The Jones Center highlights changes in the works

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 120 views 

The Jones Center for Families is in the midst of some dynamic changes as 2013 gets under way.

During a media luncheon at the center on Wednesday (Jan. 16), center officials announced an expanded work-out facility, an afterschool program and summer day camp for latch-key children, scholarships for members, more recreation and educational programing for the entire family.

“It’s a brand new game here, a whole new attitude and new mix of strategic partnerships that will ensure the sustainability of this great resource,” said Ed Clifford, CEO of the Jones Center for Families.

The financial constraints of running the 220,000 square-foot center caught up with the charity in 2011 after declining market losses and $10,000 daily overhead costs threatened the center’s sustainability.

Clifford said when he and Susan Barrett joined the Jones Trust board of directors two years ago, tough decisions had to be made.

“The Jones Trust had to decide whether to spin off the Center for Families and let those charitable funds dwindle way, or radically rethink the strategy for a sustainable future. We knew the Jones Center had to survive because it is a cultural bridge for Northwest Arkansas like no other,” Clifford said.

In 2012, the Jones Trust combined the two different board of directors and began to streamline operations. They sought out partnerships with the American Red Cross and NorthWest Arkansas Community College that provide a steady revenue stream. Usage fees were raised and center closed on Monday to reduce overhead costs.

But behind the scenes a new map was being drawn for Center operations all with Bernice Jones’s mission in mind.

“We knew the center had to serve those who can pay and those who can’t,” said Susan Barrett, president of the Jones Trust board of directors.

Kelly Kemp, chief advancement officer at the Jones Center, said the $20 million matching grants received in December – $10 million from the Walton Family Foundation and $10 million from the Care Foundation – were a huge boost toward a sustainable model.

The Jones Trust and Jones Center must raise $10 million in matching funds to realize those gifts.

Clifford pledged to get the funds raised in six months or so, but the timeframe for the fundraising runs through June 2014.

Kemp said this $30 million commitment will give the Jones Trust $55 million by 2015, which should generate $1.7 million in annual operating revenue for the Jones Center. The Jones Center has an annual budget of roughly $3.5 million.

The balance will be raised by membership fees, partnership agreements and sponsorships in addition to rents collected from room and facility rentals.

“For 14 years there was no charge for the facilities but that model was no longer sustainable,” Kemp said,

Joy Heuer recently joined the Jones Center as director of membership. She said since membership requirements began in October roughly 700 folks have signed up, and that includes single memberships and families.

The adult membership fee ranges from $25 to $200 per person annually depending on whether or not pool privileges are included. Family costs range from $60 without pool privileges and $300 with them.

Heuer said there are a few scholarships available for individuals and families and at this time there is a short waiting list for approval.

She said new programing is in the works because members are asking for it.

Ideally, we would like to see families take part on a single night, perhaps dad attends Tae Kwon do, mom uses the track and the kids skate or swim. We hope to offer various program options in the coming months,” Heuer said.

Clifford said the work-out facility is being expanded and moved upstairs.

“We are making a fairly substantial investment in this area this quarter,” he said.

In February, the center will begin an afterschool program for 100 students from Jones Elementary in Springdale with the help of Camp War Eagle, who will run the program out of the Jones Center.

A 10-week summer day camp will also be available for up to 100 local kids. This program is also operated by the Camp War Eagle staff, with a grant from the Walton Family Foundation.

Mike Fohner, president of Youth Strategies, is also stepping up efforts to work with more at-risk kids at the Jones Center this year. The group runs a bike shop, coordinates community outreach services and does a several large landscaping projects with these teens.

In the fall of 2012, NorthWest Arkansas Community increased the number of classes being taught at the Jones Center. There are roughly 40 courses per semester ranging from math, communications, history, English and social sciences.

“What a difference a year can make,” Clifford said. “These changes are exciting because we are mapping a sustainable future for this important resource. The passion of our new board members and development council has re-energized this mission.”