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The Watertown Urban Mission is gearing up for a capital campaign


The Watertown Urban Mission is gearing up for a capital campaign to eliminate its debt, repair its building and create an endowment.

The big questions: How much to ask from north country supporters and when to start?

A feasibility study by Mike Miller and Carrie Levenson-Wahl of MLW Consultants, Watertown, was conducted March 18 to 27, and interviews with 81 people showed a positive response toward a capital campaign, which, according to Director of Development Andrew G. Mangione, would be the agency’s first in its 44-year history.

“The Watertown Urban Mission for years has focused all of its resources in serving people of this community,” he said. “We’re recognizing that to be here long term, we are going to need to make improvements to our facility. There are things you cannot see, like the need for an improved electrical system, and changes that will be visible include improvements to our facade and parking lot.”

He said improvements were made over the years but they addressed only immediate needs. In 2007, Cowles & Company, Watertown, winterized the building to make it more energy-efficient. The work was paid for by a $70,000 grant from the New York Power Authority’s Energy Efficiency Program.

In March 2010, proceeds from the agency’s annual auction went toward several maintenance problems.

The mission can make repairs only when extra money is available. Mr. Mangione said a capital campaign would improve the Urban Mission’s ability to push forward with necessary major projects.

The nonprofit agency moved into the former Halley Electric Co. building, 247 Factory St., in 2004 and a year later bought the building for $350,000, putting down $100,000 and assuming a $250,000 mortgage from Watertown Savings Bank. The agency estimated it would save $30,000 a year by making mortgage payments rather than rent payments.

According to the feasibility study summary report, many community members are unaware of all the agency’s programs. The report said a majority of the people interviewed knew of the mission and only one or two of its programs. They could not list all programs, so a vigorous communication/marketing strategy will be developed.

“We definitely want the community to know we’re here,” Mr. Mangione said.

The Urban Mission offers six major programs: Critical Needs, the food pantry, the Bridge Program, Christian Care Center, the Impossible Dream Thrift Store and a Helping Eradicate All Roads to Homelessness program. There are also several other smaller programs and services.

In 2011, the mission helped more than 25,000 people.

Mr. Mangione said the mission has an annual operating budget of about $1.2 million. The mission’s thrift store brought in $365,000 in 2011, but its staffing expenses totaled $270,000.

The bulk of the agency’s funding comes from its 45 supporting churches, which have grown from 13 churches when the mission began Jan. 1, 1968.

Other key points reported in the study report include:

n Praise was given to Executive Director Erika F. Flint for her skills as a leader and to the board of directors and campaign steering committee for their commitment to the campaign.

n There was a need recognized to expand the endowment and develop a will and bequest program.

n About half of the respondents mentioned the possibility of including the Urban Mission in their estate planning.

People who participated in the study included current and former board members, staff, volunteers, community members, foundations and community agency representatives, churches, businesses and campaign steering committee members.

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