Changes at Center of Hope create tensions

The Center of Hope, located in the basement of City Hall, provides a day center for women and kids, as well as case management support, showers and laundry services, clothing distribution, tutoring, and other services.

Controversy has erupted at Center of Hope, as the parent organization, REACH (Renton Ecumenical Association of Churches), is taking the center in a new direction without its director Rev. Dr. Linda Smith.

Smith, who served as director of the center since its inception in 2013, stepped down from her position July 6 after being given a two-weeks notice.

According to Maggie Breen, executive director at REACH, the organization is undergoing a transitional phase and decided to lay off the position of director for “budget-driven” reasons.

“We are really conscious that we are responsible for our donors’ money and we want to be good stewards and we want to develop sustainable ways of sustaining ourselves because we want to be in this in the long-term,” said Breen

At a recent city council meeting, Smith voiced her concern over the changes and her, saying that the changes are “an injustice that has been committed.”

“For the very person who has nurtured them in the past three years to suddenly disappear is disheartening, is uncaring and is inhumane,” said Smith at the meeting. “These families should have had the time to transition me out of the center. Families and children are already broken and shattered. To create additional conflict in their lives is inhumane.”

Lainey Sickinger, REACH board president, also spoke at the meeting, saying that unanimous board decision to terminate Smith’s position was “all business” and “administrative numbers.”

“We felt that there was not a need for executives at the direct level of the Center of Hope… partly because it’s a lot of money to pay a director, partly because we have very little money and we’d like to put those resources into paid staff that can actually be there more days,” said Sickinger at the meeting.

Sickinger also said that when she tried to talk to Smith about how to smoothly transition her out of the center, Smith replied with her two-days notice.

“As founder, I felt I deserved the decency of a conversation regarding the action they had taken,” said Smith in an email. “Yes, they could make whatever decision they chose but to not have a conversation with me was a grave injustice. Yes, I left early because I no longer felt safe in a place that did not value or give me the respect of talking with me about the decision before coming and delivering a letter. I didn’t just walk out, I gave them notice. I left a $25,000 Pastor job at Mary’s Place to build the Center of Hope. I work for a full year free from May 2013 when the center open until April 2014 without receiving one pay check. I was there for the family and to pull the rug from under me without the due respect of a communication was an injustice not only to me, but the over 1000 donors, the families, staff and volunteers that we served.”

The Center of Hope, located in the basement of City Hall, provides a day center for women and kids, as well as case management support, showers and laundry services, clothing distribution, tutoring, and other services. They also have a night shelter that’s open seven days a week.

According to Breen, key resources are not being affected in this period of transition, however, the day center will close at 2 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. during the summer and the warm-up breakfast service is temporarily suspended. Breen estimates it will be up and running by fall.

Breen is currently acting as the interim program manager till REACH is able to find the finances to fund a full-time employee.

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