Community House’s financial plan leaves some Birmingham groups in shock

The Community House, an iconic Birmingham nonprofit, has cut grants to some well-known civic and community groups, forcing around half to find new hangouts.

The Rotary Club of Birmingham, the Senior Men’s Club and the Women’s Club have been notable departures from the meeting space for a long time.

“It’s just prohibitively expensive,” said Bryan Frank, president of the Rotary Club. “We have no way of absorbing these kinds of costs. He’s a service club killer. They are clearly oriented towards profit. ”

Nine clubs that once met regularly downtown at 380 S. Bates St. were officially notified in September 2020 that the free meeting rooms were no longer available. Instead, clubs should pay 50% of the room price. All nonprofits would buy a food, drink, and auxiliary staff tab at a 25% discount. Overall prices would still vary due to the various types of services provided.

While officials at The Community House have said they need to generate more revenue to stay afloat, Frank said the budget measures are tough. A Monday lunch at the community house typically costs around $ 19 for a Rotary club member. With the changes, the individual tab has grown to around $ 45, according to Frank.

“They clearly don’t care about the community,” said Frank, whose club meetings have been moved to the library for now. “This would have been our 95th meeting at The Community House. For us, this is quite devastating. It has completely changed the way we do things.

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Breakfast with Santa has been a popular tradition at The Community House for 25 years.  Not this year, however.

The Community House was founded in 1923 to be a “non-partisan, non-sectarian, non-exclusive community center”.

The establishment is known for its camps, courses, daycares and enrichment events. It is also a location for weddings and social and corporate events.

Tough decisions

COVID-19 could turn out to be its albatross. Operating at full capacity ahead of the pandemic, The Community House closed to the public on March 13, 2020.

Most of its staff have been laid off or on leave, and annual revenues have fallen to about $ 2.7 million from about $ 4.3 million. Disinfection and new cleaning protocols, combined with labor costs, represented a new expense of nearly $ 70,000 for a six-month period in 2020.

After meeting with the members of the board of directors, William Seklar, President and CEO of The Community House, sent his letter in September 2020 regarding the Lion’s Club, Optimist Club, Women’s Club, Senior Men’s Club, Newcomers Club, Storytellers Guild , Rotary Club, Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce and Birmingham Shopping District.

Bill Seklar, President and CEO of The Community House, sits in TCH's Ginger Meyer Room.  This room is popular with brides as they prepare for their weddings.  It has a welcoming fireplace.

“We are writing today with a tremendous sense of sadness,” Seklar said in his letter. “Although historically The Community House has been blessed with abundance – more than enough to share our bounty with others, COVID-19 has changed our world forever.”

He announced that The Community House was ending separate agreements with the nine groups “which over the years have come under The Community House”.

There was also his stated intention to treat outside groups and nonprofits more fairly. While all nine clubs received the 50% discount, Seklar reserved a 20% room discount for other outside nonprofits.

The clubs, for the most part, were still in hibernation and also wondering how to survive. As members received their immunizations, they began to take the letter to heart.

Maynard Timm, the president of the Senior Men’s Club, wrote members a note in July telling them they would resume meetings in person on Friday, but not at The Community House.

“TCH has been our home for 64 years and remains a favorite place for our meetings,” Timm wrote. “We will continue to work with TCH management for a possible return in 2022. (But) TCH has not come up with acceptable terms for our needs.”

Seklar said the past two years have been probably the most difficult for him and his team at Community House. Some of his staff remain on leave and he does not know how long the operation will be able to handle salary increases.

“We would love for all the bands to come back,” Seklar said. “As a business, because a charity is always a business, we have to pass these costs on to our customers, but it’s up to each customer.

“I am a Birmingham kid. I grew up here. I know my community and I want this place to survive and I want to turn the page in 2023 into the next century. I think we are taking prudent and prudent steps. “

Seklar stressed that donations and volunteers are always welcome. He invites those interested to call La Maison Communautaire, 248-644-5832.

The Community House has been a unique treasure serving the Birmingham area with a wide variety of programs for all ages.

Contact reporter Susan Vela at [email protected] or 248-303-8432. Follow her on Twitter @susanvela.

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Louis R. Hancock

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