Fort Worth autism center’s closing underscores financial challenges facing nonprofits

Written by Fort Worth Report

by David Moreno, Fort Worth Report
April 13, 2024

Melinda Opitz, 47, always looked forward to the start of the week. Every Monday, she’d take her 12-year-old son to Hope Center for Autism in Fort Worth. 

Opitz’s son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of 10. He received applied behavior analysis therapy and other services from Hope Center and its division, The Bridge of Hope Academy, for two years. He loved it there, Opitz said. 

On the evening of March 24, Opitz received a “shocking” email from Hope Center executive director Susan Wood that the nonprofit would be closing its doors immediately due to funding issues. Opitz was going to have to find a new clinic — quickly. 

“We were just shell-shocked,” she said. “When you’re doing a therapy that’s working and for it to be disrupted, it throws off this child’s life.” 

Unknown to Opitz and other families, Hope Center for Autism’s 990 tax filings revealed inconsistent net income figures in recent years. The nonprofit’s plight underscores the challenges many smaller nonprofit businesses face, according to Barbara Clark-Galupi, publisher of Dallas Fort Worth Nonprofit Business Journal.

“We deeply regret the situation that we found ourselves in, ongoing funding shortfalls, led to the closure,” Susan Wood, executive director at Hope Center, said in a statement. “The decline in successful fundraising events and overall donations over this time period, as well as parents not being able to keep up with their tuition each year, it became harder to keep up.”

‘Exhausted every resource’

In 2022, Hope Center’s revenue was $1,111,572 with expenses of $1,115,742. The organization lost $4,170 that year. Liabilities higher than its assets resulted in negative net assets of $69,298 for the organization. 

In 2021, the organization’s revenue was $906,123, but expenses of $1,067,203 resulted in a $161,080 loss. 

“We have worked tirelessly and have exhausted every resource in an attempt to continue,” Wood previously wrote on Facebook. 

Smaller-scale nonprofits like Hope Center are facing similar financial issues created by challenges in continuous funding, impact of inflation, and shortages in workforce and pay, said Clark-Galupi.

“Over the last few years, nonprofits have been getting strained as those rates come up,” she said. “These nonprofits are competing for funding, donors, and the hearts and wallets of individuals to contribute to their organization.”

In 2023, 66.3% of nonprofits identified budget constraints and insufficient funds, which is mainly related to salary competition, according to a survey conducted by the National Council of Nonprofits. 

Seven out of 10 nonprofits anticipated charitable donations to decrease or remain flat in 2023, while 68.7% of nonprofits anticipate the number of donors to decrease or remain flat, according to another study from the National Council of Nonprofits. 

Those struggling nonprofit organizations should develop strategies that boost their community presence and fundraising revenue to help generate money, said Clark-Galupi. 

Former employee, client search for answers

Hope Center for Autism focused on providing services and support to families who have children with autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disabilities at its Fort Worth and Wichita Falls locations.

What is autism spectrum disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others. It also affects how they communicate, learn and behave. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it generally appears in the first two years of life. The abilities of people with autism can vary significantly.

The organization’s applied behavior analysis therapy focuses on improving social skills, including communication, academics, fine motor dexterity, hygiene and job competence. 

Hope Center’s The Bridge of Hope Academy, a division which also closed, offered kindergarten to fourth grade classes focused on individualized academic learning. The staff taught core subjects, such as math, science and reading, as well as art and social skills.

Hope Center for Autism’s services offered support to families who have children with autism spectrum disorder or intellectual disabilities at its Fort Worth and Wichita Falls locations.
(David Moreno | Fort Worth Report)

Michael Finn was suddenly out of a job, but her first concern was for her six clients. As a board certified behavior analyst at Hope Center, she knew children on her caseload were reliant upon ABA therapy. She began referring families to other clinics for free, she said. 

“I have an ethical obligation to them to not just ditch them,” she said. “I wanted to make sure they got all the assessments, treatment plans and information on other centers nearby. It’s about making sure they still felt supported even through this.” 

Other ABA therapy options in Fort Worth

Fort Worth clinics with ABA therapy include The Full Spectrum Child, Action Behavior Centers, Autism Treatment Center, Lighthouse Therapy Center of Fort Worth, ACES Fort Worth and Thrive Behavior Centers.

Finn had been notified via email of Hope Center for Autism’s closure the same day as Opitz and was told not to come into work the next day. Wood and Troy Hall, the operations manager at Hope Center, weren’t effectively communicating after the email was sent out, she said.

“Susan was not communicative at first,” said Finn. “I honestly wasn’t believing it at first and I messaged Troy and he never responded.”

Finn said she and other board certified behavior analysts at Hope Center weren’t made aware of any financial issues before the closure. 

“Therapy is funded by insurance, so we are really confused how it’s even possible for this to happen,” she said. “If therapy is paid for and then some, plus we have donations coming in, where is the money going? Why couldn’t we have switched to in-home therapy to avoid the need to pay for property?”

Opitz said it has been difficult finding another clinic in Fort Worth that can provide applied behavior analysis therapy to her son. Several clinics she has applied for, with assistance from Finn, are waitlisted until May, she said.  

“This has been really hard for me,” she said. “It’s like we’re back at square one. We didn’t have any time to plan things.”

Optiz’s son has also been struggling with the closure. 

“He’s frustrated with it and he’s sad, because he loves those people,” she said. “All of a sudden, his structure was dropped. We’re leaning on his other therapies, but there is a missing link.” 

Opitz wishes Hope Center for Autism had been transparent with its clients about its financial situation. 

“Susan is an amazing woman and Hope was an amazing place, but I just don’t understand why the board didn’t give prior notice,” said Opitz. “If (Hope Center) had informed us they were in dire need, that would’ve been helpful. I wish more people would have known, we could have saved the operation somehow, someway.” 

Nonprofit organizations should strive to be transparent with their clients, community and organizations stakeholders, said Clark-Galupi.

“Authenticity and trust is the new currency,” she said. “It’s imperative that (nonprofits) continue to earn and retain the public’s trust. Oftentimes it’s seen as a deficit. It’s usually better to keep people in the loop in advance.” 

Wood said Hope Center for Autism will remain closed.

David Moreno is the health reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact him at or @davidmreports on X.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license. publishes every week.
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