The Waco branch of Avance, a nonprofit serving at-risk Latino families with parent-education and English-as-a-second-language courses, among other offerings, is temporarily suspending operations to reorganize its financial model, the board of directors announced Friday in a letter addressed to supporters.

A lack of state and federal funding contributed to the decision to suspend services, but the board plans to develop a new model “over the next several months” and resume services, according to the letter.

“We have taken this difficult decision, proactively, to ensure our future ability to restructure AVANCE Waco while remaining free of any debt,” the letter states. “AVANCE Waco has played an important role in this community for the past 15 years, and the commitment of our board to preserve and strengthen programs for our Latino children and families remains strong. We are committed as a board to operate in a fiscally sustainable manner.”

Chairwoman Sheryl Swanton said she could not expand on the announcement Friday afternoon.

“We are looking at every possibility to continue operations, but we don’t know when that precisely that would be,” Swanton said. “We are trying to redesign the organization so that we can begin the operations as soon as possible and still act in a fiscally responsible manner.”

The Waco branch is part of a national nonprofit started in 1973 focused on parent education, early childhood development, brain development, literacy and school readiness, according to the Waco group’s website. But each branch operates independently under its own board, Swanton said. None of the other branches are tied to the Waco group’s decision, she said.

Avance Waco offers 27 bilingual lessons focused on parent education, taught weekly for nine months and focused on literacy and teaching parents how to best help children develop, the website states.

Swanton, who has served on the board for three years, didn’t have the number of students enrolled in Avance programs or the amount of public money the chapter had lost over the years readily available Friday.

Avance, Spanish for “to progress” or “to advance,” was established in Waco in 2002 with the help of The Bernard & Audre Rapoport Foundation.

Avance personnel were notified of the temporary suspension immediately after a board meeting Wednesday, she said.

“We will be meeting each week, but that’s all I can really tell you,” Swanton said. “It is a temporary suspension, not a closure. I want to make that part extremely plain.”

Avance Waco will establish a task force to tackle the reorganization, she said.

Lonnie Kehrein, a McLennan Community College English-as-a-second-language instructor, felt blindsided by the announcement, she said. Kehrein taught classes at Avance through MCC’s Adult Education and Literacy program, which offers ESL classes throughout the area, she said.

Her last class was Wednesday, and with the short notice, she gathered belongings from Avance’s building Friday, she said.

“The wonderful thing about Avance is they provided child care for preschool children,” she said. “MCC currently doesn’t offer any other site with childcare, so it’s a big blow to these moms.”

Most of her 33 students were mothers with young children, she said.

“I do wish they had given us a little bit of notice so we could have spoken honestly with our students and told them we were going to find other alternatives,” Kehrein said.

The organization posted to Facebook on Sept. 18 asking for donations of $15, $150 and $1,500 as it approached its 15th anniversary. For every family that graduates from the program, the cost is about $3,000, Executive Director Felipe Garza stated in the post. Nothing in the post indicated a financial issue.

AVANCE Waco also posted about a fundraiser scheduled for Nov. 9 at Schlotzsky’s, but as of Friday, Swanton said, “We’ll have to cancel it, I guess.”

The organization has also partnered with Waco Independent School District since 2013. Avance will continue to work with the district and other community partners, Swanton said. In the meantime, the district will try to find ways to help affected families, district spokesperson Kyle DeBeer said.

“We do understand Avance is planning to suspend their operations while they reorganize,” DeBeer said. “Waco ISD is going to take a close look at the needs of the families Avance has served and how we can help support those families.”

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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