They were two young men walking different paths that led to a similar destination: Nowhere good.
Krsna Clark, who grew up in the Fields Corner neighborhood of Dorchester, had one foot in the street life and one foot out. He was being recruited by gangs, lost loved ones to violence, and didn’t see much sense in school. Romello Williams would bounce from Dorchester to Quincy, where after graduation, he sat at home, unemployed and playing video games.
Both now are pursuing better futures, in part, because of a longtime nonprofit, Dorchester Youth Collaborative, which faces an uncertain future of its own. Clark and Williams, both 20, are preparing to graduate from North Bennet Street School’s Locksmithing and Security Technology Program, thanks to a partnership with the collaborative, a center that provides mentoring, jobs, and recreation for low-income and at-risk youth.
At the same time, the 35-year-old nonprofit is fighting to raise enough money to keep its doors open. And Clark said he can’t imagine his life — or neighborhood without DYC “because I honestly don’t know where I would be.”
“The reality is we will close down if we don’t raise a lot of funds, and very quickly,” said Emmett Folgert, the group’s executive director. “We have a real bad cash flow problem.”
The collaborative, he said, relies heavily on grants and donations to stay afloat. But its finances, which fluctuate from year to year, have been in a downward spiral, according to the nonprofit monitoring website GuideStar.
The nonprofit’s total revenue was $951,501 in 2011, when it ended the year with $42,902 in the black, according to the Internal Revenue Service 990 forms posted on GuideStar. Four years later, DYC’s total revenue was $438,936, and it was $48,088 in the red, the forms show.
“Our problem lies with government money,” Folgert said, adding that the funds typically hit the organization’s bank account between October and December. “We’ve come to a point where we’re going to have to give up on government money and run smaller programs and get more money from individuals and philanthropies.”
According to Kristen J. McCormack, faculty director of the nonprofit executive program at Boston University, the collaborative is not alone in its financial woes. An increased number of nonprofits are competing for a dwindling pot of money, she said.
“Every source is under pressure and every source is decreasing,” she said.
For nonprofits with budgets under $5 million, she said, “it’s harder and harder to make a go of it in this environment.”
Folgert said DYC needs about $50,000 to stay open until October. There are several online fund-raisers in the works, but a gap remains. And Mayor Martin J. Walsh will speak at a planned May 8 fund-raiser for the organization in the South End.
To cut costs, Folgert said he stopped taking a salary and the organization is considering downsizing and moving locations.
“We have to change for the times,” he said. “Try some new things.”
‘The reality is we will close down if we don’t raise a lot of funds, and very quickly.’
One thing it will begin to explore more is partnering with such organizations as North Bennet Street School. The school awards scholarships to DYC participants, allowing them to attend tuition-free and guaranteeing a job at the end of their nine-month program. Tuition is about $25,000 a year, said the school’s president, Miguel Gómez-Ibáñez.
Gómez-Ibáñez said he and Folgert met as 2015 fellows with the Barr Foundation, which honors nonprofit and public school executives for their contributions to the community. As they discussed their work, Gómez-Ibáñez said it was “a no-brainer” that they “should work together.”
But before young people are eligible, they must graduate from DYC’s work force development program, which is run by Kenny Johnson.
Johnson said he teaches teens and young adults the fundamentals of having a job, such as showing up on time and taking directions from a supervisor. As part of that training, participants do maintenance work for Catholic Charities, he said.
“Most of these kids that I do work with have never worked a day in their life,” said Johnson. He starts his crews early “because I want to teach them how to get up,” he said recently while sitting with Clark and Williams as the trio recounted their time working together.
Johnson said he sends young men and women home if they are late.
Williams recalled getting more than one phone call from Johnson asking about his whereabouts.
“I’d still be sleeping,” he said, nodding his head.
The response to being awakened?
“ ‘Oh, you’re still sleeping? Word. Don’t come,’ ” Johnson recalled telling him.
“That was teaching them,” he continued, “This is life. This is what’s going to happen in the real world.”
But it worked.
Now both young men are at the North End school at 7:30 a.m., when classes begin. At 12:30 p.m., when classes end, they head to work, Clark at a locksmith shop in Fields Corner and Williams at Home Depot in Quincy.
“This is not for unintelligent people,” Gómez-Ibáñez said. “This is not for people who don’t know how to think. It’s about how you learn. It’s not about reading it in a book.”
And Clark and Williams said they are hands-on learners inspired by the creativity and critical-thinking that locksmithing requires. It’s a like fitting together the pieces of an intricate puzzle that secures a door to your home, house, car – or safe.
“It’s not just about doors and keys. It’s a lifestyle,” said Williams, growing emotional. “It’s people on the same path as me.”
And Dorchester Youth Collaborative’s path will continue — if the nonprofit can make it through September.Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.