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Family Counseling Service of Northern New York waits for next move

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Family Counseling Service of Northern New York will wait to begin a search for an executive director until its board of directors receives an operational assessment from Samaritan Medical Center.

The decision comes after Chief Executive Officer Collene D. Alexander confirmed she would resign by month’s end, and as the agency looks to become more financially stable. Board President Thomas H. Hefferon said a community effort recently saved the nonprofit, as Samaritan is assessing the agency, Jefferson County government gave $32,000 and the United Way of Northern New York gave $15,000.

Samaritan will study the organization’s operations to help it develop a workable business plan.

“They’re trying to come up with a ‘best practices,’ how we can be more efficient, how we can get the biggest bang for our buck, and if we should be merging with someone or not,” Mr. Hefferon said.

Earlier this year, Family Counseling Service had considered a possible merger, or shared services with Credo Community Center for the Treatment of Addictions, but that plan quickly fizzled.

Mr. Hefferon admitted the board at one point had also asked Samaritan if it wanted to absorb Family Counseling Service.

“We don’t have an ego in this, and say we want to be independent,” he said.

If Samaritan’s analysis of the agency suggests Family Counseling Service should consider a merger or share services, Mr. Hefferon said the board will take those recommendations seriously.

Regardless of what comes out of that report, he said, one thing must remain intact: the agency’s mission of offering mental health counseling to anyone, including people who otherwise “would fall through the cracks.”

After Mrs. Alexander leaves in search of full-time employment in quality improvement, Family Counseling Service operations director Jennifer Meagher will serve as interim CEO.

“Jennifer ran it pretty much when Collene was at the Children’s Clinic,” Mr. Hefferon said. “She realizes we’d probably look for a new executive director.”

Mr. Hefferon said he’s pleased that many community agencies and individual members are coming together to support the agency. The United Way defunded the agency, to the tune of $49,000, earlier this year, because of the belief that the organization lacked a viable financial plan. The United Way’s recent $15,000 gift is something Mr. Hefferon said means the relationship is back on the mend.

“I think it was a shock to our system when the relationship ended,” he said. “This was tremendous news to get that they were going to give us a hand.”

Family Counseling Service plans to re-apply for traditional United Way funds in 2014, Mr. Hefferon said.

Aside from the recent $47,000 in gifts, Mr. Hefferon said board members also dug into their own pockets to help save the agency, which had been behind on bills since October.

“The board hasn’t sat down and given up yet,” he said. “We meet at night, and we see the office full of children. Kids are living in situations that are dangerous, or potentially dangerous situations.”

Mr. Hefferon said no board members, including him, want to turn their back on children and families who need help mending themselves and each other.

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