The Multicultural Center of Cache Valley has a permanent resident: a one-eyed gerbil. Center director Ernesto Lopez, who installs an immediately appreciated wheel into the gerbil’s habitat, explains that the black fur-ball is a remnant from a short-lived bilingual preschool program.
"It was costing the center more money than could be afforded. Due to that reason, the program had to end, and we inherited the mascot—the pet to that program, which was a gerbil."
The Multicultural Center helps nonnative people in the valley with everything from translation services to legal and financial advice, all for no charge. The center is likely to face a similar fate to its preschool program. The center faces a budget crisis, and board chairman Blaise Chanson anticipates they will be out of money by the end of the year.
"We're facing a tremendous crisis. We've been able to maintain our services over the 18 years, but it's basically hand-to-mouth."
The center receives no money from the state or federal government, so they depend solely on grants and private donations. Therefore, Chanson points to a sour economy as a reason why donations have dried up.
"Since the 2008 financial recession, those funds have really diminished."
Another problem, as Lopez notes, is a lack of awareness. Lopez says many people in Cache Valley don’t realize what an important service the center provides.
"It's an assistance that, if you see it, you will understand it and you will value it, and you most likely will want to donate to the purpose of this place. And this assistance can make the difference sometimes for even somebody who's been in domestic violence, being able to reach the help that they need."
Chanson says helping minorities is something to whole valley has a vested interest in.
"We do not want to have segregated cultures that have such extreme differences that it promotes problems. We want to have a fabric of community here in Cache Valley that is accommodating to us all. And that's what we've been doing for 18 years. That's what we would like to do for the next 18 years."
Without more funding, the future is bleak for the Multicultural Center of Cache Valley. Its clients might have few places left to turn.