Wednesday, September 09, 2015

It's time to shut down Bright Futures USA

Bright Futures works.

It works in Carthage, Webb City, Neosho, East Newton, Carl Junction and in the other area communities that have started Bright Futures programs.

The only place it has not worked has been in the school district where it started.

In Joplin, it served as a tool to promote the ambition and quest for personal glory of C. J. Huff. Instead of a tool to promote children, it became a bloated bureaucracy, continually increasing its hold on the school system.

We have been told it is not taking a penny from the taxpayers because the money all comes from donors. Perhaps those donors would be better off looking at how other school districts are operating Bright Futures.

For the most part, neighboring school districts are not hiring full-time employees for Bright Futures and then hiring help for those full-time employees. They are definitely not paying rent or utilities for families. They did not pay for teachers at certain schools to receive massages at a spa prior to the April 2012 bond issue election so those teachers would be more inclined to parrot the administration's message and support what many believed were overpriced buildings designed more to promote top administrators and board of education members than to promote education.

The Beginnings of Bright Futures USA

The problems with Bright Futures Joplin were compounded by the creation of Bright Futures USA. From the beginning to this very moment, there is much confusion in the Joplin R-8 School District about what difference, if any, there is between the local and the national Bright Futures organizations.

Until recently, Bright Futures USA operated out of the R-8 Administration Building. Though it was supposedly a separate entity from Bright Futures Joplin, it did not pay a cent for rent or utilities and its employees were used almost interchangeably with those of the local Bright Futures.

At least one employee was hired to work at Bright Futures USA, was told that the paycheck would come from the R-8 School District, and then ended up doing tasks for both the local and national organizations.

That employee, as well as others, was also directed to perform duties that come nowhere close to the mission of meeting the needs of children. Bright Futures employees were assigned to prepare entry forms promoting C. J. Huff for various awards, some of which he received, including being Missouri's Superintendent of the Year. The awards he received, many of which came from entry forms filled out on the taxpayers' dime, are prominently listed on Huff's Washington Speakers Bureau biography page. Bright Futures employees also spent time seeking Joplin area business and political leaders to write letters promoting Huff for those honors. In cases where the leaders did not have the time nor the inclination to write the letters, some were provided templates for letters to which they could sign their names.

The plan to take Bright Futures national began only a few months after the April 2010 creation of the local program. Documents were filed with the Missouri Secretary of State's office in November 2010 and BFUSA began the next year, with a board of directors that included Chairman Jerrod Hogan, later the head of Rebuild Joplin, which started as a Bright Futures USA project, and also a leader in the Joplin Progress Committee.

Also on the board were Nancy Good, Troy Hill, Bo Lee, Dan Mitchell, Gary Burton, R-8 Board member Mike Landis, C. J. Huff, John Joines, MSSU President Bruce Speck, Bryan Vowels, Julia Skidmore, and the woman who was named executive director of BFUSA, Huff's director of community relations Kim Vann.

The choice of Vann to head the national organization was a curious one.

Only six years earlier, Vann had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and less than three weeks before the Joplin Tornado, she was served with papers at the administration building on 15th Street for a lawsuit claiming non-payment on an account.Her court date was initially set for May 23, but the court was closed that day due to the tornado. A settlement was eventually reached and the case was dismissed June 6, 2011, according to online court records.

The bankruptcy was filed April 21, 2005, by Mrs. Vann and her husband, Joel, in U. S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Missouri. Court records indicate the couple had $14,553 in assets and $41,750 in debts.

Most of that debt was of the credit card variety, according to the court documents, with the Vanns owing $41,750 on nine credit card accounts and their car payment:

-$12,742 to Capital One Auto Finance
-$7,040 to Bank of America credit card debt
-$1,043 to Capital One, credit card debt
-$6,668 to Chase, credit card debt
-$8,950 to Citibank, credit card debt
-$1,241 to Commerce Bank, credit card debt
-$9,823 to Discover, credit card debt
-$2,085 to J. C. Penney, credit card debt
-$3,736 to Providian, credit card debt
-$364 to Wal-Mart, credit card debt

Court records show that the bankruptcy was declared despite the Vanns making close to $60,000 in 2004, including Mrs. Vann's $50,000+ Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce salary.

In retrospect, the choice of Vann makes much more sense. She was one of the few employees whose primary loyalty was to Huff rather than Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer. Bright Futures employees of that era have told the Turner Report that Vann paid little attention to the day-to-day operation of Bright Futures USA and Bright Futures Joplin, as most of her time was spent serving as Huff's trusty right hand, including accompanying the superintendent on the speeches he gave at schools that were considering joining Bright Futures and at many of the speeches he gave on his "hero" tour, across the U. S.

After the creation of Bright Futures USA, Vann received $20,000 annually from the not-for-profit in addition to her R-8 salary, but despite her lofty title, the decisions on the direction of BFUSA were made by C. J. Huff.

BFUSA had other projects at its inception besides spreading the gospel of Bright Futures to other school districts. Though its involvement was questioned, the organization took charge of selling bricks from the destroyed Joplin High School to raise money for Operation Rising Eagle, the push toward rebuilding the district after the tornado.

BFUSA also was initially in charge of the Rebuild Joplin project. Since it also started the Rebuild Joplin website to direct those wanting to help Joplin to places where they could donate or be of service, the confusion started with people not sure exactly where their money was going. After paying out more than $60,000 to conclude the brick project and to turn over Rebuild Joplin to the St. Bernard Project, BFUSA began devoting all of its efforts to convincing districts in the area and surrounding states to form Bright Futures chapters.

What Purpose Does Bright Futures USA Serve?

When Dr. Norm Ridder took the reins of the Joplin R-8 School District following C. J. Huff's resignation, he presented a plan to gather information about what Joplin wanted for its school district. After December 1, he said, he will produce a one-page plan that can be followed to lead the district where taxpayers, parents, students, and teachers want it to go.

A one-page plan.

Though it was not intended that way, what Ridder is doing shows the folly of continuing to support Bright Futures USA. The Missouri Legislature has appropriated $400,000 over the past three years to keep BFUSA afloat.

You have to give them credit. C. J. Huff and Kim Vann convinced our elected representatives to pay $400,000 to spread a plan which could have easily been put on one piece of paper- with plenty of room left over.

The basic ideas of Bright Futures are as follows:

1. Combining the "time, talent, and treasure" of the community to help the children.

2. Combining schools, with the business, civic, and faith-based communities.

3. Answering the needs of children within 24 hours

4. Using social media to bring the community together.

If it had not been for the Joplin Tornado, this idea would have drawn attention, but would never have received the publicity it has received. Schools would not be clamoring to pay $1,200 to form their own chapters and then following the Bright Futures format far more successfully than it has been followed in Joplin.

Why couldn't this information have been placed in a book,with the proceeds going to support Bright Futures Joplin?

Wouldn't it have been better to create a website with frequent updates?

Instead, Huff and Vann frequently used workdays to visit school districts and help them form Bright Futures organizations. Huff used more than four weeks of workdays in the 2014 calendar year to make speeches either for the Bright Futures USA organization, or as part of his hero tour, with his speeches always including a lengthy soliloquy to the role Bright Futures had played in saving Joplin.

The fig leaf was snatched away this week with KOAM's coverage of C. J. Huff being hired to work for Bright Futures USA. Webb City R-7 Superintendent Tony Rossetti resigned from the BFUSA Board to object to using money to give Huff a full-time job. Jesse DeGonia of Webb City Bright Futures noted that many of the things Bright Futures does were being done in the district before the organization was created (something that is also true in Joplin).

Even more potent in the KOAM report were the quotes from BFUSA Board Member Mark Quinn:

"This is about money. We can’t survive. This organization is not gonna grow if we don't have the funds to do so.” And he emphasized,

“What a shame those people of Webb City who have spent so much time building Bright Futures organization up and it's going to be hijacked by somebody who doesn't understand that that's the kind of thing you have to do to grow an organization.”

Quinn is right about one thing. It is about the money. It has always been about the money. Bright Futures USA can't survive without money.

Quinn does not realize what it is becoming more and more apparent to the people of the Joplin area.

Bright Futures USA does not need to grow. It does not need to exist.

(More to come, including what should be done with Bright Futures Joplin)

(Photo: C. J. Huff and Kim Vann spend a workday in Hazelwood, helping that school district form a Bright Futures chapter.)


Anonymous said...

The bribes/gifts for teachers prior to the bond vote didn't stop at massages. There were catered lunches and cookies and all kinds of yummies, as well as treat bags and the usual drinking vessels. At the high school staff members received nice fleece jackets with eagle insignia. It all amounted to baubles and beads for the "natives" they had abused since the tornado. When you consider that around 2/3 of the teachers of Joplin have left since then, it really becomes a waste of money, money that should have gone to children, not for bribes.

Anonymous said...

The assigned AmeriCorps workers were never sure if they worked for Bright Futures Joplin or Bright Futures one time there were at least 7 AmeriCorps workers assigned to Bright Futures; not to mention all those who were assigned to Rebuild Joplin through the AmeriCorps contract with Bright Futures.

Anonymous said...

As great as this program is in the districts that have adopted it, the name Bright Futures has been tarnished. It does not mean the same thing today that it once did. It use to mean that kids were being served ahead of people administering the program. It use to mean that the focus was helping students in need and not helping ones own self to the cookie jar. It is very sad that it has come to this. Bright Futures USA and Bright Futures Joplin are shameful organizations that use donations to pad pockets. Mr. Huff and Ms. Vann are more concerned about their own salaries than helping the districts they are suppose to serve. They could care two cents about the taxpayers in this state who have paid hard earned monies in taxes to pay their excessive and bloated salaries.
Then to add to the insult of this, they attack an area Superintendent, it's community and its Bright Futures program when they show the slightest amount of refusal to go along with the status quo. This should send a STRONG message to others who are looking to add this program to their school districts. People should look at the actions of people when they are being confronted, not when they have their hands out.

Anonymous said...

The $1200 schools pay to join is shameful when they could just spend it on the kids without the greedy hogs at the trough from BF USA. That would buy a lot of coats and shoes.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Huff and Vann went on this trip on contract days like they did for so many of their little trysts. Sickening.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps CJ's neighbor, Mark Quinn, could confirm this, but word is CJ is getting $30,000 for his six-month jaunt as an "advisor" for Bright Futures USA. Thirty grand? Really? How many meals and how much clothing could that buy? Once again we see the dirty hands washing one another, to no good for the community.

Turner is correct. It's time to turn these greedy folks out of town. Joplin can take care of its own without the assistance of CJ Huff, who has left behind a school district in shambles financially. He is obviously not a good manager and he has no scruples whatsoever. Please, Dr. Ridder, break away from these people. Put our shame of association behind us so we can move forward and not be dragged back into the sewer.

Anonymous said...

Here's the bottom line- school/community partnerships are not a new idea. The most rigorous program, America's Promise, started in 1997 and has been very successful with building and implementing a model to maximize community resources. Bright Futures has no research to support their model. It's a joke but has a nice sticker to put on the door. This was always about CJ's ego and nothing else. The fact that the legislature allocated any funding is an embarrassment to us all!

Anonymous said...

It's interesting how something that began as something truly good has become something truly ugly.
In the beginning, the social media piece helped link everyone so needs could be met immediately. The first sign that something was wrong was when ANYTHING had to be sent through and approved by Huff and friends. Many schools already were able to get shoes, coats and supplies for kids. That was stopped because EVERYTHING had to be done to glorify His Highness Huff.
This organization needs to be on that list of groups you don't donate to because they use their money for unnecessary administrative costs, not for the causes that people actually want to support.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, rumors of Randy's irrelevance after Huff retired have been greatly exaggerated.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure most people aren't aware that Bright Futures is used to provide jobs for Kim Vann's family. The news reported BF has three employees. One is Kim and the other two are her aunt, Cindy Hollingshead, and nephew, Johnathan Hollingshead. Our tax money is being used to support her own family. i applaud Tony Rossetti for taking a stand and showing he is a good steward of tax money!

Anonymous said...

The Pitt Foundation in Springfield where Ridder served as Superintendent does not charge a penny for school districts to become a chapter. The salary of the Foundation staff is paid by private donors so all donations go for their intended purpose. Now there's a novel idea!

Anonymous said...

How many think hiring Huff would have been kept quiet if it hadn't been for that pesky superintendent who opposed the plan? Shame on the others for being Huff's puppets. It's evident that the only local superintendent serving on the board is the only one who really cared about preserving the mission of Bright Futures. Thank goodness he stood up because now everyone can see this organization for what it truly is. If he really cared about the program he would not be quitting the board so he could be compensated more on top of his Joplin compensation package.

Anonymous said...

It is sad to me how little effort you make to find truth in what you write about. You go after whatever you can to break things down and do nothing to find the good. What you did to Kim Vann in here is remarkable. The universe has a great way of paying people like you back. Ask the thousands of volunteers for Bright Futures if it does any good for the children and families out there. If this grows in to more communities and helps more kids how is that a bad thing? For all of you that read this crap you need to get a life and focus on something more productive. I wish it had never been brought to my attention.

Anonymous said...

The school I work at had its on program long before Bright Futures started. It was a better program that what Bright Futures is. The students got more nutritious food on the weekend. The program actually would help pay for medications for critical needs families that were in a pinch (Bright Futures does not). We got new washers and dryers for people, helped with utility service, cleaned a house of BED BUGS... Many things that have since changed since Bright Futures took over and we now have a "director" that has to approve everything. I am not a fan of bright futures at all because of the before and after. I think it is a good idea in theory but too many bosses really hurts. I used to get all the belts, clothes and shoes I need for my school. Not any more. I have made request after request for items and have yet to be met. Of course who knows it is year 3 of the same request so maybe the third years a charm. That being said- I feel a little judgy and jaded but maybe Huff is trying to change his embarrassing legacy. Either he will get a new SUV out of the deal or he will do some good. I think giving him a chance with EYES WIDE OPEN may be okay. I wouldn't have done it but maybe somebody still has faith in this man.

Anonymous said...

7:12 then don't read it and continue to live in your bubble of make believe. Randy is the only one in Joplin who can back up his statements with facts. The Joplin Glob never does, in fact they are more of a fiction news, and news is a relative term. At one time the intent of Bright Futures may have been to actually help children, unfortunately, once Huff and his minions took it over, it became his personal bank account. The only recourse is to no longer donate to it, once the money dries up then what will Huff & Co. do?

Anonymous said...

10:56 You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

Anonymous said...


The waaaaahmbulance has been looking for you all day. If you can confirm that it was you also posting at 12:31 PM, then the second waaaaahmbulance can return to the station. It will be needed when the layoffs of the huffite stay-behinds begin.

Anonymous said...

I guess you don't realize that CJ Huff was instrumental in starting Bright Futures and was a driving force behind it the entire time he was at the school district, so how can what you said be true? Get your facts straight!

Anonymous said...

9:01. Gee CJ thanks for your comment. We know you were the driving force because you didn't drive anything else except our school district into the toilet. Bright Futures never had any intentions to collaborate with the community. They diverted funds with their glittery promises that could have gone to legitimate nonprofits to better this community. That is the truth!

Anonymous said...

9:01 p.m. Huh? So regardless he was instrumental in taking the school district for a ride on his Bright Futures bus that went straight to his pocketbook and those of his chronies, there was it stated better for you? He is a crook, plain and simple...

Anonymous said...

If Huff could get a job somewhere else, he would. Not unlike children in poverty, Huff has become dependent on charity. Huff has finally reaped what he has sewn, but he fails to recognize his comeuppance and so is ensuring that his rock bottom will be lower still. Other illiterates stubbornly refusing to read the writing on the wall include Stark, Landis, Woolsten, et al.

Anonymous said...

So, BRIGHT FUTURES USA, if I am getting this all correctly, was basically formed for another entity through which Huff and Co. could launder funds from the Joplin tornado to then profit themselves?