I-TEAM: Financial woes put Justice Coalition in danger of shutting down

Nonprofit has been helping crime victims and their families for nearly 25 years

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A Jacksonville charity that's devoted to families affected by violent crime is in grave danger of shutting down because the nonprofit is failing financially, the News4Jax I-TEAM has learned. 

The Justice Coalition helps people in eight Northeast Florida counties. Advocates have represented victims of violent attacks and the families of homicide victims for nearly 25 years. The nonprofit has also published a paper to raise awareness about unsolved cases. But now leaders said the organization is days away from shutting down if it can't make the budget. 

"Not being able to support the victims and not knowing where would we send them? And what would they do? What would they do without us?" said victim advocate Jo-Lee Manning. 

The advocates have helped thousands of families over the years. Right now, they have more than 500 open cases and helping costs about $1,000 per case, per year. That’s money they just haven’t been able to raise.

At the Justice Coalition, the faces of homicide victims from the area are front and center as victim advocates work to care for their families.

"They were there in court every time. And that’s important to me that we offer that same support to other families," Manning said.

Manning’s daughter, Haley, was killed in a hit-and-run in 2013. Manning used the services and is now a victim advocate, helping other families as they go through tragedy.

"Thinking about our victims and that we may not be here for them -- that’s scary for them," Manning said.

On Tuesday, the I-TEAM sat down with an emotional group of staff and volunteers who are worried the 24-year-old nonprofit will go under.

"We do fundraisers and our fundraisers have not released the funds that we had successfully in the past," board chairman Robert Bracewell said.

Bracewell said they need about $3,000 to pay the bills by the end of the week and they’ve only secured a third of the revenue needed to operate for the rest of the year.

"We cut everything to the bone as much as possible. We skimp on costs. A lot of times, we spend out of our own pocket to buy stuff that we need and it’s expensive helping victims," Bracewell said.

The operating budget is supposed to be $450,000 a year. They rely on grants and donations. Fundraisers aren’t making what they used to. Times have been tough since longtime executive director Ann Dugger stepped down in 2016. Michael Liles later took the helm after his wife Debbie was murdered. But he died last year.

Frances Futrill has been a volunteer at the Justice Coalition for 15 years. Her daughter's murder from 2002 still isn't solved, but she's devoted her life to being there for other devastated families. 

"I’m praying that the doors will stay open so that in the event that my daughter’s case comes before the court, I will have (a) victim's advocate here for me," Futrill said. 

Now, victim advocates at the Justice Coalition are asking for donations to stay running. They will also be hosting a barbecue fundraiser from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at 2820 U.S. 1 South in St. Augustine. The cost is $10 for barbecue dinners, which includes pulled pork with beans and slaw. The event is sponsored by Old City Homes, LLC.

For those interesting in donating to the Justice Coalition, click here.

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