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Two organizations mull merger into one agency for all ages

Move would unite one nonprofit aimed at seniors with another focused on children and families

PUTNEY—Two social-service organizations that generally serve opposite ends of the human life-cycle plan to merge.

Representatives from Putney Cares and Putney Family Services made the first public announcement of their intention to combine forces into one entity at the April 11 regular Selectboard meeting.

Putney Cares provides programs and services, including exercise and movement classes, art instruction, low-cost community meals, and medical equipment and clinics, to residents aged 60 and older.

Some programs are specifically for Putney residents, and others are open to elders from other towns, said Putney Cares Board President Tiffin Mabry.

Putney Family Services offers a variety of assistance, mentoring, and referrals for individuals and families — especially those with babies and children — for basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, and heating fuel.

PFS operates the Putney Food Shelf, and collaborates with Early Education Services on the Welcome Baby in Putney program.

Maggie Cassidy, secretary of PFS’s board of directors, said the two organizations “have existed side-by-side for many years.” They both work out of the Putney Cares barn, and the directors of both entities “communicate well,” she said.

About six months ago, Cassidy said, representatives from each nonprofit began talking about a merger, to become “something larger.”

“Putney Cares has historically been focused on the care of seniors,” said Cassidy. “Putney Family Services is very much focused on children and families, and it seemed to us, especially with blended families and grandparents taking care of babies and kids, that it made sense to look at the possibility” for the two organizations to become one, she said.

Once officials with both groups began discussing the idea, “we began to see all kinds of efficiencies and possibilities for serving the community in a wide way, from infancy to elderly age,” Cassidy said.

The reason Cassidy, Mabry, and PFS Board President Dylan Devlin appeared before the Putney Selectboard was to ask for their continued help.

Both Putney Cares and PFS receive a large portion of their budgets from the social-services line item in the town’s general fund.

The nonprofits’ officials are concerned that, when they merge, their allocation from the town will get cut in half, since they will then become one entity.

During the next budget season, “we would hope that the Board would say, ‘Great! You are doing two organization’s work, plus,’ and adjust the allocation, not cut it in half,” Cassidy said.

If the town cuts the merged group’s allocation in half, Mabry said, “we can only do half as much.”

Mabry announced Putney Cares’ clients’ biggest needs and their plans to serve them. The most important necessity, she said, was for the organization to hire a nurse. Another crucial programming demand is support for grandmothers who take care of grandchildren.

“We wanted to come as a courtesy to you,” Cassidy said, and noted the Selectboard meeting was “the first public acknowledgment that the two are seriously considering” merging.

Cassidy said the merger wouldn’t happen until the fall, and Mabry added it certainly wouldn’t happen before the current fiscal year ends. Both made clear the merger isn’t a done deal, but Cassidy noted the two organizations are “seriously considering it.”

“It seems obvious to us [...] why you would need and deserve twice the funding,” said Selectboard Chair Josh Laughlin, “but down the road, somebody might say, ‘Wait a minute, why are they more important’” than other services the town funds.

Laughlin encouraged officials with the two groups to begin working on their message to voters, review the town’s funding policy, and get recommendations from their legal counsel. He noted the Selectboard does have to follow the town’s social-service funding policy, but it is possible to change it, and the nonprofits’ legal counsel can help with this, too.

Ultimately, Laughlin said, funding decisions “will be up to the voters."

“This is why we’re here ahead of time,” said Cassidy, who continued, “so if we ask you to change the policy, it wouldn’t come out of nowhere.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #455 (Wednesday, April 18, 2018). This story appeared on page A3.

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