Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Death of a Nonprofit - Kids Care in Houston TX – But Why Did It Die?

This is the story of the death of a nonprofit, Kids Care in Houston TX. Kids Care received extensive national notice, significant support, a high-profile board and national and international awards and recognition. Carol and Hurt Porter, Jr. started Kids Care in their kitchen in 1984. It grew to feeding 20, 000 people a month in the first Meals on Wheels program for hungry children The Porters branched out to provide health care and provide cultural-enrichment programs for inner-city kids. Whole families were being fed. Carol Porter was called the “Mother Teresa of Houston”. Carol spoke before the United Nations about her work as a nongovernmental organization. In 2002, however, extreme news coverage from a Houston television reporter Wayne Dolcefino on the local ABC affiliate changed everything. Dolcafino wrote 40 articles in the series. He won an Edward R. Murrow and an Emmy for his Kid Care series. The allegations included personal use of corporate credit cards, the ownership of a new car, funds spent on hair care, Italian tile for their home, unpaid taxes, expensive restaurants, hotels and a strip club – and more. But what is this story truly about?

Is this a story about

• nonprofit theft, corruption and embezzlement;

• a story of gross mismanagement;

• the failure of an influential board’s oversight;

• really bad business practices;

• a case of high performance and poorly designed structure to maintain itself;

• an overreaching mission that grew beyond the ability of its creators, staff and board;

• poor public relations;

• straight out-and-out racism;

• the story of a muck-raking self-serving reporter;

• an over-aggressive Attorney General;

• a misinformed Internal Revenue Service?

Whatever your conclusion, the fact is Kids Care died. But why?

Killing Kid Care - Carol and Hurt Porter Jr. ran a well-connected, million-dollar "model charity" in Houston—until it all came crashing down By David Theis September 18, 2009 AllBusiness

On a recent Saturday afternoon, a group of parishioners from Berean Adventist Church on Houston's near East Side gathered to fill grocery bags with donated food. It was part of a weekly post-church ritual organized by the Porters- Carol and Hurt Jr. The Porters round up donations from grocery stores and bring the fruits and vegetables to be sorted, bagged and delivered to the neighborhood's numerous elderly and shut-in residents.

As the group counted out how many bananas, mangoes and yams should go into each bag, Carol and Hurt were lively and engaged. Carol, who's 64, is a talker anyway, a dynamo of a woman. Hurt Jr. (he and his father were named Hurt because of the pain their mothers suffered during childbirth), who's 67, was noticeably more voluble here than at home, where his quiet demeanor perhaps shows the effects of the Job-like trial the Porters have lived through for most of this decade.

Until 2002, the Porters headed a nationally prominent charity, Kid Care. Started in the kitchen of their modest northside house in 1984, Kid Care had grown spectacularly, feeding more than 20,000 a month in the nation's first Meals on Wheels program for hungry children. As donations came in, the program had branched out into delivering health care and providing cultural-enrichment programs for inner-city kids.

Kid Care became well-known in short order. It was named as one of Bush 41's "Thousand Points of Light"- No. 866. Carol, a lifelong Republican, stood behind Bush 43 in the Oval Office when he signed the Faith-Based Initiatives Act. Kid Care had gone international, recognized as an NGO by the United Nations, where Carol had spoken. Carol was an ABC News "Person of the Week." Her face, along with those of needy children, adorned billboards all around Houston. A New York Times article called her "the Mother Teresa of Houston."


Then disaster struck, in the form of muck-raking Houston television reporter Wayne Dolcefino. In September 2002, on the local ABC affiliate, Dolcefino produced the first in a series investigating how Kid Care spent its money. He found plenty that was suspicious: money apparently spent on the Porters themselves - on fancy meals and hair salons, on personal property taxes, on friends and relatives and, as the nail in the coffin, on strip-club outings.
As Dolcefino's series ended, the Porters were sued by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. The AG's office shut down Kid Care and ordered another charity for children opened (without the Porters' involvement) in its place. The IRS joined in, claiming the Porters owed $550,000 for unreported income.


How had a "model charity" fallen so far, so fast? Were the Porters victims of a sensationalistic, ratings-hungry reporter and an attorney general who too readily accepted his reports as fact? Had their impatience with "bean-counting" and sound business practices doomed them when Kid Care went from a self-funded mom-and-pop charity to one with a $1 million budget and 15 employees? Was Kid Care poorly served by a board of directors who didn't exercise enough oversight? Or were the Porters brought down by the size of their ambitions for Kid Care - to not just feed hungry kids, but draw them out of the cycle of poverty?

The answer, in all cases, is yes.


At a 2002 board meeting, held after Dolcefino's series had begun to air, the board and the Porters discussed Kid Care's problematic "crisis intervention" program. Money tended to be spent wherever Kid Care staff saw a pressing need - whether it was a one-time school uniform purchase for a needy kid, a birthday party for a Kid Care volunteer who'd never had one before, or private-school tuition for a former Enron employee's child. "Crisis intervention" was a loosely used term, and it allowed Dolcefino to portray it as a way for the Porters to hand out money according to their personal whims.

(For the full engrossing story about a great nonprofit vanishing from the face of the earth in a very short period of time read on. Could it happen to you?)


Kid Care, Carol Porter, Wayne Dolcefino - The Kid Care story fizzles to a finish As told to Richard Connelly Published on December 11, 2007 The Houston News

Fed Up With Hunger from Life on Purpose, Undated

P.S. I’m sorry Published 20.DEC.07 Article from the Jewish Herald-Voice

'Mother Teresa of Houston' Fights Hunger and Government Aid by Sam Howe Verhovek, Published: Monday, February 6, 1995 New York Times

Better Business Bureau Suspends Membership of Kid-Care Charity. Article from: September 6, 2002 Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News Article date:

The Stories of Nonprofits Dying

Nonprofit Theft – “A Few Bad Apples” or the Invisible Reality?

Responses to Article “Nonprofit Theft – ‘A Few Bad Apples’ or the Invisible Reality?”

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