Soldiering on

The Sacramento Performing Arts Conservatory and Girls Self-Esteem Project may be looking for new homes as South Oak Park community center gets new landlord

Kids find themselves through music at the Sacramento Performing Arts Conservatory, which may have to leave the Fruit Ridge Community Collaborative.

Kids find themselves through music at the Sacramento Performing Arts Conservatory, which may have to leave the Fruit Ridge Community Collaborative.

Photo courtesy of sacramento performing arts conservatory

For nearly five years, the Fruit Ridge Community Collaborative has been a fortress of hope within one of Sacramento’s most struggling areas. It is a place where 25 different nonprofits came together under one roof and pooled their resources and expertise to combat a history of disinvestment and disparity that’s long plagued the streets of South Oak Park.

At the start of December, however, two of those nonprofits—Girls Self-Esteem Program and the Sacramento Performing Arts Conservatory—ran into problems with their leases.

G-SEP’s leader Kandice Kelly shared her concerns on social media, which unintentionally led to widespread confusion about who owns the unique campus, who operates it and whether it’s in danger of closing all its doors. It was a Facebook flare-up that left many in the community speculating that the entire collaborative—and all the work it does—was in peril.

Last week, a tenants’ group representing a majority of the Collaborative’s members said there is no threat of the campus being shuttered, even as the fate of the two groups with lease challenges is less clear.

Working-class heroes

According to a special Sacramento County commission tasked with erasing African-American child deaths, the neighborhood around Stockton Boulevard and Fruitridge Road has struggled with disproportionately high rates of poverty, infant mortality, gang violence and child abuse and neglect.

In recent years, the groups working at Fruit Ridge Community Collaborative have slowly changed that grim trajectory by providing addiction treatment, prenatal care, assistance with family health, court-mandated parenting classes, gang prevention strategies and a host of support networks designed to empower and strengthen the community.

Lately, there has been reason to believe the Collaborative’s frontline service providers are making a difference, especially with their work through the Black Child Legacy Campaign. That multifaceted initiative is now credited with lowering black infant sleep-related deaths by at least 29% across Sacramento County in the last three years. The county also experienced zero child murders throughout 2018.

The elementary school grounds housing the Collaborative are owned by the Sacramento City Unified School District, while the lease is held by a Bay Area nonprofit, the Social Good Fund, which collects rents from the nonprofits and pays SCUSD. It’s an arrangement that was carefully crafted to keep rents low, thus maintaining the Collaborative’s vital work. But it was also an experiment that a number of nonprofit leaders say had to evolve.

In making those adjustments, G-SEP and Sacramento Performing Arts Conservatory found themselves in a bind.

New strategy for survival

According to the Collaborative’s Interim Tenant Board, it became clear in 2017 that the cost of managing and maintaining the building was running an annual deficit of roughly $90,000. This was partly because rents had been kept at very low levels.

The tenant board confirmed in an official letter last week that, in 2017, rents were raised by roughly $300 per month for all groups in the Collaborative. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to the tenant board, the building’s former on-site management neglected to raise the rents for Girls Self-Esteem Project and the Sacramento Performing Arts Conservatory at that time. It was this inconsistency that led to so much online concern this month.

Some of the nonprofits in the Collaborative asked fellow Sacramento service provider PRO Youth and Families to take over as the Collaborative’s building leader and site manager. The organization, which helps young people overcome trauma and other disadvantages, agreed to that in 2018.

“They’re a longstanding agency in our community with a great reputation for serving youth, so it made a lot of sense,” said Shannon Read, executive director of Her Health First and a member of the tenant board.

Recently, the rents were raised by the Collaborative to be consistent.

A hard December

On Dec. 1, Kelly took to Facebook to announce that her Girls Self-Esteem Project’s rent, along with that of the Sacramento Performing Arts Conservatory, was being raised to similar rates as the Collaborative’s other 23 nonprofits and was leading to eviction notices for both groups. Kelly noted this coincided with PRO Youth and Families taking over as the manager.

Kelly also described these developments as contributing, in her view, to the continued “gentrification of Oak Park.”

The Collaborative’s tenant board strongly pushed back against that assertion in an open letter. “We are pleased to share that, of the 25 agencies who are tenants at [the Fruit Ridge Community Collaborative], 21 are led by people of color and 13 of those agencies are African American-led,” its members wrote.

Kelly confirmed to SN&R this week that her organization was in talks with potential donors to make up the difference in rent, though she added that it wasn’t clear if that help could get the Collaborative’s management to rescind its notice to vacate.

She said she was not authorized to do a full interview at this time.

For her part, Read wants South Sacramento neighborhoods to know that the vast majority of the Collaborative’s groups will keep providing the assistance and support that residents expect.

“The benefit of the Collaborative is that it’s seated in the heart of the South Oak Park community and is in walking distance of a lot of peoples’ homes,” Read said. “This is a one-stop shop where people can come and get services.”