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Brickfire officials reply to grant fund dispute with MDHS

October 26, 2012

Representatives of the Brickfire Project say they were given an opportunity to go through a finding-of-fact hearing with Mississippi Department of Human Services regarding the latter agency’s objection to the project’s administration of funds from two grants. If the project had done so, however, it would have cost the city of Starkville more money. Brickfire Project Executive Director Cheikh Taylor said the organization instead opted to pay the $7,699.24 it owes.

The Starkville Board of Aldermen approved a memorandum of understanding with the project last week for the repayment of that balance to the city from a Mississippi Department of Human Services grant audit finding.

The Brickfire project, a non-profit which works with the city to obtain grant funds for providing child care services, is a sub-grantee for MDHS. Starkville provides the organization $5,000 annually to assist in its objectives, which are to “provide child care, after-school tutorial services and summer enrichment programming directly to over 150 low and very-low income students per day,” according to a release.

Taylor said the disagreement with MDHS was over two line items: the leasing of a copier and a contract with AmeriCorps, a federally-supported community service entity.

“We used AmeriCorps to help us with our student-teacher ratio. We did it to have better quality and to broaden the horizons of our students. It didn’t benefit any one individual,” Taylor said. “The option was to go ahead and pay it or to potentially incur additional fees the city would have been on the hook for. At some point we didn’t want to continue to go any further with it.”

“The only reason Brickfire did not pursue pressing (M)DHS about how these items were declared as ineligible line items (is because doing so) would have cost the city of Starkville financial burdens as the lead grantee,” the release states.

The finding, Taylor said, was out of an $800,000 budget awarded to Brickfire by MDHS for the past 20 years and has since been awarded after the dispute for the past three years.

“This speaks to accountability, organizational leadership and strong community partners,” the release states.

Brickfire Chief Executive Officer Helen Taylor said she thinks in time the organization will be able to have the balance removed.

“I feel like down the road I can get this taken off. (The disputed funds didn’t involve) anybody’s travel,” she said. “It was just a dispute. (MDHS) didn’t want to pay it and we thought they should.”

Cheikh Taylor said he wanted to offer the project’s side of the issue because it had not previously been made public.

“We just want to make sure we are always represented in the best of light because we do great work in the community and also because of the relationships with our community partners,” he said. “When you’re a community partner like we are and depend so heavily on community funding, sometimes the temper and the tone of certain things can put a bad light on our organization. We wanted to make sure there was some clarity.”

He said while most who are familiar with the Brickfire Project primarily as a child care organization, but there are many objectives the group addresses on a regular basis.

“The whole idea about Brickfire Project is we’re actually a community development firm, not just childcare. Most people associate it with childcare because it’s the easiest thing to do,” he said. “(The project addresses) economic development, small business, after-school arts agencies, (as well as) home ownership — things that empower small families and low-income individuals to move out of their condition into something more.”

Helen Taylor said she’s thankful to all entities the Brickfire Project has worked with over its more-than-20-year span.

“The city, the board of aldermen (and) all of our funding partners have always been supportive,” she said.

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