Peace House director resigns

For the second time in less than two years, Peace House, an Ashland-based social justice organization, has lost staff members due to financial shortcomings.

Sue Graham, chairwoman of Peace House's board of directors, confirmed on Wednesday that a lack of funds has caused the organization to scale back its two full-time employees to part-time. As a result of this decision, Peace House Executive Director Holly East opted to resign.

"As I've learned and staff confirmed, Peace House has always had financial problems," Graham said. "We haven't brought in the funds we should have."

East, who took over in August 2005, the last time Peace House lost staff due to financial problems, resigned rather than becoming a part-time director.

East said she could not comment because of an edict from the board of directors making Graham the sole spokesperson for the organization. Graham said the edict was East's idea.

"What I was told is that [East] needed full-time employment," Graham said about why East tendered her resignation. "Obviously, we hoped she would have stayed."

When East was hired, she said, "I think we have this grand opportunity in front of us to grow Peace House. We want to grow its mission, grow its message and grow its purpose in the community."

At that time, Peace House restructured its operations after laying off three co-directors because of a similar funding crunch. The three co-directors said at that time they were not supported by the board of directors.

Those problems appear to have revisited Peace house. At a Monday night meeting, 20 people donated a total of $168 for "administration costs," according to Graham.

Board members who would talk about the financial crisis had a hard time identifying fundraising efforts the organization has undertaken in the last six months.

"I know they've been investigating a number of [fundraising] options," said board member Pam Vavra. "But to tell you the truth I've been so busy with the library levy I haven't been able to look at what options may be viable."

Fellow board member Diane Paulson said, "My mind is drawing a blank right now."

Both Paulson and Vavra mentioned a speaking engagement by U.C. Berkeley Professor Michael Nagler in March, but could not recall other events.

Graham, the designated spokeswoman, said about fundraising, "I'm not on that committee so that's a hard one for me to answer."

She said Peace House had planned on a fundraising effort to coincide with its 25th anniversary this month, but said, "I'm not sure why that didn't happen. I don't know the details. Life just happens. I don't think it is that anyone was not pulling their weight. We have all been doing our very best."

Vavra added, "When there is a funding shortage everyone wants to point fingers. There may have been another board more successful than we were."

Paulson said this is the beginning of another restructuring of the peace and social justice organization that has been in Ashland since 1982.

She said the organization, which has office space on Mountain Avenue and several computers, could become an "umbrella organization" for other Rogue Valley non-profit groups that have similar missions as does Peace house, such as the Women's League of Peace and Freedom, THRIVE, Code Pink and the Jackson County Sustainability Network.

"Everybody has started their own little group and we're all asking the same people for money," Paulson said. "Peace House could become an umbrella for all these organizations. They could use our house and our computers. I can't explain why they are not contacting us. It seems like a shame."

Paulson and Graham said the board of directors plans to hold a strategic planning meeting on May 19 to determine a future direction and financial solutions for Peace House.

Meanwhile, staff member and Southern Oregon University student Jesse Martin doesn't know if she can stay on at part-time.

"I've already sent out my resume," she said. "This is not an ideal situation for me. I don't know what we can accomplish on 20 hours a week. It's going to be pretty difficult to make ends meet."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x. 226 or .

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