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Nonprofits: Support group holds onto CASA donation

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

After five years of supporting CASA and leading efforts that raised more than $65,000 for its mission, Carrie Humphreys was stunned when the nonprofit recently closed its doors in Georgetown County.

Under investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division for misuse of grant funds, Citizens Against Spouse Abuse shut down its safe house on the outskirts of Georgetown early this month. After financial struggles that led grant money to be inappropriately used to keep the doors open, and with other grant funds frozen, it no longer had the funds to operate.

CASA’s board chairwoman, Sissy Rutherford, said the closure was temporary. Then the group’s safe house in Myrtle Beach fell victim to the same fate a few days later.

The group’s former director, JoAnne Patterson, was arrested this week and charged with embezzlement of public funds greater than $5,000.

“It’s very sad and of course I’m disappointed,” said Humphreys, an Oak Lea resident who founded CASA 100, a group whose goal was to have at least 100 people give $100 each to CASA every year.

“I know the director, who has now resigned, dedicated her life to CASA. She paid bills out of her own pocket and her parents loaned her money to try to keep CASA going,” Humphreys said. “I think if she did anything wrong it was intended for the good of CASA.”

Rutherford said on Wednesday she won’t talk anymore about what has happened in the past. “The focus needs to be on moving forward, not what has been done,” she said.

But she previously stated that funds from a $32,000 grant for the purchase of two vans to transport victims was used to cover emergency expenses when there was a bedbug outbreak at the Myrtle Beach safe house. The problem came with a hefty extermination bill and the need to replace mattresses for 30 beds.

Funds from CASA 100 were specifically intended for the group’s safe house in Georgetown County. Humphreys said she was told by a member of the board that CASA probably won’t return to Georgetown County.

That brings CASA 100 to an end, but the group might be able to assist with the startup of another agency to fill the void.

A March fundraising and membership campaign raised nearly $12,000 for CASA 100. Since CASA’s troubles came to light this month, Humphreys has been fielding inquiries about what happened with that money. The funds were not disbursed to CASA, she said.

“Normally around May we have a little party — a tea or a fashion show with a check presentation — and all the donors are invited,” Humphreys said. “But for some reason I held back a little bit this year ... somebody told me they might need some flooring and I was just waiting to see what they needed.”

CASA 100 would be willing to work with any organization that would take over the job of aiding victims of domestic abuse in Georgetown County, be it the Family Justice Center in Georgetown, which has already taken over helping some of CASA’s clients, or a new agency. Whoever is in charge, the county needs a safe house where women and their children could find refuge, and somebody to run it.

“I’m thinking maybe these funds would be just the means to get it open,” Humphreys said.

“When the dust settles,” she said, “the CASA 100 funds raised during 2012 will do as was promised: assist the battered women seeking help in our local shelter.”

At least one effort to create a new agency to fill the void is in the works. Erin Wilde recently left the CASA board to begin forming a new board for a new organization, CASA 2, to get the Horry County safe house and its programs running again. Despite reports that all but one CASA board member had resigned, Wilde is the only board member who has left, Rutherford said.

“The CASA board, other than Erin Wilde, are not involved in that and we have been told we need to distance ourselves from any future endeavor in order for a new program to receive funding,” Rutherford said. “Erin has resigned so she can focus on the new programs without being bogged down with what we have to take care of.

“The existing board of CASA has worked tirelessly, cooperating with all grantors in this unfortunate mess and in no way has cut and run. We plan on remaining until everything is cleared and cleaned up,” Rutherford added.

Wilde was new to the CASA board and is a survivor of domestic violence who was helped by CASA.

“Having been a victim myself, I couldn’t sleep at night knowing there’s not a safe house,” she said. “I’m trying to move forward and, with the help of our community, lay a new foundation of hope for victims.”

Plans are for CASA 2 to eventually serve Georgetown County too, but the initial focus is Horry County, because Georgetown has the Family Justice Center.

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