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Nearly century-old community agency in Kalamazoo fights to stay open

A community agency that serves thousands of low-income residents in Kalamazoo is in danger of closing.

The Douglass Community Associationformed almost a hundred years ago to serve African American soldiers returning from World War I.

Interim Director Sherry Thomas-Cloud says now they provide literacy programs, a recovery center, free summer meals for kids and much more. She worries what would happen if people no longer have a central location for so many services.

“At best the services would be piecemealed and at worse you’re looking at an underserved population that would go from being underserved to not having any services at all,” Thomas-Cloud said.

“Plus, the pride, the sustainability of this agency for 90-some years… it’s just been an icon in the community and it would leave a gap that I think would be felt for many years,” Thomas-Cloud said.

The association’s finances have been in rough shape for some time. The local United Way ended its funding to the association this month, in part because of mounting financial problems at Douglass. Thomas-Cloud admits that could be the fatal blow.

“We could not and we cannot operate without replacing those dollars,” she said.

She says community leaders hope to raise $100,000 by the end of the month to buy Douglass some time to restructure its services and its debt.

There’s a full day planned for Saturday, with volunteers who will help clean up the building, paint, and landscape. Then there’s a benefit concert at 4p.m. at Gallilee Baptist Church.

Thomas-Cloud says Douglass is working to recruit new funder to back the association for the long term.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.