CLEARWATER — Shanese Williams got pregnant last year when she was in eighth grade at Osceola Middle School.
Now a high school freshman with a 6-month-old son named Joshua, she attends a Clearwater school run by the YWCA of Tampa Bay for teens who are pregnant or have had babies.
"If I didn't come here, it means I wouldn't go to school," said Williams, 15. "I would have gone to the stage of dropping out."
But the future of her school — known as Adolescent Pregnant and Parenting Services, or APPS — and the 22 girls it serves on S Lincoln Street is uncertain.
Also in danger of disappearing or being scaled back are four other YWCA programs that serve 600 people, most of them young, throughout Pinellas County.
The venerable YWCA, a pioneering social service provider in Pinellas County, has been put on "corrective action" by the county's Juvenile Welfare Board, the primary funder of services for youth.
In the past three years, the YWCA has run deficits, with the biggest one — $367,000 — coming in 2005.
JWB board members also fear the YWCA's administration is unstable: The St. Petersburg-based agency has had three executive directors in four years.
So the board has given the YWCA a deadline: Show improvements and present a strategy on how you plan to fix your problems by June.
If the JWB is not satisfied, it could vote to pull the YWCA's funding for the remainder of this fiscal year. The YWCA also could lose its JWB allocation of about $2.7-million for the fiscal year that starts in October. That's about half of what it spent on programs last year.
While other local nonprofits also face budget cuts from the JWB and other local government agencies because of the slow economy and state-mandated tax reductions, the YWCA stands out because of the extra scrutiny and its stature in the county.
The Tampa Bay area chapter was established in 1919. It has long prided itself in identifying and addressing community needs.
"The YWCA will not go away," said Joyce Pritchett, the organization's acting executive director. "As always, with any funding change or loss, situations or programs have to be adjusted."
The organization's deficits have gotten smaller, and Pritchett disputes that there even was a deficit last year.
But the JWB's staff doesn't see the one-time bequest that put the organization in the black last year as a long-term solution.
The organization had one long-term executive director until 2004, Pritchett said. The job wasn't a fit for two others.
And the deficits?
"Ever since 2001 we have experienced decreases in contributions because of 9/11," she said. "A lot of things, like Katrina, that are major worldwide events … have decreased contributions, more than just at the Y."
Pritchett said the organization is working on a strategy it will present to the JWB board.
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The pregnant and parenting girls at APPS are among those who could be affected if the YWCA loses its funding.
One afternoon last week, the girls studied with Pinellas County School District staff in a small classroom. Nearby, their babies were being cared for in a colorful nursery.
The girls attend the school for one year, receiving support that includes parenting classes and counseling.
"If we went to regular school a lot of us wouldn't be in school," said Tia Ketter, 17, whose son, Jerome, is 2 months old. "A lot of us can't get child care."
Besides social workers who counsel pregnant students at some Pinellas schools, the APPS school is the only program of its type in North Pinellas.
If the YWCA loses its funding, APPS could disappear or its services would be reduced.
"It would be very different," said Avery Slyker, the YWCA's director of youth services.
"As far as a site for teen parents to come and feel safe, I don't believe it'd be here," she said.
And if the YWCA sees its funding cut, other programs also could be jeopardized:
• YWCA Child Care, which works with schools for pregnant teens in Clearwater and St. Petersburg.
• Family Village, a housing and support program in St. Petersburg for homeless families.
• The Hispanic Services Alliance, which includes a network of representatives from various organizations working to integrate the growing immigrant community in Clearwater into the mainstream.
• YGirlS, a program to build leadership, self-esteem and cultural awareness among girls in St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park and Clearwater.
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JWB officials agree that the programs are valuable. They fit the organization's priorities of preventing child maltreatment, fostering school readiness, cultivating school success and providing a safety net.
Consequently, JWB officials say they would aim to save the programs if the board cuts funding to the YWCA.
"Our hope is that we can get the Y get back on track," JWB executive director Gay Lancaster said. "If they are unable to, we would ask another provider to take that model and provide that service."
Jose Cardenas can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.