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Reading youth arts group regains nonprofit status, continues anti-violence work

RIZE is again eligible to receive grants for its programs geared toward kids and young adults.

  • Anthony Orozco
A long crowd of young marchers wind into Reading's City Park for the Berks4Peace march and rally Saturday.

Anthony Orozco / WITF

A long crowd of young marchers wind into Reading's City Park for the Berks4Peace march and rally Saturday.

(Reading) — More than 300 people attended the Berks4Peace march and rally in Reading over the weekend.

Elected officials and community activists called on youth to take an active role in discouraging violence and alerting adults if conflict is imminent. It was the culmination of months of planning for anti-violence organizations, including RIZE and its founder, Edna Garcia-Dipini.

After the jam-packed day of hosting the event, Garcia-Dipini arrived at home and noticed she had a letter waiting for her.

For months, she had been trying to regain the group’s nonprofit status, which the IRS pulled because the agency said the group had not filed required paperwork. As a result, RIZE had lost out on hundreds of thousands of grant dollars.

“I see ‘IRS’ and I’m like, ‘okay, oh, my god, is this what I think it is?’ And I opened it and there it was,” Garcia-Dipini said. “I fell to my knees; I was hysterical crying. It was, it was…I’m at a loss for words in regards to it.”

Edna Garcia-Dipini

The letter Edna Garcia-Dipini said she opened Saturday after finishing the Berks4Peace march and rally in Reading.

Garcia-Dipini said she does not know exactly how the issue was resolved.

She said she suspects advocacy from the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs and offices of lawmakers who represent Pennsylvania and Berks such as U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, U.S. Rep Dan Meuser, state Sen. Judy Schwank may have helped in reinstating the nonprofit status.

She said perhaps even WITF’s report last month on the group being awarded and then losing out on a $225,000 state grant after falsely claiming it had nonprofit status drew attention to the issue and may have helped move the needle.

The IRS first designated the group with 501(c)(3) as a tax-exempt status in 2014, retroactively starting in 2012.

The status is reserved for groups dedicated to charitable, religious, educational and similar purposes. These sorts of groups must also produce an annual return, known as a form 990.

The IRS’s public information on RIZE reports the agency completed an “auto-revocation” of its 501(c)(3) in 2016. That happens when an organization does not file a form 990-series tax return or notice for three consecutive years.

 

Garcia-Dipini has maintained that RIZE has given the IRS all materials it has ever requested of the group. She also contends that the revocation was completed sometime before April 2021 and was retroactive. She also said that the IRS never made her aware of the revocation.

The IRS information page for RIZE does not show the group’s 501(c)(3) has been reinstated, but it does state “it does not mean the organization is currently revoked, as they may have been reinstated.” The last date the page was updated was in November 2020.

Anthony Orozco / WITF

RIZE founder, Edna Garcia-Dipini, addressing a crowd Saturday in front of the dove statue in Reading’s City Park.

The IRS’s master list of charities has not been updated since the determination letter was issued to RIZE, and the organization does not appear on that database yet.

Garcia-Dipini said the lack of public information is an example of the difficulty working with the IRS.

“That should be automatic; you send the letter out, boom, update it on your website,” Garcia-Dipini said. “They have a responsibility to nonprofits, to businesses, to citizens, to have this information properly in their system.”

Garci-Dipini said she is now looking forward to getting back to applying for local and state grants to fund RIZE’s arts and anti-violence programming. She said she has been contacting funding agencies to let them know RIZE is again eligible for grants.

“I’m just eager to do the work,” Garcia-Dipini said. “With the right resources, and the right community backing, I just know that we will see an impactful change for social awareness and violence prevention.”

The Berks County Community Foundation, which had denied RIZE a grant last year due to their lost status, confirmed they received the IRS letter, and confirmed the group is an active nonprofit through the foundation’s normal review process.

Anthony Orozco / WITF

State Rep. Manuel Guzman Jr., a Reading Democrat, asks the crowd at Saturday’s Berks4Peace march and rally if they have ever contacted an elected official before.

Berks Youth Violence Prevention roundtable is a group of youth organizations and other community members. The roundtable launched the Berks4Peace Campaign, which aims to prevent violence through social change.

The campaign’s march Saturday through the main corridor of Reading, culminating in a rally at City Park, and marked National Youth Violence Prevention Week.

Elected officials like State Rep. Manuel Guzman Jr., State Sen. Judy Schwank and Mayor Eddie Moran attended the event and lauded the efforts of the attendees and organizers.

While speaking to the crowd, people like Reading School District School Board President Dr. Noahleen Betts urged kids to speak up before conflict becomes physical violence.

Anthony Orozco / WITF

Berks County Commissioner Michael Rivera encourages young people to take an active role in connecting with other youth to deter them from violence.

“If you know something is going down, tell someone because once a life is lost, we cannot get it back,” Betts said.

Berks County Commissioner Michael Rivera presented a proclamation to Garcia-Dipini and other organizers of the event.

He also spoke to the crowd and said the government and nonprofit organizations have a role to play in stopping shootings. But, he said, one of the most powerful ways is for people to connect one-on-one with others to talk out their conflicts and to steer them toward nonviolence.

“We each have to do something, we don’t have to reach out to 20, we don’t have to reach out to 30, we don’t need to reach out to a hundred,” Rivera said. “How many do we need to reach out to? One! We need to reach out to one to make a change.”

Editor’s note: The Berks County Community Foundation helps fund a portion of Anthony Orozco’s position at WITF.


Anthony Orozco is part of the “Report for America” program — a national service effort that places journalists in newsrooms across the country to report on under-covered topics and communities.

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