Report raises questions about Ferguson-related donations | St. Louis Public Radio

Report raises questions about Ferguson-related donations

Jul 18, 2015

A group of youth advocates is questioning how money donated to programs for young people in the aftermath of the unrest in Ferguson has been spent and whether the funds have made an impact. 

During a community meeting on Saturday, St. Louis Advocates for Youth released the preliminary findings for its Resource Allocation Project. The report focused on donations to services and programs for adolescents and teens, ages 10 to 18 years old, in the St. Louis region. It sought to find out what youth-related programs were supported by donations, what outcomes are expected, and who are the young people participating.

"There ought to be some standardized way: 'Here's the money, here's where it went, and here's how many people it served, and here's what happened as result of them getting that money.' Are poverty rates going to go down? Are test scores going to go up? Those are legitimate questions when you've got this kind of money flowing into a community that small," said group leader Jamala Rogers of the report's main questions.

But even after research, Rogers said many of these questions remain unanswered.

"The concern from the Ferguson residents, like, 'Why weren't they involved in some of the decision-making about where the monies were going?'" Rogers said. "When you get ready to bring money in, you bring the community together and say what are the needs. So that piece seems to be missing, so we want to make sure we double back and bring those folks into the fold."

That includes Ferguson resident Cassandra Butler, who said she was curious where money that was going into "quote-unquote Ferguson" was going. After hearing the initial report findings, she said she plans to do some of her own research. But she said she isn't critical of how funds were allocated.

"I don't have any problem about the process and it's almost too early to evaluate the process, because what I'm really concentrating on is outcome. If the outcome is there, then the process was fine. If the outcome is not there, then you go back and look at the process and see if that was the problem," she said.

While Rogers said in many cases, few detailed outcomes from donations were obtained, Butler said results "take time."

Some of the report's findings include:

•Emerson Electric, which is located in Ferguson, donated $7.4 million to youth programs. That includes: about $77,000 for early childhood programs, almost $1 million for youth jobs, and about $5 million for scholarships. These numbers are available in a company release.

But Rogers said some of these donations, including a scholarship program at UMSL, were already in place, or had already been earmarked to go to nonprofits, such as the United Way. Rather than new donations, Rogers characterized the donations as being re-allocated to projects specifically related to Ferguson; she said that brings up questions about whether the reallocation is taking money away from other, needy programs.

Additionally, the report claims there are some $1.4 million unaccounted for in Emerson's donations. An email to Emerson's public relations team was not immediately returned.

Florissant area resident Karen Liggins said she is curious to know who Emerson consulted with to decide where to earmark its donations. 

"My take-away (from the report) is that there's still a lot of work to be done, more oversight and more accountability, and until that happens we don't know if the funds that are pouring into our region are really helping our youth," Liggins said.

•The report finds the United Way of Greater St. Louis raised $3.6 million for programs that helped area youth, including $1 million from St. Louis County for services like a resource center and mental health counseling. (The later figure is confirmed by United Way news releases.)

However, some of the funds are actually duplicates of Emerson donations dispersed through the United Way to other nonprofits and community organizations. That includes funding for STL Youth Jobs and early childhood support in the Ferguson-Florissant school district. Most of the donations were "donor designated," in which the donor specifies how the money will be used. 

Rogers said it is difficult to sort out duplications among donations when another organization allocates a company's funds. She said she would also like to know whether the programs established through the United Way's allocations of outside donations are "sustainable" and will last.

A United Way employee attended the community meeting and answered many attendees questions about the donor-designations and donation allocations, but could not act as a representative. An email to the United Way was not immediately returned.

•The Deaconess Foundation awarded several "non-traditional" grants. They included: $1,000 for Memorial Human Resource Development's Summer Freedom School at Greater St. Mark Family Church; $10,000 for the Atlanta-based Dr. Martin Luther King Center to provide Riverview Gardens High School with non-violent training; $2,500 to the advocacy group MORE on behalf of the youth group Black Souljahs; $12,050 to the Student Education Project for middle school students to attend the St. Louis screening of “SELMA"; and $45,000 for the Organization for Black Struggle's Next Revolution Generation Program, providing $100-per-week stipends for young adults to participate in six-week organizing training.

Deaconess' advocacy and communications director Alex Stallings confirmed the information presented. She said it is important for organizations such as hers to be "part of the process to build trust where needed and be as transparent as possible." She also said the response to the events in Ferguson required a "resource" quilt approach of both traditional and non-traditional grants.

"Some of the nonprofit advocacy and particularly youth-organizing stream that was created went to empowering youth in this moment, training them around non-violent tactics, educating them around history, particularly the SELMA for Students program," she said.

Rogers acknowledged that her group has much more "homework" to do to get answers to questions. She also said it is "troubling" that many people and organizations seem to have been shut out of the process of healing Ferguson. 

"Traditionally there are people in grassroots organizations who have been marginalized just because of capacity issues that normally don't even get put in the loop. So they're not getting any dollars, they're not getting any information about how to access dollars, so you really need a different kind of process, especially when you have a tragedy like this," Rogers said. "There were people who came out who were ready to do some stuff, ready to have those kinds of conversations about (the) long-term."

She said her organization will work to sit down with major donors to get more information and to bring more organizations to the process of getting donation funds.