Group on track in helping The Home

Cherish the Child has new leaders, big plans
Feb. 28, 2013 @ 11:39 PM

With a new executive director and board, the charity that supports Smoky Mountain Children’s Home is on the path to recovery from losing $255,000 in a single year, after the organizer of its largest-ever fundraiser failed to turn over revenues from ticket sales.

The Cherish the Child Foundation got the new leadership after an ambitious 2011 fundraising event in Knoxville called “Cherish the Child, Change the World!” turned into a loss instead of a source of income. Conservative pundit Glenn Beck was invited as the keynote speaker, and officials with the charity say he met all the terms of his contract. However, Palm Christian Marketing — the agency hired to generate interest in the event and sell tickets — allegedly did not give Cherish the Child (CTCF) all the revenues officials with the charity believe were collected.

So, instead of making money for the foundation, the event wound up costing it $184,088 — it generated $115,585, but those proceeds were dwarfed by $299,673 in related costs, according to a report filed with the IRS. With other expenses thrown in, the group lost $255,261 in 2011.

CTCF filed a lawsuit against Palm soon after the event, seeking $215,000 in unpaid invoices and donations, as well as $600,000 in punitive damages.

“There’s no way to anticipate whether someone’s going to be honest or not,” Executive Director Brenda Tweed said. "It’s very sad, but we’re just building every day to build our coffers back up.”

In the first few months after the complaint, Palm remained open, retained an attorney and seemed set on taking the matter to court. The agency’s attorneys got the case moved from Sevier to Knox County. But since then, CTCF officials say no court date has ever been settled, and Palm Christian Marketing appears to have gone out of business.

Its website has been taken down; calls to its business lines go unanswered. Calls to Garret Swartwood, the attorney who represented it, also go unanswered, although Swartwood still works for the Knoxville law firm of Long, Ragsdale and Waters.

CTCF chairwoman Nancy Adams said she believes the company’s owner, Jeffrey Townsend, has left the state.

CTCF had pursued criminal charges against Townsend as well as the civil case, and Adams says officials with CTCF had been to law enforcement agencies as well as the district attorney general’s office to report the incident, but no charges have ever been filed. She would still like to see that happen.

“If I can get a warrant out for him, I will,” she said.

While the lawsuit has been languishing, the new leadership has been moving ahead in trying to get the charity back on better footing.

“It was heartbreaking, but I’ll tell you, we’ve got a strong board, we’ve got people who really care for this home,” Tweed said.

Adams says Tweed has helped oversee an overhaul of the management of the office. After the departure of Todd Rose, who was the charity’s previous director, she consolidated and organized a lot of the information that had piled up over time to help give the board a better picture of where the organization stood.

In part because they were focusing on those efforts, the charity had just one fundraiser last year, where they typically have tried to have two. The event drew about $20,000, and Cherish the Child spent the money on a 12-passenger van for use on outings by The Home, and a box truck to pick up donated items.

But in addition to reorganizing, she and the board have been rebuilding relationships and starting new ones that they hope will carry it forward on a new wave of momentum. They have a fundraising event in April at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge.

"We have brand new sponsors. We have Titanic,” she said. “A lot of people have rallied around to try to help us recover from this.”

There are still some people who bring up the 2011 event when they call, but more and more are aware that they are moving ahead, and many people just want to help the children’s home, Adams said. Officials with the group try to stress that it has very few expenses — Tweed is the only paid employee, and her office is located on the children’s home property.

Many of their corporate sponsors have returned or stayed on board and they’ve gotten new ones, including the Shark Race at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. Proceeds from that event had previously gone to the United Way, but after a hiatus the event is returning and Cherish the Child will be the new beneficiary.

Adams hopes that all means that they’re getting back on track to helping the Children’s Home.

"It’s just been tough, and really the beginning of this year and once we had that donor’s dinner, it seems like we’re back where we were."

jfarrell@themountainpress.com