Underground Railroad Freedom Center in dire need of funds

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center has spent the last several years working to document struggles for freedom in the United States, but now the center is facing a struggle of its own.

On Monday, Rev. Damon Lynch Jr. and Kim Robinson hit the airwaves on Lincoln Ware's talk radio show to get the center's plight out before the public: the center faces a $1.5 million shortfall in its budget for 2012.

Lynch, the co-chair of the Freedom Center's board of directors, said the center's leadership was doing everything it could to turn the museum around, including making new efforts to reach out to underground railroad survivors' families and earn their support for the center's mission.

"That would give an affinity to the families and give a hands on touch to people who actually have the same blood running in their veins that helped create the underground railroad," said Lynch.

Some had criticized the center for failing to do that earlier.

Stephanie Creech, spokeswoman for the center, also outlined other actions that CEO Kim Robinson and others are taking, including a potential partnership with other institution(s) to add revenue producing programs, and reduce costs, creating new programs and exhibits that highlight current issues, better use of the building's space, and building the endowment.

The hunt for heavy-hitting donors to keep the center in the black is on, both in the Tri-State and across the country.  But some are concerned that the city of Cincinnati, or Hamilton County, will be asked to contribute more to prevent the center from failing.

"There's no organization in Cincinnati that's gotten more money over the last 5 years than the Freedom Center," said Chris Finney with COAST. "They've gotten 80 million dollars since they opened their doors in 2006.  I think it was last year the city of Cincinnati gave them a million and a half dollars from the general fund. Nobody gets that kind of treatment but the Freedom Center."

Creech pointed out that the center has cut its budget by 50 percent over the last 5 years and that CEO and Director of Development Kim Robinson is earning $175,000, which is down from the $238,000 that Donald Murphy earned as CEO in 2009.  Robinson came to the center as a retired P&G executive, and gives a portion of his salary back to the center.

He implored those in the area to come, visit the center, get a membership, buy a Christmas gift in the gift shop, and tell others about your visit.

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