Judith Mohling, with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, stands quietly in the back of Boulder City Council Chambers holding a war protest sign and listening to then-U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard speak in 2006. After laying off its three employees, the center will operate strictly with volunteers.

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Betty Ball, 68, joined the growing ranks of unemployed Americans last month after her employer, The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, could no longer afford to pay its staffers.

The center recently laid off all three of its employees when a lull in donations proved to be more than just a temporary hurdle.

Ball, a full-time co-administrator and her husband Gary, 61, who worked about 10 hours per week, were let go, as was part-time worker Carolyn Bninski.

The decision was made by the group’s spokescouncil, a board of directors made up of staffers and community members.

“We noticed the drop in donations for awhile, but then it was May 1st and we just didn’t have any money to cut the checks,” Betty Ball said. “The economy is so bad right now and people don’t have the money to donate.”

Ironically, the center recently rallied for federal support for the unemployed and more legislation to support a burdened economy.

The organization, which contributes the Friday Peace Train column in the Colorado Daily, will be strictly volunteer-run for the first time in almost 20 years, Bninski said. While there are nearly 200 volunteers involved at various levels in the nonprofit’s many programs, former staffers said not having paid workers could negatively impact the group’s organization and efficiency.

“We’re not going to stop doing what we’re doing,” Betty Ball said. “Things just run a lot smoother when there’s someone here that the volunteers can rely on for help — someone who’s there for them and for the organization all the time.”

The organization’s six founders met in the late 1970s during a yearlong protest blocking the railroad tracks at Rocky Flats in attempt to keep deliveries from the nuclear plant south of Boulder.

In 1983, nearly four years later, the organization was formed and hosting a protest during which about 17,000 people surrounded the perimeter of the plant. Though the nuclear plant was closed in the 1990s and turned into a wildlife refuge, the organization still works diligently to warn the public of health hazards that they say remain on the plant site.

“That site will always be a part of our work,” Bninski said. “It’s part of our history and there is still so much to be done there. That battle is not over.”

Besides Rocky Flats projects and other nuclear related efforts, the group organizes nonviolent protests and activities promoting peace, economic growth and environmental consciousness among others.

Boulder City Councilwoman Lisa Morzel said she has recently worked with the group on the topic of homelessness and feels their contributions to the city are significant.

“I’ve worked with them a lot and find them to be very positive and a real fixture of the community,” Morzel said. “I don’t think they’ll be able to do as much as in the past with an all-volunteer group, but people at the center are very dedicated and I don’t think it will stop them from doing what they do.”

While they will be forced to spend the majority of their time searching for jobs in the coming weeks, Ball and Bninski both said they will continue to dedicate as much time as possible to the organization.

“Now is the time for volunteers to step up,” Ball said. “We need the numbers more than ever. The people and the money.”

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