Mike and Gladys Pinello want to stay in their Johns Island home, but the growing toll from the frailties of age -- he's 87, she's 84 -- makes it difficult for them to even prepare proper meals.
Their daughter, Tammy McAdory, noticed her parents' health deteriorating. She worried that with a full-time job, husband, home and other duties, she couldn't adequately watch over them each day.
About six months ago, she learned about a special meals program for the elderly run by Charleston Area Senior Citizens, a nonprofit serving the low-income elderly in Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties.
The group's Crisis Meals program could immediately provide a hot, daily meal for her parents at their home while they waited to join a permanent meal program.
"It was a lifesaver," McAdory said.
With it, her parents, who scrape by on Social Security, could remain in their home instead of seeking Medicaid beds at a nursing home.
Now, Crisis Meals is among several Lowcountry nonprofit programs for low-income seniors and children, the handicapped and disaster relief that are set to lose a major source of income -- Trident United Way.
Hundreds of people across the Lowcountry face a loss of help if the affected nonprofits can't find new sources of money from individuals, companies, foundations or government agencies.
All the nonprofits involved say they are scrambling to find new money before United Way's grants run out at the end of June.
Trident won't reveal which programs or nonprofit agencies already have been, or will be, cut off as it turns its focus to its new 10-year effort to make fundamental and lasting community improvements. The process is scheduled to be completed in June in time for Trident's next three-year funding cycle.
Chris Kerrigan, president and CEO of Trident United Way, said the organization is in the first phase of the funding process, determining which groups that applied will not receive grants. He declined to discuss which groups have been, or will be, cut off.
Kerrigan said that would have to wait until June when the citizens committee completes its work and gives a final report to Trident's board.
Lonnie Carter, chief executive of Santee Cooper and immediate past chairman of the board for Trident, said it's premature to talk about funding decisions when the volunteer teams are still evaluating agency requests to prepare for the new approach for community development.
The United Way's new focus is aimed at creating opportunities for a better life across the community by promoting the building blocks of a good life:
--A quality education that helps children and youth achieve their potential.
--Jobs that provide financial stability and independence through retirement.
It's a goal supported by United Way Worldwide and modeled on the experience of local United Ways, Trident officials said. Local United Ways operate independently and don't have to adopt the goal.
Trident said it developed its plan over two years with the input of some 200 volunteers. To get United Way money, an organization must file an initial application, called a letter of intent. Teams of trained volunteers review those letters based on each program's efficiency and financial transparency, ability to measure impact on clients and alignment to Trident's new focus.
Then, based on the volunteers' recommendations, Trident's board of directors either turns down the application or invites the group to file a formal application. That too can be rejected but usually results in full or partial funding, officials said.
Some programs that filed initial applications have received written notice that they will not receive Trident money over the next three-year funding process. Trident's application process is expected to be completed by June.
Holes in the safety net
So far, programs that Trident calls "Safety Net" appear to be the big losers as the United Way implements its new focus.
The three main senior programs in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties have been told in recent weeks by Trident that, together, their safety net food programs for low-income seniors will be cut by at least $100,000 when the new financial year begins this summer.
Officials with those agencies fear more cuts as Trident evaluates their requests to help pay for other senior programs.
About 150 low-income elderly people, many with disabilities, stand to lose daily hot meals, in-home care or transportation -- all three in some cases -- if alternative money isn't found for the coming fiscal year.
Another big loser is the American Red Cross, where officials said some $170,000 will be cut, 8 percent of its total budget. Most of that money pays for emergency services to victims of fires and natural disasters.
More than 1,200 people in the Lowcountry and several nearby counties received such aid over the last year.
Red Cross Regional Chief Executive Louise Welch Williams said Trident was her agency's biggest contributor. The $170,000 cut amounts to more than 20 percent of the Red Cross' emergency services money, she said.
"We have no choice but to make up the funds, and we will," Williams said.
On Thursday, two weeks after The Post and Courier first asked Trident about nonprofits that had been cut off, Trident sent letters to at least two of the organizations offering them transitional funding. The extra money went to certain programs that had relied on substantial grants from Trident.
The transitional funding would last for the first nine months of the coming fiscal year to ease the financial pain "resulting from our new strategic focus," Trident stated in the letters.
Charleston Area Seniors was offered $96,000, and the Red Cross would receive $118,000. The only catch is that organizations agreeing to accept the transitional funding must also agree not to "speak negatively" about Trident to the public or media, the letters state.
A Trident spokesman said the transitional funding "was approved by our Board in December to help select programs minimize the disruption of services to their clients while finding alternative funding sources."
Kerrigan said United Way's focus now must be on groups that align with its new plan to invest in the building blocks of the quality of life -- those that enhance lasting improvements in education, financial stability and health.
That's a major change from the organization's previous aim to spread grants among programs working on numerous, sometimes unconnected, community needs. This fiscal year, Trident invested $9.3 million in about 90 programs run by some 40 agencies.
"We certainly have not abandoned seniors," Kerrigan said.
However, "not all of the organizations that received money in the past will continue to receive money. … Trident United Way can't fund everything in the community. … We can't be all things to all people," he said.
Senior programs stand to lose about 40 percent of the more than $375,000 they currently receive from Trident Safety Net grants.
'Making a mistake'
Terry Brown, a former vice president of senior services for Trident who retired in 2008, sees it differently: "United Way is making a mistake, not in the direction it's going but in that the direction it's going is leaving behind senior services."
Brown, a retired Marine colonel, is board vice chairman for ITNCharlestonTrident, a transportation service for the elderly and blind. He prefers Trident's former effort to address immediate needs, especially those of poor seniors and the handicapped.
ITN will no longer receive the $13,000 from Trident it is using this year to help 33 people get where they need to go.
Dornetta McConnell of Goose Creek depends on the transportation service. She's been blind since 1996, when a tumor damaged her optic nerves.
The transportation program enables the 39-year-old mother of five to live an independent life, take classes at Trident Tech toward her social work degree and do the running-around duties a mother often has to do.
If she were to lose the transportation, McConnell said, "a piece of my freedom is gone."
In addition to ITN, Crisis Meals and Red Cross Emergency Services, The Post and Courier has confirmed the following programs will be cut off from United Way funding for the coming fiscal year:
--The In-Home Services care program run by Charleston Area Senior Citizens will lose nearly $55,000, almost half the money for that program. A loss of that funding would cut about 30 seniors from care, program officials said.
--The Lifeline Medical Alert program run by Roper St. Francis Healthcare, which provides service to 1,700 seniors or the disabled, will lose $12,000. Lifeline officials said about 30 low-income elderly people receive Lifeline service with that money, but Roper St. Francis will cover the cost until alternative funding can be found.
--The Group Dining program run by Berkeley Seniors will lose at least $32,000 that is used to provide about 4,500 daily meals a year to needy low-income seniors. Berkeley Seniors, which has a budget of about $1 million, also provides in-home meals and care for seniors, runs several senior centers and provides other assistance and counseling.
--Dorchester County's Communities in Schools program will lose $55,000, about 22 percent of its total budget, for after-school tutoring and drop-out prevention for middle school students. Board President Deborah Smith said the program seems to fit perfectly with Trident's new focus, but Trident offered no explanation. The program serves about 120 children at any given time, 275 in a year, at two middle schools and one elementary school.
A couple other programs have confirmed that they decided not to reapply for United Way money because they were certain they would no longer qualify:
--The Living Well with Partial Vision program run by the Association for the Blind of Charleston which, this year, received $22,500. That's about 15 percent of the program's budget. Executive Director Cornelia H. Pelzer said about 25 of the 175 people served could lose assistance without new funds.
--Berkeley Citizens, which helps people with developmental difficulties and special needs, will not receive about $100,000 for a sheltered workshop, an early intervention disabilities program and its summer service programs. Each year, they serve about 160 children and adults. Executive Director Alice Shook said she plans to seek new money from foundations or government agencies to keep the programs alive.
They don't align
Kerrigan said he would rather focus on Trident's new effort toward "lasting change in our community" than talk about the programs that must be cut off in the process.
Preparation for the new focus began two years ago, and Trident announced in mid-December that "there are going to be some organizations that have been long-time funded partners that are no longer going to receive funding."
Barry Waldman, Trident's vice president of communications, said at the time, "They might be fabulous programs, but they just don't align with our narrower priorities."
Asked about the programs that have been cut, Waldman echoed Kerrigan and wrote in an email that he felt it premature to talk about "a process that has just begun."
He said Trident continues to work with seniors and might fund other programs that serve the elderly poor but don't have "senior" in their name, such as Lowcountry Food Bank or Healthy Hands of Goose Creek. In addition, he said, Trident's citizens review committee "may be considering" funding for new seniors programs or increases for currently funded programs that help seniors.
Waldman said that when the citizens committee completes work, "you will be able to see clearly our intent and commitment to make measurable impact in our community. To release any more information at this point, or to publish a story based on what little is currently known, would be premature and irresponsible."
Elder services scramble
Tonya Sweatman, executive director of Berkeley Seniors, said her organization will lose the ability to provide 4,500 meals for about 20 elderly clients next year unless it finds scarce money from elsewhere.
"It's a sad situation. … We're pretty upset. We're doing a lot of scrambling, but it doesn't look good," she said.
Sweatman said the loss of United Way's money adds to the difficulty of obtaining funds from government and private groups already strained by the recession.
Dorchester Seniors does not face immediate cutoff but will be required by Trident to combine its Home Delivered Meals and In-Home Services programs in order to apply for funding this coming year. Executive Director Jean Ott worries the programs could be cut once combined.
"My concern is just how the senior programs are fitting in" Trident's new focus, Ott said. "It's scary right now. … It seems like the seniors are falling behind the curtain. … It's sad."
In Charleston, Sandra Clair, executive director of Charleston Area Senior Citizens, is a former United Way employee. She believes in its unified donation and funding concept to serve the community.
But, she said, "I don't agree" with the path Trident has taken.
"The problem with redirecting funds is that the problems being addressed don't go away. People don't go away. The intervention just comes about later and at a higher cost," Clair said. "It seems to me that first, we should feed the hungry. … It just got tougher.
ITN's Brown said the cuts hit hard on low-income seniors because of their physical and financial vulnerabilities and because few other services exist for them locally. Seniors didn't get a lot before, and he's worried they are being cut loose by Trident United Way, Brown said.
"There is a conscious design to de-emphasize senior services," he said. "People are going to be hurt."
Seniors need help
Earlier this month, Tammy McAdory's parents left the Crisis Meals program and received regular Meals on Wheels service, also run by Charleston Area Senior Citizens.
If the Crisis Meals program had not existed, the Pinellos would have had to wait more than four months to receive help from Meals on Wheels, which has a waiting list of 300.
Before Crisis Meals, McAdory's dad, a former Pittsburgh steel worker who suffers from congestive heart failure, showed increasing weakness. Both parents fell several times, and her mom, who has dedicated much of her senior years to caring for her husband, was dehydrated.
McAdory, 52, felt her mother was so worn down that she could not keep up with caregiving demands.
"My concern was they were not getting the nutrition they needed to do better."
After Crisis Meals started coming, she said, "all of that improved. … If we didn't have this program, we'd be back where we were. If we didn't have this, we'd need a private caregiver that we just can't afford … or a nursing home."
McAdory said the experience taught her that "there is too little done for seniors. … Now, when we should be providing for our seniors who contributed so much, it is time for 'the system' to give back to them."