Hyde Park Neighborhood Club tightens belt amid financial woes

Director says resources have been spread too thin as community donations have declined.

By Ella Christoph

In the face of financial setbacks and increasing monthly debts, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club (HPNC) will rely on community members to keep it afloat as it amends its strategic plan and applies for grant money in the coming months.

Located at East 54th Street and South Kenwood Avenue, the HPNC hosts recreational and extracurricular programs for local residents including indoor activities for toddlers, summer school and after-school activities for elementary and high school students, and lifelong learning and fitness classes for seniors. The club also rents out space for adult evening and weekend classes in belly dancing, tai chi, and yoga.

In the past, the HPNC has kept its class fees low and provided financial aid for 70 percent of its after-school students. Although these programs generate enough revenue to offset activity expenses, the club struggles to finance the $36,000-a-month building upkeep costs, according to Jennifer Bosch, the executive director of the HPNC.

Donations from the community have dropped every year, dwindling to seven percent of the club’s total revenue last year, Bosch said. Similar organizations receive 20 to 30 percent of their revenue from community donations.

“I think we don’t do a good job of asking, and we aren’t as aggressive as we should be getting development underway,” she said.

A loss of development staff has prevented the HPNC from spending ample time seeking out grant money.

Uncertainty over the club’s future and financial solvency may also have affected community donations, but Bosch said that she hopes the HPNC’s transparency concerning its challenges will motivate residents to contribute.

Some changes to the club have already been made, including hiring additional qualified teachers and creating a welcoming learning and social environment for residents.

“We’ve totally overhauled the way we do business from inside out. We got control of our expense and very, very slowly have been paying off our debt,” Bosch said.

Despite the HPNC’s improvementsefforts, enrollment in classes and programs remains low, and Hyde Park residents still have complaints about the organization. Bosch said that some neighborhood residents believe that the HPNC spreads its resources too thinly over too many programs. However, the club’s programs generate a substantial portion of its revenue, she said.

“I totally agree that we have the appearance of trying to do too many things. What we are not good at is telling stories and articulating what we do. Our mission statement is outdated…. It comes across as chaotic and misdirected,” she said.

With finances tight, the club has been unable to create a strategic plan, redefine its mission statement, or market its programs. The HPNC hopes to forge partnerships and share resources with other Hyde Park organizations by renting out building space, a practice that would subsidize some of the costs of the building.

A pro bono law firm is working with the HPNC to create a business plan and help the organization form partnerships with other nonprofits. The HPNC has also spoken with campusCatalyst, an organization that provides Hyde Park nonprofits with business consultation from students in the College and the Graduate School of Business.

“We are at a wonderful point where there’s a lot of potential and a lot of opportunity for change,” Bosch said.

Amid a changing economic climate, more Hyde Park residents may turn to the HPNC for help. Although foundations and individuals may have less to give, the HPNC considers its role in the community more important than ever before, Bosch said.

“I think that we have a lot of work to do on our side to help people understand who we are, but we really want people to know that we’re doing everything we can to have a place of importance in our community, and be financially responsible, and help our community, and that is our mission,” Bosch said.