ITHACA, N.Y. –– The Women’s Opportunity Center, a local non-profit that has provided employment-related resources to women in Ithaca for over 40 years, may be in danger of closing their doors permanently.

WOC, which in its four decade existence has expanded to include offices in both Onondaga and Tompkins Counties, announced this week that they have laid off almost all of their employees, not including two managers –– one to run each branch –– and their executive director overseeing operations, due to a “financial emergency” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WOC offers free programs and services to, “advance women’s success in the workplace,” by providing employability skill training.

The New York State Department of Labor annually awards the WOC with the NYS Displaced Homemaker Program grant, a grant program benefiting those that previously provided unpaid services to their family (for example, a stay-at-home mom or dad), people currently unemployed or underemployed and people with loans to find a job and begin a career.

The homemaker program which annually awards the WOC around $250,000, has historically accounted for 40 percent of the center’s income. However, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the DOL has defaulted on grant funding since March.

“We receive a specific grant yearly called the New York State Displaced Homemakers Grant, which accounts for 40 percent of the overall budget and 100 percent for the payroll,” Aryn Fields, a spokesperson for WOC said. “It’s very unclear on if we do receive payment, if we receive any back payment on what they owed since March, or if they’ll just start funding for the rest of the year or if we’re going to have to wait until 2021 or even if we’ll be able to get the grant for 2021.”

As a result of this new found financial emergency, the WOC has laid off eight staff members and surrendered their Syracuse office space.

“This is the absolute worst time for NYS to be reneging on its commitment to us, we are working with clients non-stop who, due to unemployment, are facing homelessness and fighting to feed their families,” said Ryan Harriott, Executive Director of the Tompkins County WOC. “Our organization, but more importantly our clients, are in desperate need of community support while we wait on our state government to fulfill its debt.”

Harriott said that in addition to revenue lost from the state, funding from Tompkins County to benefit the WOC was also cut.

Despite the mass layoff, the WOC is still providing its employability services to clients through the Tompkins County Executive Director, Onondaga County Program Director, and its network of volunteers.

Harriott added that if funding is not restored, the center could be forced to close their doors as early as the end of October. With rising unemployment in New York and nationwide, WOC says that would be an extreme disservice to community members needing employment services now more than ever.

“It’s just such a great little place and I would hate to see anything destroy it,” she said. 

To make up for lost revenue the WOC is applying to various relief funds and alternative grants, but are also looking to the community for support and accepting donations online or by mail to 315 N. Tioga St. Ithaca, NY.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com