For the month of June, the “eyes” that are normally watching Austin will be temporarily closed.

Eyes on Austin, the nonprofit community agency at 5519 W. North Ave., will be on “operational hiatus” until July 6, its leaders announced last week.

Known for its work in providing community services such as GED preparatory courses and employment assistance, the 9-year-old organization has been hit hard by the economic downturn. In recent months, Eyes on Austin has been searching for financial assistance. Its once reliable revenues from donors and state government have dwindled.

“One of the biggest challenges for any nonprofit organization is searching for funding,” said Jean Jackson, EOA’s executive director. “This year, because of the economy, our primary funding source-which is state government-has been unable to provide its usual amount of funding. Consequently, we’ve had to make several cutbacks.”

Among the casualties has been staff. They laid-off four of their eight full-time workers. The organization runs on an annual budget of $350,000, which includes staff salaries, but also its programs and basic utilities. Typically by mid-year, the agency is able to secure half of its budget via government grants and fund raising.

So far this year, the organization is functioning on revenues of $50,000. The majority of that money, Jackson noted, has gone toward operating expenses. By May, Eyes on Austin’s expenditures outweighed its revenues. According to Jackson, adjustments had to be made.

“I think in May, we realized that we were really not reaching our goals and, as a consequence, we needed to make some changes,” said Jackson. “The laying-off of the four employees was especially difficult since we, like most nonprofit organizations, have smaller staffs anyway. So losing four people constitutes a big hit.”

Along with its current staff, four employees with CEDA (Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County) work at their office on energy assistance for residents.

Along with temporarily closing down and laying-off staff, the organization was forced to cancel its popular Labor of Love program. The annual event recruits volunteers throughout the Chicago-area to help repair the homes of senior and physically-challenged Austin residents. The program starts recruiting homeowners and volunteers in the spring and takes place for one day in August. Eyes on Austin has hosted the event since 2002. But Labor of Love this year has lost 50 percent of its sponsorship.

“We’ve already received over 10 applications from residents interested in the services provided by the Labor of Love program. Next week, I will notify each applicant about its cancellation for this year,” Jackson said. “I am very disappointed about it. I know the applicants will be too.”

Further hampering Labor of Love was usually-reliable sponsors like Menards and Wal-Mart unable to provide support. Eyes on Austin is expected to receive a state grant on July 1 for an undisclosed amount. Jackson is optimistic that it will “put [EOA] back into operational standing.”

Their current situation has Jackson – and its board of directors, she noted – considering reinventing the organization to keep up with the changing times. Jackson didn’t offer specifics, but stressed, “Our mission will remain the same, but we need to be able to do what we do more effectively regardless of the economic climate or other circumstances.”

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Eyes on Austin
5519 W. North Ave.