First Step May Face Closure - Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

First Step May Face Closure

The non-profit organization First Step may soon be closing its doors for good. The office is based out of Wichita Falls but serves Wichita County residents and 11 surrounding counties.

If roughly $100,000 in donations is not raised by June 2016, the organization will shut down.

“We've kind of lapsed in our connection with the community,” said First Step Board Chair, Edith Zeisloft.

First Step has been a major domestic violence and sexual assault resource in Wichita Falls since 1977. It helps those victims by providing emergency shelters, trained professionals, and a 24-hour crisis hotline.

“There are still generations of people who still remember first step, that love first step, that know the impact that we have,” said Zeisloft.  “But it's more the new generation and the people who just move here that we just don't have that relationship with the community anymore.”

The organization's board first found out about the financial failings at the first of the year, in 2015. Officials said lagging support and donations to the organization have continually declined for five to ten years. And now the organization has reached its breaking point.

“Since we've had this news, we've been trying to reach out more face to face, to really create those one on one relationships,” said Zeisloft.

It's those relationships that are needed to bring the organization more donations. First Step has three primary sources of income. They include grants, funding raised from the local First Step Thrift Store, and donations.

About 20 percent of organization funding comes from the First Step Thrift Store. Most of the money, about 73 percent, comes in the form of grants. The remaining percent comes from generous donors.

“Now that we're finding we are in this position …those lack of connections also mean a lack of donors,” said Zeisloft.

First Step services and houses roughly 650 victims a year, and reaches about 500 others through additional services like legal aid and education.

If the service were to leave the Texoma community victims in those counties would be left with little options. The closest area with those types of resources would be DFW, Lubbuck, or Abilene, according to Zeisloft.

“I can only imagine the heart break that it would have on the community. It would be something that they would suffer,” said Caren Presley.

Presley is an attorney in Wichita Falls who has worked hands on with domestic violence victims and First Step.

“So to get them to Abilene, or to Dallas, or to Denton, or to McKinney, it's going to be virtually impossible,” said Presley. “Somebody is going to have to pick up the slack.”

Presley's not the only resident to fear the closure of the organization.

“That's kind of sad,” said Wichita Falls resident Virginia Collaso. “Some people don't have places to go. And First Step, they help you, they shelter you, they clothe you and all of that.”

First Step officials say they're working to spread the word, and increase awareness. Zeisloft said they are also trying to invigorate their policies and increase board participation.

That way, if they make it out of this situation, moving forward this would not be a scenario they would have to face again. If doors closed those programs would discontinue and 20 jobs would be lost.

There are a number of ways you can help keep the doors open. Head to the organization Facebook page.

Brittany Costello, Newschannel 6

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