Survivor services org receives $26 million grant; Nelsonville partner status in limbo

The Nelsonville-based nonprofit Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program is poised to expand rapidly over the next few years, with over $30 million in federal and state funding going toward new housing, advocacy, workforce training and mental health services initiatives for survivors of domestic abuse.

NELSONVILLE, Ohio – The Nelsonville-based nonprofit Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program is poised to expand rapidly over the next few years, with over $30 million in federal and state funding going toward new housing, advocacy, workforce training and mental health services initiatives for survivors of domestic abuse.

However, some of that funding’s implementation, intended for beautification in Nelsonville, has been called into question amid strained relations between SAOP and the city.

As part of its existing New Leaf Justice Enterprises initiative, SAOP plans to build “recovery villages” for program participants, who will live in provided housing, receive services and have the ability to work at the New Leaf Marketplaces. 


A “village” of scattered independent housing provided by the program and one marketplace location already exist in Nelsonville, with others planned for Athens and Glouster, and later, Middleport in Meigs County.

The funding, provided largely through $26 million from Gov. Mike DeWine’s Appalachian Community Grant Program and $5 million in federal Community Development Block Grants, represents a massive increase in the agency’s budget. As of fiscal year 2020, the most recent year available, its total annual revenue was $490,986.

The proposal includes support for small businesses such as Dirty Girl Coffee; “trauma-informed property management” from local company Capstone Property Management; research on the use of carbon-based materials for building; constructing 3D-printed houses for a transitional housing village in Glouster; a new child advocacy center in Athens, also serving Meigs and Hocking counties; and a mental health drop-in facility in Gallipolis.

It received the largest allocation of the first four projects funded by the $500 million Appalachian Community Grant Program. The program, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, is overseen by the Governor’s Office of Appalachia and the Ohio Department of Development and is “designed to bring about transformational change and be a catalyst for future development by providing generational investments in the Appalachian region.”

SAOP’s proposal received 51.6% of the first $50 million awarded.

Nelsonville funding “has not been pulled”

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New Nelsonville City Manager Bernard “Bernie” Roell assured residents at the regular City Council meeting Monday night that the city has not lost promised funding from SAOP. The $1.4 million grant is for downtown beautification of Nelsonville’s Washington Street.

The “Washington Street Corridor Revitalization Project” will run from the “public square to the end of East and West Washington streets.” It includes the “full replacement of the sidewalk, streetlights, ADA ramps, and curbs” outside of the many facilities SAOP operates on the street, according to the program application.

A March 30 email by SAOP Executive Director Jennifer Seifert was leaked on social media on March 31. According to an April 1 press release by City Auditor Taylor Sappington, Seifert’s email was in response to former city manager Tracy Galway announcing her leave. 

In the email, addressed to Galway, Seifert wrote: “This development makes it evident to us that the city will lack the bandwidth to implement the project in a manner consistent with our current understanding of the project timelines.…We will not be moving forward with subaward negotiations at this time.”

A post about the email appeared on the Nelsonville CrackHeads Facebook page. Korey Whitmore, an administrator of the page, told the Independent that his source was a Facebook comment by former city council member Cory Taylor, who resigned from the council in January. Taylor did not respond to a request for comment.

A screenshot of the email, which does not include the full exchange between the city and Seifert, was posted in the comments by former City Manager Scott Frank. Frank has not responded to the Independent’s request for comment on how he obtained the email.

On Monday night, Roell told council that after the leak, he reached out to Seifert and to the Governor’s Office of Appalachia about the subgrant. 

“That grant [has] gone up to the governor level,” Roell said in the meeting. “Just to reassure everybody it’s gotten quite a bit of attention — and I’ve been reassured by John Carey, who is the director for the governor’s office [of Appalachia], that that grant has not been pulled, and we’re going to work together — the governor’s office, Jennifer Seifert and myself — to make sure that Nelsonville gets funding for that grant, whatever it takes.”

Roell has not responded to the Independent’s requests for copies of emails between Seifert and Galway, and any follow-ups between Seifert and himself. He told the Independent, in reference to other requested records, that he needed to seek the city council’s input on how to handle requests, which is not standard practice. An email thread provided by Sappington that was forwarded to him by Galway, which he said may not include all emails between Seifert and the city managers, did not provide any additional context.

Seifert and SAOP declined to comment, referring to a statement released by Sarah Wickham, the chief communications and marketing officer for the Ohio Department of Development. 

The statement reads, “Any grant agreement amendments, including changes to subgrantees, must be made in consultation with the Governor’s Office of Appalachia (GOA) within the Ohio Department of Development. Funding determinations and project revisions are ultimately the decision of the Department of Development, not an eligible lead applicant of a grant award.

Currently, GOA is in the process of finalizing grant agreements with all eligible lead applicants.  Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program (SAOP) has not notified GOA of any intent to remove subgrantees or eligible activities from the project.”

In an interview, Sappington said that he put out a press release on the funds being pulled because he was receiving inquiries about posts on social media. Seifert’s email, which he said Galway forwarded to him shortly after it was received, “didn’t have any indication” of room for negotiation, in Sappington’s reading. 

“At the time of release on Saturday, it seemed like it was going to be impossible to even get the grant implemented, even if we were able to change their mind, because we didn’t have enough council members to make quorum. And so both professionally as the auditor and personally as a citizen, I was pretty incensed that the situation was what it was,” he said. 

Additional reporting by Dani Kington

Disclosure: Jen Seifert was the board president of Southeast Ohio Independent News, which publishes the Athens County Independent, from the board’s formation in August 2022 to January 2023. The authors of this article participated in a handful of group meetings with her, but otherwise never worked directly with her while she was a member of the organization. Dani Kington and editor Corinne Colbert worked with Seifert directly. Members of the board have no control or influence over the newsroom’s editorial decisions or individual reporters.

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