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CHEYENNE – Financial assistance totaling more than $1.9 million is on the way for 37 Laramie County nonprofits through Gov. Mark Gordon’s Community Charitable Relief Program, after the Laramie County Board of Commissioners approved the grants at its Tuesday meeting.

The move came at a much-needed time for many nonprofits, as they persist through challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

My Front Door Executive Director Brenda Birkle said the funding will help them stay in operation so they can continue helping residents end the cycle of poverty and become first-time homeowners.

“Nonprofits have seen an increase in services needed and a decrease in our ability to get funding to pay for them,” Birkle said. “So it’s kind of been a double-edged sword.”

While nonprofits were eligible under some Wyoming Business Council CARES Act programs, this is the first state program aimed specifically at the struggles faced by nonprofits, including addressing revenue lost from canceled or virtually held fundraisers. When the program was announced in a news release, state Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said he was pleased to see funding going to the organizations that were “somewhat overlooked in the CARES funding process.”

With that, Gordon passed down the authority to the commissioners in each county to give money to organizations that “have the most impact.” Now, with the commissioners’ approval, 37 Laramie County nonprofits will receive nearly $2 million.

“Never has the work of charitable organizations been more important, and they have shouldered additional responsibilities in so many ways,” Gordon said in the release. “This program will give county and tribal governments the ability to provide some more support to those organizations that they know have served the public and been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.”

For My Front Door, nearly every aspect of the operation had to change with COVID-19, including moving classes online. And while they were able to receive mitigation funding through the state CARES Act programs for COVID-19 precautions, they did not receive any endurance funding due to the popularity of the program.

But now, My Front Door is slated to receive about $140,000 from the charitable relief program. Birkle said this money will help them fill in the gaps, especially since a lot of focus has understandably been placed on nonprofits providing emergency support throughout the pandemic.

“For nonprofits, we do everything that a for-profit business does. We just forego the profit margin,” Birkle said. “This will allow us to continue to serve, and it will allow us to proceed with our COVID recovery, just like any other business.”

Still, the road to getting this program up and running was no easy task, as the commissioners scrambled to come up with two viable possibilities for carrying out the program. Birkle said the commissioners and Grants Manager Sandra Newland put forward a “Herculean effort” to pull it off, and Commissioner Linda Heath added that Newland had been working nights and weekends to make this happen.

The funding was announced in late December, and CARES Act money was set to expire at the end of the year, about a bit more than a week later.

Former President Donald Trump’s signature on the second stimulus package would’ve extended the deadline, giving nonprofits more time to apply and the commissioners more time to distribute funds. But Trump hesitated to sign the bill, so the commissioners came up with two paths forward on the fly – one with an extended deadline where they could cover more nonprofit expenses and losses, and one with an end-of-the-year deadline where they could get as much money out the door before the deadline.

With the first option, Commission Chairman Gunnar Malm said he feared they’d distribute less than 10% of the funding that was available. But after Trump signed the second stimulus bill, thus extending the deadline, the county is slated to give out 98% of funding allocated.

“What that means is we’re going to be able to get that $1.9 million and change into the hands of local nonprofits who have helped everybody around this community with things from mental health to food security to housing. I’m looking forward to being able to replenish the revenues lost and also for the direct costs of some of these organizations incurred,” Malm said, adding that distributing this funding is one of the “most fulfilling” initiatives he’s worked on during his time on the commission.

Commissioner Troy Thompson agreed with Malm, bringing up the experience the pair had in calling all the local nonprofits to tell them about the program. The folks they called would offer suggestions for other nonprofits to contact, and some even offered to call their peers themselves.

“You’ve got a finite amount of funds that we had here in Laramie County, so technically, these organizations were competing with each other. But you never would have known that from talking to these folk, because it was a ‘Hey, let me help you,’” Thompson said. “I’ve never felt anything so remarkable in my life, especially as a county commissioner.”

Margaret Austin is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. She can be reached at maustin@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3152. Follow her on Twitter at @MargaretMAustin.

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