The MERCI Board in its meeting on March 12 learned that the Executive Committee, which functions as the personnel committee of the Board, has eliminated three of the staff positions. “The decision was predicated solely on the basis of financial data. It is no reflection on the management or skills of the staff,” said the Rev. Billy Olsen, a member of the Executive Committee.
“In reviewing the growing deficit of the organization, it became apparent that reserves would be exhausted before the end of 2009 unless changes were made,” said Olsen. “Current levels of income are not adequate to support six staff members. The required decision is intended to preserve the long-term sustainability of MERCI.”
Among those released from the Center, effective March 31, are the Rev. Jim Huskins, program director; the assistant volunteer coordinator, and the assistant warehouse manager.
MERCI is dependent on contributions, through the Conference Advance or gifts to the organization and grants, for its $449,000 budget for 2009. The North Carolina Conference does not provide operating funds for MERCI, but does provide the facilities for the ministry provided for eastern NC.
MERCI Volunteer Coordinator Ann Huffman estimates 1 million lives are touched by MERCI in a year. Some receive the care of MERCI volunteers who respond following a disaster. Other disaster-affected areas benefit from the health kits and flood buckets prepared by United Methodists at MERCI. Food and supplies shipped from MERCI for the NC Conference Board of Missions have gone to Haiti, Liberia, Rwanda or other places where this mission has provided life-sustaining support for thousands.
MERCI began as a Disaster Recovery Ministry after Hurricane Floyd devastated eastern North Carolina. The North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church pledged to help as many people as possible for as long as possible.
In 2006, after a brief experience with affordable housing, “MERCI has decided that disaster response is where God needs them to be.” This statement from the Operating Manual of MERCI is the direction of the organization once again.
“Assuring the viability of MERCI as a Disaster Response and Recovery ministry is the primary objective of the tough decision to eliminate these staff positions. The NC Conference is grateful for the hard work and the dedication of every member of the team.” said the Rev. Carol Goehring, executive director of Conference Connectional Ministries and a member of the Executive Committee.
In addition to Disaster Response and Recovery ministry, there are a few ministries that will continue to be offered at MERCI. One of these is the Footprints program held during the summer. The program offers young people opportunities for service and spiritual formation under the direction of a Field Education intern from Duke Divinity School and other staff.
Volunteers are needed for the ongoing ministry of MERCI, not just following a disaster. Financial contributions also are needed, even with the reduced staff, to sustain the organization, paying for utilities, equipment and other operating costs.