DECATUR — A $1 million grant for Dove, Inc., from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation is expected to secure the future of Macon County’s only domestic violence shelter, the agency’s executive director said Tuesday.
The fate of the shelter had been threatened by the two-year budget impasse. Though state lawmakers enacted a $36 billion budget last month, Dove Executive Director Christine Gregory said the agency hopes the donation from Buffett will help it rely less on state funding.
“Our board is still meeting to decide how best to spend the money over time,” Gregory said. But “making sure we can offer those services is amazing.”
Dove’s domestic violence program offers shelter, a 24-hour hotline, children’s services, support groups, parenting groups, prevention programming and legal advocacy to those seeking services in Macon, Moultrie, Shelby, Piatt and DeWitt counties.
Gregory told the Herald & Review in June that the state had failed to meet contracts it had signed with the agency for 2017 and was more than $500,000 behind on payments. She said at the time that the agency would have just 60 days of funding available after July 1, when it would have exhausted its line of credit.
While lawmakers overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto and passed a budget July 7, Dove took a hit of more than $100,000 for services that it had already provided, Gregory said last month. It was unclear how or when the payments will be processed for the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years, as the final budget did not include a prioritization scheme.
Overall, Gregory said Dove wants to rely less on state funding, especially for the domestic violence program, which is funded 50 percent by the state.
One area where the organization has been thinning is staffing, Gregory said. With the donation and newly awarded federal grant funding, the agency started the hiring process for a few positions, which have been frozen since February. Volunteer training also will resume in October, Gregory said.
There are some restrictions on the funding, she said, but overall Dove will decide what will be the most useful. “Howard was very specific he didn’t want this to be used for an endowment, but for services,” Gregory said.
Gregory credited Macon County Sheriff Thomas Schneider, who did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday, with advocating for Dove to the Buffett Foundation.
The Buffett Foundation, which also could not be reached for comment, has made a number of large donations in recent years to various community organizations in the Decatur area. The most recent of these, announced July 20, was a $3 million donation to build a two-story exhibit on law enforcement at the Children's Museum of Illinois.
Among his gifts have been several grants to fund equipment and positions for the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, where Buffett serves as an auxiliary deputy. Buffett donated $350,000 in May for training firearms, radios and five police vehicles.
Last fall, the foundation began construction on a $15 million law enforcement training facility on Decatur's south side. The center will open later this year, and will host new recruits from throughout the state and provide advanced training for police chiefs and command officers.
Several of Buffett's recent gifts have also benefited the Decatur Park District. In October, he said the foundation would cover the $3.9 million cost of building a new amphitheater in Nelson Park, a key part of the long-term plan to develop more recreation opportunities near Lake Decatur.
Buffett also said he would contribute $2 million to extend the train at Scovill Zoo to wrap around the Children’s Museum, a project for which engineering work is underway.
That announcement came on the heels of the July 2016 opening of a sculpture park between the zoo and museum, which was also funded by a $250,000 grant from the Buffett Foundation.
The foundation's recent gifts have extended to other areas of the community, too. It funded a new downtown headquarters for the United Way of Decatur and Mid-Illinois, which opened in February. It also paid to bring a 2-1-1- telephone information and referral service to Macon, DeWitt and Moultrie counties for the next decade.
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