The John Hope Settlement House, along with Board Chair Representative Anastasia Williams, have been disqualified from further federal funding for their child nutrition program, following months of investigation by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE).
The decision comes a year after “Concerned Citizens for John Hope” raised issues pertaining to the community organization’s finances, leadership, and safety.
“This is another disappointing chapter in the John Hope saga,” said community organizer Chace Baptista on Wednesday. “Through organizing with the Concerned Citizens our goal was to bring to light to the mismanagement within John Hope and hopefully, inspire the leadership to rise to the occasion of maintaining an organization that means so much to so many or to step aside and hire the necessary staff to help lead this organization properly.”
Board Chair Williams said that she plans to appeal the decision, despite RIDE’s determination that previous appeals from John Hope Settlement House (JHSH) to stop the termination of participation in the federal food program be “dismissed.”
Read the RIDE Ruling HERE
“We are disappointed by the denial of the initial appeal,” Williams said. “We believe that all the information was not examined and therefore we are continuing the appeal process.”
JHSH — and Williams — were explicitly disqualified from further participation in the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) for program mismanagement, according to a recent ruling from RIDE.
RIDE issued the dcision on September 29 after finding the “absence of any documentation to establish that the CACFP funds were expended in support of the Program but rather evidence that the monies were spent improperly for non-food program items.”
CACFP, which run by the USDA and administered by RIDE, provides child and adult care institutions and family or group day care homes for the “provision of nutritious foods that contribute to the wellness, healthy growth, and development of young children,” according to the USDA.
“I hope charges are filed,” said community member Lisa Scorpio. “John Hope was a well respected community center that many people have fond memories of. I hope that something can be done to reinvent it. We cannot allow it to close.”
Oversight Called into Light
The issue of lack of documentation of CACFP funds by JHSH came into focus in the fall of 2014, which RIDE references in their recent ruling:
“A site visit and records review was conducted by a RIDE child nutrition program administrator. This visit and review yielded a serious deficiency determination and issuance of a formal notice dated February 4, 2014 finding that:
JHSH received $35,343.67 in USDA reimbursements for meals served between January 1 through June 30, 2013, for which no documentation was available for purposes of verifying that these monies were expended exclusively for program operations; [and] the absence of any documentation to establish that the CACFP funds were expended in support of the Program but rather evidence that the monies were spent improperly for non-food program items.”
Furthermore, RIDE cited a second deficiency, it which it found that:
“$4,605.80 was received from RIDE and deposited in the CACFP account on July 24, 2014. This sum was the exact amount paid by RIDE to JHSH on June 1. Although $7,091.86 had been paid by RIDE to JHSH during the months of July, August and September 2014, none of that sum had been deposited into the CACFP account.”
RIDE stated that they had given JHSH the opportunity to remedy the findings, but in March 2015 RIDE ultimately issued a notice of “termination and disqualification.”
RIDE cited “JHSH’s failure to produce receipts and records for verification of proper expenditure of CACFP funds and to develop and adequately implement internal control policies. Moreover, RIDE found that although a separate CACFP account had been opened, the account records did not show any expenses related to the CACFP for the period July to November 2014.”
In addition, RIDE noted “JHSH has not at any time tendered an objection to RIDE’s notice of serious deficiency, nor at any time has JHSH disputed the content of RIDE’s findings of serious deficiencies either informally or by a timely request for administrative review.”
More Issues for John Hope
In 2014, allegations of financial mismanagement were made against Williams by a previous Executive Director, which Williams denied.
DCYF found a number of safety violations at the House in September 2014; critics of the handling of the House were turned away from a board meeting last December.
A former employee said on Wednesday spoke to what she said was Williams’ role at JHSH.
“She compromised the meals being strewn together on a wing and a prayer on many occasions, which I knew first hand seeing as we didn’t have a cook for last summer and may staff persons were pulling it together to ensure the children were indeed being fed,” said Ericka Gomes, who had worked at JHSH for 8 years. “The turnaround rate of the childcare and OST staff has been so inconsistent due to frequent firings and hirings it does not give the children an opportunity to bond with their teacher (who they spend just as much time if not more so than their parent) which shows a lack of stability and is not developmentally appropriate practice for an Early Learning Center that just 2 short years ago boasted a 3 star Brightstar rating.”
Community leader Kobi Dennis, who was active in the JHSH protests in 2014, said he asked Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza for two things when he took office.
“I asked for the Midnight Basketball League, and I asked him to look into John Hope,” said Dennis. “I don’t care what color you are, if you’re doing wrong, you’re doing wrong. It’s just a matter of time before you get caught. I believe in the law.”
By Kate Nagle, GoLocal News Editor