WEAVE, a D.C. Nonprofit Group for Victims of Domestic Violence, Might Fold

Anne Garcia, left, and Heather Powers in the office of WEAVE, a strained nonprofit group.
Anne Garcia, left, and Heather Powers in the office of WEAVE, a strained nonprofit group. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
Buy Photo
By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 20, 2009

Anne Garcia tried to read aloud a letter of thanks from a woman who had been saved from an abusive husband, but she kept having to stop, mouth trembling. Other staff members at WEAVE, a D.C. nonprofit organization that has provided legal and emotional help to tens of thousands of victims of domestic violence over the past 13 years, stifled sobs.

They had just found out that they would have to stop offering counseling to victims because their city funding for that service would end Oct. 1 and that some of them would lose their jobs.

It was a crushing blow for a place that, like many small nonprofit groups, has been battered by the recession.

Eleven days ago, WEAVE's board of directors decided it didn't have enough funds to keep operating and voted to begin the process of shutting down. The organization is still hanging by a thread: Some of its most loyal donors are scrambling to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to save WEAVE.

"We haven't completely given up hope," said board Chairwoman Marcia Marsh. But they are running out of time.

With 25 employees and a budget of $2 million, WEAVE is the second-largest nonprofit agency assisting victims of domestic violence in a city where, according to a national survey by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, an average of 10 battered women a day were turned away last year because there wasn't enough help available.

"There's nowhere for [WEAVE's clients] to go," said Jonathan M. Smith, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, which offers legal help to some domestic violence victims. A dozen other nonprofit groups, including House of Ruth and My Sister's Place, also aid battered women. But most of them are struggling, too, and would have a hard time expanding to fill the vacuum.

"There are going to be some big gaps," Smith predicted. "People are going to go unserved. It's awful, but it's the reality."

Nonprofits' Perfect Storm

WEAVE's troubles are emblematic of the precarious life of a nonprofit in a tough economy. The number of local nonprofits have soared in recent years, with about 4,000 now in the area, according to the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington.

Most are heavily reliant on a few funding sources without much money in reserve, and the recession is hitting them from all sides, with local government, corporate and foundation funding getting slashed. Next year is likely to be worse, said Chuck Bean, the roundtable's executive director, who estimates that one in every 10 local nonprofits is on the financial edge. The difficulties come as more people than ever are asking for their help, he said.

Most are trying to survive the downturn by making cuts, putting off repairs, laying off employees and furloughing executives. Some, such as Northern Virginia Family Service and Securing Emergency Resources through Volunteer Efforts, are going through the complicated process of merging. And some, such as the college scholarship program Hoop Dreams, have had to shut down.

WEAVE, or Women Empowered Against Violence, was started by a handful of law students at American University who wanted to combine legal services with social work, counseling and education.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company