Funding cut has agency searching for director, revenue

COPE leader resigns, services curbed after county reduces allocation because of crisis hotline usage
Ozaukee Press staff

Grafton-based COPE Services is looking for addtional sources of revenue and a new director after losing funding support from Ozaukee County this year and next.

The Ozaukee County Health and Human Services Department cut funding for COPE Services from $89,600 to $25,000 in 2018 and the 2019 budget continues that level of support.

COPE Services’ total budget next year is about $158,000. 

COPE Executive Director Cecile Duhnke indicated the lost funding threatens the organization’s mission, which is best known for operating a hot line.

“HHS was our biggest source of support. By them cutting their support so significantly it essentiallly is cutting our legs out from under us,” Duhnke said.

The reason for the cut is that only 7 to 10% of the nearly 25,000 calls to the COPE hotline each year come from county residents. The rest come from all over Wisconsin and some from outside the state.

“We were providing so much funding that we didn’t think that was a responsible thing to do for our taxpayers,” said county HHS Director Liza Drake.

“Quality is not the issue but the number of calls that local residents are making,” Drake said. “I just didn’t think it was a fiscally responsible thing for our taxpayers.”

Duhnke said the reduction in funding has  led to her resigning from COPE, where she has worked since 2015.

“It’s putting a significant stressor on our organization,” Duhnke said. “In fact, I will tell you I am stepping down from my role as a result as of Nov. 16. 

“I feel very strongly the community needs to support this organization. I am not seeing the kind of support that will keep it thriving.”

In response to the funding cut, Duhnke said COPE has reduced the number of calls it takes and is working on launching new initiatives, such as a text line to be more accessible to teenagers and young adults.

COPE was founded in 1978 as the Concerned Ozaukee Parents Exchange by members of the Junior Woman’s Club of Mequon-Thiensville to provide support and guidance to parents. 

In 1981, COPE contracted with Ozaukee County to provide 24-hour access to crisis intervention “for the citizens of Ozaukee County while also remaining an emotional support line for Southeastern Wisconsin and beyond,” according to the COPE web site. 

While often referred to as a “hotline” or crisis call center, Duhnke said only about 5% of COPE’s calls involve a crisis situation. Those calls are immediately referred to professionals.

Drake called it a “warm line” that primarily provides comfort or solace to callers feeling depressed or worried.

“It’s a nice thing to have a warm line but money is tight and there are a lot of initiatives that we are encouraged to support such as the opiod crisis,” Drake said.

Duhnke said many of COPE’s regular have developed relationships with its volunteers. Those from outside the area often find COPE through online searches, she said.

“We do a lot of listening. We have a  number of people who have called us for years and benefit from interaction with our volunteers,” she said.

Duhnke said the organization is at a crossroads and that her resignation is due in part to “the finances, part of it is frankly being a little burned out trying to roll that boulder up the hill and part of it may be the board is a little burned out as well. 

“The board has some big challenges in terms of where the organization goes from here. I know they are preparing for those discussions,” she said.

COPE Chairman, Mark Baumgartner said the agency will continue to pursue its mission and has “weathered the storm this year.”

  “We’ve rolled back some services to cut costs and had some very generous folks  step up,” he said. “We will continue to do what we do.” 

Baumgartner said a longtime COPE employee, Miriam Stern, will replace Duhnke on an interim basis during the search for a permanent replacement

Meanwhile, COPE is holding a Rockin’ on the River fundraiser from 7 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, at The Hub on Cedar Creek north of Five Corners in the Town of Cedarburg. For information, go online to or call 262-377-1477.


Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


User login