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A fighting chance: New committee aims to raise funds for Byrd Center

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Oct 16, 2020

The Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education is located at 213 North King Street. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Last May, the Friends of the Byrd Center realized that the Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education would be running out of funds in Sept. 2021. Without general funds, employee salaries and operations not-covered by grant funding would be left unpaid, forcing the 501(c)3 nonprofit to shut its doors after 19 years of service to the local community, Shepherd University students and scholars across the country. To prevent this from taking place, the Friends of the Byrd Center established a steering committee, during the Friends of the Byrd Center May meeting to raise funds for the center.

On Oct. 8, the steering committee released information about its fundraising plans, during the Friends of the Byrd Center monthly meeting.

“I do want to take a moment to offer a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to you all for your support over the years, especially during this incredibly difficult year,” said Byrd Center Director Jay Wyatt. “Your support has been incredibly important to our successes over the years. I do want to take this moment to, one, let you know how thankful I am for your efforts, but, two, I really look forward to working with you all to ensure this place remains the center of this campus.”

According to Byrd Center Steering Committee Chair Marianne Alexander, the fundraising goal has been set to capitalize on end-of-the-year giving.

“Our goal is to raise $200,000 by January for the Byrd Center, to keep it alive and well. We want the Byrd Center to be around for years to come, and we think we can have a vision that is even broader and more expansive than what already exists now, if we work together,” Alexander said. “We want to shine a light on the Byrd Center, including the work that it does in our community that is less known. You know of the events hosted at the Byrd Center, but the Byrd Center is so much more!”

Byrd Center Archivist and Office Manager Jody Brumage took some time, during the Zoom meeting, to explain the varying programs and events the Byrd Center has to offer. Along with allowing local groups to use the center’s rooms for free, the center is also used to host a number of community and Shepherd University events throughout the year. During the pandemic, those operations have been at a stand-still. However, the Byrd Center has continued to keep its archive doors open for scholastic research. It has also expanded its programming virtually, allowing it to continue offering Byrd Center Teachers Institute courses and other events that promote the center’s mission of “advancing representative democracy.”

According to Brumage, since the center is on Shepherd University’s campus and serves the Shepherd community, its cleaning and electrical bills are taken care of by the university. To offer its free programming, the center depends upon grant funding. But that funding is specifically designated by the grant providers to cover the center’s programming costs. The only way the center could bring in funds to cover its operational costs, is through charging for the use of its building. However, that option has been recognized as problematic, since many of the groups using the center’s facilities — such as the Cafe Society and Lifelong Learning — are nonprofit or not-for-profit themselves.

“We have thought about this issue over the years,” said retired Byrd Center Director Ray Smock. “The board has always felt against it, because it’s not what Senator Byrd wanted. When we looked at the numbers, the cost would drive away some organizations that would like to use the Byrd Center, that are likewise operating on a shoestring budget. They are just as essential. We also don’t want to discourage student participation. In this case, the negatives outweigh the positives.”

So far, the Friends of the Byrd Center have raised $40,000 for the center. To contribute any amount toward the remaining $160,000 goal, contact Brumage at ​304-876-5648 or jbrumage@shepherd.edu.