ITHACA, N.Y. –– The Southside Community Center has laid off most of its staff members, citing financial difficulties, according to former employees and an email that was distributed to staff members in early September. While the message is addressed to all employees, it does say some select workers may be able to retain their jobs. 

A statement from the Southside Community Center Board of Directors to the Ithaca Voice said that the center would be closed on an interim basis while they search for a new executive director. The email to staff members cited financial difficulties as one of the primary reasons for the closing and terminations. As of 2018, public non-profit tax forms show that Southside employed 13 people.

“At this time, the SSCC Board is thoroughly assessing the status of the agency and evaluating our administrative needs,” the board’s statement reads. “Additionally, we are preparing to develop a search for our next Executive Director. The SSCC Board has decided to close the center temporarily to produce a concrete plan which provides safety, strong leadership, and programs our community and youth deserve.”

Executive Director Tammy Butler is indeed leaving the organization on Sept. 25, though she was not part of the layoffs. Butler announced internally that she’d be leaving the position after less than a year at the post, separate from the layoffs. Butler confirmed that she no longer works for the organization—the organization’s statement said that she was returning to Rochester to “explore other options.”

Southside provides a range of services locally, including plenty of programming that has been hamstrung by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent statewide shutdown, and is one of the most prominent resources for the Black community in Ithaca. The community center was also running a giveaway of Chromebook laptops for students who are taking part in distance learning as schools attempt to re-open, and runs a food pantry pick-up program out of its kitchen. It’s unclear if those programs will continue or not; when Southside board members respond to a follow-up, this story will be updated.

In its email to staff members last week, the board explained that the layoffs were a result of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has been wreaking havoc on businesses (among other things) nationwide since March. The Recycle Ithaca’s Bikes program’s building is closed, but the staff is still volunteering three days a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday) outside of the building on Buffalo Street.

“This national crisis, as you may know, has caused our board leadership to make a number of decisions in response to the effects it has had on our organization,” the email stated. “With respect to our financial well being and a determination to assure that our organization is in good standing during and beyond these difficult times, we regret to inform you that we will not be able to continue your employment with our organization at this time.”

Social media talk of the layoffs centered on “impending budget cuts” handed down by the City of Ithaca’s government, but Southside is a non-profit organization, not a city department nor a city-operated facility. The City of Ithaca does usually make an annual donation to the organization around $150,000 to help with costs; that number has remained consistent over the last three years. Mayor Svante Myrick was unaware of the layoffs at Southside, and said that while the 2021 budget has not been set yet, he did not project cuts to the organization. 

“My budget isn’t going to cut Southside,” Myrick said. 

The board’s statement does end with a note of potential optimism that Southside may be able to rehire its employees once the economy recovers and the pandemic ends—whenever that may be. The board asked for “faith and trust” from the community during the current turbulence. 

“As a board, we pledge to do what is best for the Southside Community Center,” the board said. “Trust that when we open our doors, we will welcome all community members through our doors as we carry on through these turbulent times. Southside is an independent, non-for-profit organization which is almost 100 years old. We envision exponential growth for the next 100 as we stay true to our mission to affirm, empower, and foster the development of self-pride among the African-American citizens of greater Ithaca.”

Ithaca Voice reporter Anna Lamb contributed to this report. 

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com