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Native American Programs seeks new funding source

When Gail McCauley got out of prison in 2004, she found down-payment assistance for a south Fargo apartment with the help of Native American Programs.


When Gail McCauley got out of prison in 2004, she found down-payment assistance for a south Fargo apartment with the help of Native American Programs.

As she munched popcorn Friday on the front porch of program headquarters, a small house at 324 7th St. N., McCauley talked about the difficulty of finding a job or housing with a drug conviction on her record.

"With his help, it gets your foot in the door," she said, motioning to James Thomas, manager of Native American Programs.

Such help may not always show up during a program evaluation, but it's important to many members of the metro area's American Indian population who don't feel comfortable seeking help anywhere else, Thomas said.

Now Thomas is working with Fargo city leaders to figure out how to keep the outreach program afloat after it loses its main source of funding next month.


The United Way of Cass-Clay will discontinue funding June 30 to Native American Programs, a subsidiary of the private nonprofit Family HealthCare Center in Fargo.

Last year, Native American Programs received $63,706 from the United Way and about $3,200 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The program needs about $25,000 to stay open through the end this year, Thomas said.

By that time, he hopes to have grants secured from other funding agencies to keep the doors open.

Thomas said the loss of United Way funding was a shock at first, but he added, "It's about time we get on our feet and do our own thing."

"I don't think we should have been so dependent on United Way to start out with," Thomas said. "They did their deed for a number of years."

United Way's board of trustees voted in March to take the $63,706 and reinvest $50,000 into other programs for American Indians that have yet to be determined, United Way President Scott Crane said.

"Our commitment to the Native American population is there, just not to this particular program the way it stands," he said.


The remainder of the $63,706 will go to other programs sponsored by the United Way.

The United Way has been funding Native American Programs, or earlier versions of it, since the late 1970s, Crane said. A review during the last budgeting process raised questions about the program's effectiveness and efficiency, he said.

"When we looked at outcomes from the information they had prepared, it didn't seem to be making a significant change in a lot of lives," Crane said.

A March 31 letter from United Way's community investment director laid out the concerns that led to the recommendation not to fund Native American Programs.

While the program's focus is on American Indian health, there is access to a nurse only four to eight hours per week and a low expectation of the health education program, the letter stated. It also cited a "significant reduction" in the number of internal health encounters compared to previous years.

Native American Programs, through the Family HealthCare Center's outreach clinic, conducts health screenings, makes referrals to doctors and dentists and provides other basic health care services, in addition to support services such as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings geared for American Indians.

Program statistics provided by Thomas show total health care-related encounters dropped from 1,017 in 2004 to 625 last year. He said that's because the program was without a nurse and social service worker for six months in 2005.

United Way's letter also stated that experienced program staff "could not convey information about the most basic services that clients could be referred to" - another criticism with which Thomas took issue.


Thomas and others said Native American Programs provides an atmosphere for American Indians that's not available elsewhere in the metro area.

"It is the one place where they feel safe and welcomed and understood," said Fargo City Commissioner Linda Coates, chairwoman of the city's Community Development Committee.

During a committee meeting last week, Coates said Fargo, Moorhead, Cass County and Clay County will likely be asked to supply interim funding until Native American Programs secures grant funding.

Keeping the program going is vital because it's much harder to get grants and reopen the facility if the doors are closed, said Jessica Thomasson, Fargo senior planner for community development.

Thomas said he's exploring grant opportunities with the Otto Bremer Foundation, the Bush Foundation and others. The state's congressional delegation also has offered its assistance, he said.

"I'm confident, with the people that we're working with, that we'll become self-sufficient," he said.

City officials also continue to look for a larger facility for Native Americans Programs, although that effort has taken a backseat to the funding issue, Thomas said.

The program has outgrown the two-story house at 324 7th St. S., he said. Family HealthCare Center's outreach clinic at the house served 1,001 clients there last year, and the number of client visits continues to climb steadily, from 1,082 in 2001 to 4,103 last year.


"It isn't like the services aren't needed or required," Thomas said. "They're here."

McCauley, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes who grew up on the Fort Berthold Reservation in western North Dakota, said she's been working through Labor Ready on a store remodeling project in Detroit Lakes, Minn. She said she always stops at Native American Programs whenever she's downtown, whether to use the phone or a computer or just to read the newspaper.

"You get to come and make job calls. If we're hurting for food, he (Thomas) hooks us up. There's always people here. And he keeps it alcohol-free," she said.

Thomas said the program has earned the trust of people who harbor a lot of mistrust because of how they've been treated in the past.

"They call this their house," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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