Monday, September 07, 2015

Documents indicate tornado relief money kept Bright Futures USA afloat

Documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service and the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation indicate that money intended for tornado relief may have been used to keep C. J. Huff's Bright Futures USA afloat after the initial flood of donations subsided.

While most of those donating money to Joplin following the May 22, 2011, natural disaster intended their funds to help those who had suffered, the documents seem to show that money from the three biggest donors to contribute to the not-for-profit in 2011 helped pay salaries and expenses for BFUSA the next year.

A report submitted to the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation by CEO Kim Vann shows that BFUSA received $258,379 in contributions during 2011. The foundation asks that the names of the three largest contributors be listed. The top three, giving $100,000, $85,000, and $20,000, were listed as "anonymous," "anonymous," and "anonymous."

Those big donations vanished by 2012, when the largest contributor was the United Way of Southwest Missouri at $35,000, "Anonymous" at $5,000, and the DLR Group at $5,000.

In 2013, Americorps was the top contributor at $5,217, followed by "Anonymous," at $5,000, and "Anonymous" at $5,000.

Bright Futures USA was born in confusion as far as the public is concerned. The story that has been told is that the not-for-profit was created in response to the tornado. In fact, the paperwork was filed with the Missouri Secretary of State's office in November 2010, six months before the tornado.

One of the first projects of Bright Futures USA was Rebuild Joplin. The announcement was made Sunday, May 29, 2011, just one hour before the memorial service at Missouri Southern State University. However, no mention was made of Bright Futures USA; the project was listed as a Bright Futures project. The original Rebuild Joplin was a website, a portal to provide information for those wanting to donate money and services to Joplin.

That next week, a letter signed by Sen. Ron Richard, and Joplin area state representatives Charlie Davis, Tom Flanagan, Mike Kelley, Bill Lant, Bill Reiboldt, and Bill White, urged those wanting to help Joplin to use the Rebuild Joplin site. In the months following, accusations were leveled that the website was directing a much greater portion of the money coming to Joplin to the R-8 School District.

The first inkling Joplin residents had of the existence of Bright Futures USA came in November 2011 when sales of commemorative bricks from the destroyed Joplin High School building began and the promotion included a mention of BFUSA.

A news release issued December 21, 2011, failed to mention Bright Futures USA, but noted that all proceeds from the brick sales were going to Operation Rising Eagle, the name given to the overall plan to restore Joplin schools.

At that time, lobbyist Gary Burton, the Bright Futures USA board member who was in charge of the project, said $23,000 had been raised.

As time passed, Rebuild Joplin morphed into an organization that was working to rebuild homes in the city and was clearly identified as such in the Form 990 BFUSA filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

Because safe, permanent, and affordable housing is vital to fostering stable families, the Rebuild Joplin program focuses on rebuilding permanent housing for homeowners and renters in Joplin as a part of the Bright Futures mission, the program works to engage a community to meet student needs.

When that was written at the end of 2012, BFUSA had already decided to disengage from the only two things that it was doing that had anything to do with tornado recovery- the brick project and Rebuild Joplin. The entire mission was now focused on spreading the gospel of Bright Futures to other communities, with the claim, though not one shred of evidence has ever been produced to support it, that Bright Futures helps increase graduation rates.

Even though BFUSA was no longer raising money for Operation Rising Eagle or Rebuild Joplin, it made no move in 2012 to send the money from those activities to the school district or to the St. Bernard Project, which had taken over Rebuild Joplin.

A memorandum of understanding was reached between BFUSA and the St. Bernard Project in 2012 in regards to Rebuild Joplin. Rebuild Joplin funds have not been completely separated from BFUSA accounts.

It was almost halfway through the next year, June 28, 2013, when BFUSA finally turned over $39,812 to the R-8 School District from the brick fund and $20,863 to the St. Bernard Project for Rebuild Joplin.

Bright Futures Connections for Success (BFUSA) ceased its Rebuild Joplin program, as well as its brick project during the current period. These services were becoming more involved and had grown to a point that they were hindering BFUSA from carrying its primary exempt purpose of connecting student needs with resources that exist within the community, but may be out of their reach.

During 2013, BFUSA changed its accounting procedures and filed its 990 for the only first half of the year rather than for the full calendar year. During the first six months of the year, BFUSA was bleeding money, having spent $138,309, including the $60,000 to Rebuild Joplin and the R-8 District and had only received $47,867, a deficit of $90,442.

As of June 30, 2013, BFUSA had only $25,574 in the bank.

Kim Vann wrote about the not-for-profit's precarious financial situation in documents provided to the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation:

Currently, the largest challenge facing BFUSA is our financial condition. We have been growing rapidly and it has been hard to keep up financially. The BFUSA Board of Directors and I are currently taking measures to bring in additional income through the adaptation of our organizational fundraising plan. Efforts include increased fundraising events and additional efforts toward national sponsorship and our goals for adding Bright Futures affiliates.

Of course, the organization had an ace in the hole as it was bailed out by the Missouri Legislature, which had appropriated $400,000 for BFUSA during 2013, 2014, and 2015.

It was also helped by Joplin R-8 taxpayers, since BFUSA was not charged even one cent for rent or utilities, something that was criticized in the recently-issued state audit.

On the IRS 990 form, which was signed under penalty of perjury by former BFUSA President Nancy Good, a former candidate for R-8 Board of Education, Good said the not-for-profit had not received anything of value from any government entity..

(Next: How C. J. Huff used taxpayer time and money to promote Bright Futures USA and himself and the people who serve on the Bright Futures USA Board of Directors)

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Anonymous said...

Bright Futures USA spends 0 dollars actually helping kids. They spend 100% of their income on salaries and operating expenses. The exist for themselves. Local affiliations receive no funding from Kim Vann and her personal slush fund. Don't confuse USA with local affiliates. Don't donate to USA - support your local initiatives.

Anonymous said...

CJ is like a backwards Midas. He starts with something gold and ends up with coal. Or worse. It comes from being greedy, ignorant and generally inept. It's about what makes CJ look good, not about what is good for anyone else. No one knows how much money flowed in after the tornado, or how much ended up in that little cash drawer that CJ and Kim Vann had. No reputable school district will want to be connected to this organization once the truth all comes out. We will hope that Dr. Ridder separates Joplin Schools from Bright Futures Joplin and the Bright Futures USA organization. Let them fade into history along with the myth of Huff the Hero. It's past time to say good-bye to anything and anyone Huff related in our school system. We can't move forward until we do.

Anonymous said...

How do we get the IRS to check out this organization? I would think someone in Joplin would have a connection somewhere. It's time to get to the truth of the matter of the donations, Bright Futures, and Rebuild Joplin.

Anonymous said...

I would say unbelievable but with Huff I believe it. How do we make sure they don't run away to Webb City or Columbia or wherever with more Joplin taxpayer money?

Anonymous said...

I will never forget reading on Facebook that the BF USA people complained that JHS teachers picked up bricks from the old building on their goodbye tour of the destroyed campus. That's some compassionate people for you. Then they held on to the money? Didn't pass it on to people in need? I wonder how much disappeared in the two years between disaster and turning over the proceeds. Thanks for sharing this information, Mr. Turner. I hope no one gives them another dollar. They don't deserve it. If United Way gives to them again, I will divert my donation from them to other sources. I don't give to United Way to see it squandered in any organization connected to CJ Huff.

Anonymous said...

KODE just aired a phone interview with CJ Huff during the evening news. He stated he has connections across the country for corporate sponsors and fundraising. Where does all the money go that Bright Futures USA receives? I have heard that they've received donations from corporate sponsors who thought the money would be distributed to area Bright Futures but Bright Futures USA kept the money for themselves instead. I wonder if United Way knew that the $35,000 they gave was going to Bright Futures USA to pay executives instead of to area chapters who could have put the money to good use really helping kids.

Anonymous said...

No one knows how much money flowed in after the tornado

Unless they're committing blatant fraud, they have to report that in the IRS 990 forms required of non-profits. Go to a site like this one, enter "Bright Futures Connections for Success" (the name they created it under, in the forms you'll see it's Doing Business As "Bright Futures USA"), enter Missouri to be gentle on the site's search engine, and you'll find their reports for 2012-2014.

Anonymous said...

I am curious about the year 2012 filing.

On page 10 of the filing total functional expenses are reported as $158,513.
The majority of these expenses that year (over 67%) appear to be for wages and salaries.

"Compensation of current officers, directors, trustees and key employees" $20,000

"Other salaries and wages" $86,981

Page 7 of the 990 reports that Kim Vann was paid $20,000 as Executive Director.

Who else was paid and what were they paid to do?

Anonymous said...

In 2012 Kim Vann was a full time employee of Joplin Schools and getting $20,000 on top of that from Bright Futures USA. There were other paid employees at the time but now Kim Vann is a full-time employee of Bright Futures USA and looking at the 2014 return it's pretty evident she's paid very well working for a not for profit organization.

Anonymous said...

for a period of time both Michael Landis and Shawn McGrew were being paid by Bright Futures USA. They were Advisory Board members at the time. They were paid to get 'sponsorships' for Bright Futures USA.

Anonymous said...

Why hasn't Kim Vann addressed any of the concerns brought forth by Webb City? She is the exec director after all. She is letting Mark Quinn take the interviews. He called shame upon all of Webb City. Kim lives in Webb. What a poor excuse of leadership, transparency, and accountability.

Anonymous said...


Not an expert on this, but if what you claim is true wouldn't these activities have needed to be declared elsewhere on the forms? Maybe someone else can offer an opinion.

Anonymous said...

There's a quote on Fourstateshomepage stating "a lot of my work will be outside of Missouri". I thought he "retired" to spend more time with family?????

Anonymous said...

The 990 reported does not include the majority of the money donated to Bright Futures. It was kept in the school district's budget. Joplin Bright Futures has never established a 501c3 which would have assured accountability of the funds.