical condition such as autism, cerebral palsy, Fragile X, mental health, seizure disorder, diabetes, visual, hearing or physical disabilities, dementia, congestive heart failure, etc., requiring increased on-site nursing services.

Nearly 3 percent of Hi-Hope's $4.5 million budget is from a county subsidy grant. Therefore, 97 percent of Hi-Hope's income is from other sources. That is a nearly 3,500 percent annual return on the county's investment in Hi-Hope. Where else can anyone get that level of return? I question the level of thought that went into the decision of what services would be cut.

Many grants we receive are dependent on the donor knowing the amount of and type of community support. The county subsidy provides that match along with corporate and individual donations. Therefore, our ability to leverage outside funding to support our most in need residents is reduced making the subsidy cut effectively greater than just the amount the county cuts.

The county funding to Hi-Hope is only one-tenth of one percent of its operating budget, a small amount when looking at the big picture. Funding for adults with developmental disabilities is difficult to secure. Most foundations and corporations only support children's programs.

The commissioners will vote on the recommended cuts for the 2009 budget year on Tuesday at their 2 p.m. public meeting, setting in motion the probable elimination of subsidy funding for 2010 and into the future. The business portion of the meeting will take place first and then anyone wishing to make public comments will be permitted to do so following the business meeting. Your comments to the commissioners will be critical for positioning the county for the 2010 budget year and are needed. The vote on the 100 percent cut to Hi-Hope will take place in December.

Will you please join me in e-mailing or calling your commissioner and asking them to reconsider their recommendations? Your help with leading the way to meeting the needs of all our residents should be Gwinnett's legacy.

Commissioner contact information along with the entire list of cuts are listed on the county Web site: www.gwinnettcounty.com

In conclusion, I believe our leaders have lost their way. Decisions have been and are being made that create unintended consequences for the community as a whole. Do we want our community to be known as leaving out a segment of our residents or do we want to be known as a collaborator and partner that supports all segments of our community? I hope for the latter.

Alice B. Cunningham is the chief executive officer for Hi-Hope Service Center.