Reagan-era welfare: Washington gives push to self-help

The Ada McKinley South Chicago Neighborhood House is doing just what the Reagan administration hopes thousands of similar agencies will as major federal budget cuts in human services begin to take effect.

It is reaching out for volunteers and new dollars in every possible direction.

The privately run agency provides varied family services from tutoring and job training for the young to hot meals and crafts classes for the elderly in a largely Hispanic neighborhood in the shadow of several steel mills on Chicago's far southeast side. Though funded largely by United Way of America, the settlement house usually has to raise an extra $4,000 to $5,000 a year just to pay its bills. And this winter the home faced an additional emergency need for $ 35,000 worth of structural repairs that could not be postponed.

Fund raisers - which include virtually everyone who works for the house - are appealing for help both to the usual business and foundation sources and to clients and neighbors by selling bumper stickers and tickets to Saturday breakfasts and occasional dances.

The increase in volunteers has been heartening, according to Neighborhood House youth services director Neil Bosanko. More people have come in to clean and cook and otherwise help others, he says, than at any time in the house's 67 year history.

But so far only $2,000 has been raised in the broadened fund raising effort of the last few months. Many of the businesses approached have laid off workers themselves and are beseiged by other charitable agencies also in need of help. Mr. Bosanko notes that even those businesses faring better now have a greater variety of tax-break options and are no longer as easily lured by the prospect of a philanthropic write-off.

Still, South Chicago Neighborhood leaders, leaning on the advice of a citizen advisory group, decided they had no choice but to proceed on faith. They took out a five-year bank loan and launched the repair job.

''It's going to be a hassle and a half, but we're confident that somehow we can raise that money,'' insists Mr. Bosanko.

That same kind of determination and broader reach out to grass roots sources for funding help may well prove crucial to the survival of thousands of other social service agencies facing rising costs and sharply reduced help from Washington and other traditional funding sources.

''Many groups . . . are unfortunately, in my view, still zeroing in on corporations and foundations in the natural but almost foredoomed hope that it all (the funding burden) can be transferred,'' says Brian O'Connell, president of Independent Sector, a group representing some 300 nonprofit foundations and major voluntary organizations.

''I think more organizations are going to have to return to dime and dollar fund raising,'' he says, ''by turning to such groups as churches which have traditionally shown compassion for the unemployed, retarded, and others in need of help and to some of those who have actually been individually helped by the agencies.''

Mr. O'Connell admits that the challenge is considerable.

''Many of them haven't had to do it (reach out) and don't know how to do it, '' he says. The Independent Sector president suggests that such agencies start thinking about what they can do, from selling used toys to hosting meals, rather than about which foundation might bail them out. He says that business and foundation contributors could easily insist that a portion of anything they give be used by the agency to develop a broader fund-raising strategy.

So far the most positive sign that the new push for giving in the health and welfare field is netting results is the success of United Way of America, partial funder of some 37,000 organizations around the country. It has just had its most successful fund-raising year since 1956. Similarly cheering is the 1981 Gallup Survey on Volunteering finding that more than half of all adult Americans gave at least some of their time to help others during 1980. In money terms, those volunteered hours amounted to $64.5 billion.

In a major speech in support of volunteer charitable efforts made in New York City several days ago President Reagan spoke of the American tradition of ''neighbor caring for neighbor'' in urging a new ''spirit of shared sacrifice'' in making up for social service budget cuts.

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