Agency struggles to keep lights on

Drug agency staffers dig into their pockets while county drags its feet on funding

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The desks abutting one another in the offices of the Baldwin Council Against Drug Abuse, better known as the Baldwin Community House, don’t match. Claudia Rotondo, executive director of BCADA since 1994, stashes her purple purse — which matches her purple shoes, shawl, earrings, bracelets, slacks and eye shadow — under a splintery wooden hunk that appears to have been yanked out of a 1970s middle school office.

Rotondo’s legion of 18 interns and part-time staff work on a variety of similarly humble furnishings: three eager young ladies from Adelphi University crowd around a tiny writing desk in a counseling office, and two more volunteers share a repurposed table with a clinical psychologist.

The rest of the furniture in the low-slung offices at 950 Church St., in an alley behind the Atlantic Avenue Waldbaums, is in keeping with the desks. A threadbare red couch is where “clients” seeking help with their addiction woes sit, the art on the walls looks like it was purchased in bulk from a Goodwill store, and a saggy orange lamp casts a sallow glow over the scene.

“All donations,” Rotondo explains, twirling her purple-ringed forefinger to encompass the room, the offices and perhaps, it seems, the neighborhood itself. “But we’re here to serve people, no matter what.”

No one goes into social work for the money, but for the last few months, the BCADA has not only been underfunded, it has actually borrowed money from its employees. “I’m using my American Express card to buy groceries,” says Debra Cassidy, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who started at the Community House as an intern 2002. “We haven’t been paid since December. I have two other jobs and I still have to borrow the money I need to keep my life going.”

“Feb. 28 will mark our fourth missed payroll,” confirms Rotondo, leafing through a folder of files. “I’m buying toilet paper, coffee, urine sample cups out of my own pocket. We had a board member volunteer to pay the phone bill so the phones wouldn’t be shut off. I can’t make my mortgage payments and I’m accruing late fees on my credit cards. None of that money will be refunded. And meanwhile, funding we’re supposed to have in hand is tied up with the county and we can’t figure out how to avoid the logjam.”

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