Center in crisis: Wadena referral program to be shut down
As Gloria Junker sank into one of the rocking chairs at the Wadena County Crisis and Referral Program building last week, Tigger, her gray office cat, jumped onto her lap. A warm smile spread across her face as she stroked his fur, and for a moment she seemed to forget about the daunting sheet of paper that sat on a nearby lamp stand.
Junker, who has been director for the WCCRP building since it started in 1994, had no idea Tigger would play such a big role for the more than 800 clients she and her co-workers assist each year.
Tigger is a therapy cat.
A few years back, Junker rescued Tigger after finding him trapped between two walls at a camp site. These days, he serves as the mascot for Wadena's crisis center.
"He seems to zero in on a person that is needing something," said Junker, as Tigger rested in her arms. "He's got such a calm, quiet personality."
Normally, Junker and Tigger might have been rushing back and forth in an upbeat manner around the office, but not on this particular day. The piece of paper sitting next to Junker had been haunting her since she received it July 10.
"We will be losing our funding as of Sep. 30," she said.
The center has until the end of September to raise $50,000, or the state will shut its doors, Junker added.
Why does the state cut funding for a program that serves area residents in need? According to the letter, which featured the words, "Office of Justice Programs" in its header, the state of Minnesota doesn't have enough money to support the Wadena office and 23 similar offices.
The letter, written by Cecilia Miller, Minnesota grants director for crime victim services, may have ended with the words, "We wish you success in your future endeavors," but it didn't help the fact that Junker and volunteer Kathy Ziese were left feeling helpless.
Both Junker and Ziese are angered by the investments the state has made recently.
"You've got them doing a Vikings stadium. What about all the other people out there that need the help?" Ziese asked. "And our county board is going to revamp the courthouse...again."
But most of all, the duo is saddened that the well-being of Minnesota residents is being put on the back burner.
"What do you do with a family that is in crisis and needs to be somewhere safe?" Ziese asked. She added that the building also plays a key role in assisting area law enforcement.
While it has been hard dealing with the news, the two caregivers are not giving up.
"We're going to appeal, and we're writing for grants," Ziese said.
Ziese also said she and Junker will be meeting with a number of city officials next month to seek support. The meeting will take place at the crisis center at noon Aug. 1.
As Junker talked about the center's situation, she glanced around the room and pointed to all the wall hangings, trinkets and furniture she had provided throughout her years as director. The thought of moving everything out was too much for her to handle.
"I can't imagine doing anything else because this is my life," she said. "I like going home and thinking that I helped somebody...and made somebody's life better."
The faith for those who work at the crisis center has not been shaken. Similar to Junker, Ziese looks to the building as her home, but she knows she doesn't need a building to help other people. And regardless of what happens to the program, she feels called to volunteer.
"I've never seen a piece of paper or a building change anybody, but I sure as hell have seen people change
people," she said.