Positive Nature, the nonprofit that serves some of the most vulnerable kids in the city with after-school and summer programs, had operated out of a converted warehouse in the shadow of Nationals Park. Before the new stadium opened last spring, the operation had already accumulated $200,000 in debt, stemming from its lease obligation to pay property taxes. One thing was clear: It had to move.
After a six-month struggle involving rallies, a bucket drive on Opening Day, and several D.C. Council hearings, Positive Nature forged a new deal with the city. The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) found the nonprofit a new home at the DC Center for Therapeutic Recreation on G Street SE and made Positive Nature a partner. The nonprofit relocated over the Labor Day weekend and celebrated recently with an open house.
Co-director Jennifer Murphy says the displacement and move were difficult, but “ultimately, we didn’t have a choice.”
Positive Nature had been in existence for eight-and-a-half years and worked with more than a thousand at-risk kids, many of them in foster care. But Murphy faced major budget problems and had started paying employees with credit cards.
The idea of moving into one of the soon-to-be vacant schools was considered and set aside. A bill introduced in the D.C. Council—the “Positive Nature Property Tax Exemption Forgiveness Act”—went nowhere. In the meantime, the directors heard rumors their warehouse rental had a potential buyer.
When DPR stepped up, Murphy adds she got another bit of good news—her old landlord agreed to absorb their stadium-related property-tax debt. “They were pretty damn phenomenal,” she says. “We got a break. They came through in the end. They could have evicted us at any time. I still don’t know why they cut us a break.”
In their new home, all the offices and the programs—the entire operation—had to be run out of the gym for a week, in part because the facility wasn’t ready to accommodate the new tenants. “A lot of toes got stepped on,” Murphy says.
Some DPR employees still in the building seemed unsure as to where they fit in. John Stokes, the department’s director of communication, says a few of them are assigned to work at the facility’s pool. The pool, however, isn’t open. It’s being renovated.
“They all have the same shirts on—Positive Nature,” Stokes says. “I’m not aware of folks not having anything to do…I think sometimes when you have change, I think change can be seen as difficult to some people. We’ve not witnessed anything. It was a smooth transition.”
Murphy and co-director Brian Bailey do credit DPR Director Clark E. Ray with saving their nonprofit. “This was an outside-the-box way of doing it. And he was willing to take the risk,” Murphy says. “This is exciting. I do think it’s visionary.”
Part of the vision means Murphy’s and Bailey’s days are now consumed with evicting an infestation of mice and mosquitoes while they adjust to their new responsibilities. Their staff plans to expand services from 35 to 75 kids, and they’re now providing daytime programming for special-needs adults.
“The agreement with DPR and Positive Nature marks the first time where one of our partners will be fully programming a DPR facility,” says Stokes. “It’s positive. It’s a win-win.”
(City Paper photo of Brian Bailey, left, and Jennifer Murphy by Staff Photographer Darrow Montgomery)