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Las Vegas Urban League says funding is dwindling

Due to a lack of funding, the charity organization Las Vegas Urban League may have to cut some of its programs.

Since 2003, the Las Vegas chapter of the Urban League, one of the oldest charity organizations in the nation, has helped feed hungry seniors, employ veterans, weatherize homes and bring computers into impoverished neighborhoods.

The organization, 930 W. Owens Ave., helps nearly 155,000 families yearly with everything from raising children to heating their homes.

At one time, the organization boasted an annual budget of $14 million and employed 200 people with help from federal stimulus grant s, local government grants and a relatively small amount of contributions from private entities, such as Wells Fargo. Only 8 percent of the organization's budget is spent on administrative costs.

However, with the national economy in peril , governments and private entities are being more selective with where their donations go.

"This organization is a real asset to the community," interim president and CEO Lavonne Lewis said. "But most of the funding has all but dried up."

The Las Vegas Urban League received a Broadband Technology Opportunity Program award of $4.7 million over the last three years through the Department of Commerce, the fourth-largest grant of 20 awarded by the department nationally. The organization used the funds to open 31 public computer centers in various low-income communities throughout Southern Nevada, providing computer literacy training and career and educational resources.

The grant money is set to expire this year, possibly forcing the organization to close many, if not all, of its computer centers and lay off 44 employees, according to Broadband Technology Opportunity Program manager Jeff Drothler.

"These are very dedicated people," Drothler said of his employees. "We just scratched the surface of what can be done in our community."

Other programs, such as the organization's Read and Rise program, which helps parents take a more active role in their children's learning, may also see cuts.

Carol Santiago, who manages the organization's education department, said she is worried the Read and Rise program, which supports predominantly Spanish-speaking residents, will have to lower the amount of families it assists.

"There is a whole lot of need out there," she said. "We're helping these people pull themselves up by their bootstraps, but some of them don't even have boots."

Still, those who run the organization are not deterred. Lewis said the people the Las Vegas Urban League helps are her motivation.

"I'm so charged up about the opportunities we have to change lives," she said. "I wake up every morning and feel we're doing good in this community."

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Nolan Lister at or 702-383-0492.