Better Chance program in trouble
Williams Espino was the first person in his family to go to college.
Had it not been for the Rochester A Better Chance program, the 1996 John Marshall graduate likely would have attended a south-central Los Angeles high school.
"Who knows what would have become of me," said Espino, who attended Cal Poly Pomona in California and now has a job at Chesepeake Energy in Oklahoma City, Okla.
For nearly 40 years, inner-city teens at risk of falling through the cracks have been coming to Rochester through A Better Chance, living with resident directors at the program's house on Second Street Southwest and attending local schools.
Currently, the program provides a home for five boys who attend John Marshall High School.
But the program is struggling to find both money and board members to stay open.
Espino believes it's worth saving.
Not only did the program help Espino achieve academically, his host family taught him how to interact with others and instilled in him "good, wholesome values."
Rochester A Better Chance president Terri Lundak said finding money has "reached a new level of difficulty, and board members are questioning the sustainability of the program."
During Winterfest, the organization hosted a bowling fundraiser at Recreation Lanes. It barely broke even.
The organization's biggest fundraiser, the Rochester A Better Chance Gala, is planned for March 4. It has sold only eight tickets.
Lundak said the board decided to take a step back.
"We're so passionate about the program and we truly want these boys to succeed, but we need to know if this is a program that Rochester still wants to support."
Lundak said fundraising is difficult because there are so many different non-profit groups.
"It's tougher than ever to hit up businesses in the community because they're struggling right alongside us," Lundak said.
Several board members, including Lundak, are at the end of their tenure and plan to resign at the end of June. They've had a hard time finding people interested in taking leadership positions.
Current resident directors, Tom and Denise Moody, have decided to resign from their position at the end of the school year.
Former resident director Robin Gwaltney said she'd hate to see the doors close because it would mean a lost opportunity for hundreds of boys.
She and her husband, Scott, were resident directors for 17 years. She'd like to join the board if the program continues to exist.
Most boys stayed all four years of high school, but Gwaltney said the bond doesn't end there.
"When you live together for four years, they become a part of your family," Gwaltney said.