My hardest decision on posting this seems to be what blog to put it on. While it would be great for our Blue Star Mothers chapter blog it is also one of those "lets not make it worse" scenarios.
Let me start by boldly stating that Blue Star Mothers of America, Inc
has been around for 65 years. We were chartered by congress in 1960. Grand Valley Blue Star Mothers, the local Grand Junction chapter (Colorado #3) was chartered in November of 2007. Blue Star Mothers of America, Inc, currently has a membership base of approximately 4500 members (moms) nationwide. We are a Veterans Service Organization that is authorized by the U.S. Code: Title 36; Section 943
, as of January 26, 1998.
We are NOT involved with Homefront Heroes. Homefront Heroes was founded in 2002 by founder and director Phyllis Derby in Grand Junction. The community of Grand Junction, and other residents of the State, welcomed the opportunity to be able to support the troops through a local organization. That is, until it soured and left a bad taste for many.
Fast forward to the chartering of Colorado Chapter 3 in November of 2007. I was previously a member of New Mexico chapter 1 where I was actively involved and met dozens of Blue Star Moms at convention in Albuquerque in the summer of 2007. When I learned we would be moving to Grand Junction I looked for a local chapter and when I found there still wasn't one I set the chartering process into motion. I wrote into the local paper, told the national membership chair of my plans and contacted several charitable organizations on the internet that seemed to have a local affiliation. With 5 other moms we were granted a charter on Nov 23rd, 2007. We now have 17 members and 5 associates.
Our first 'event' was the veteran's day parade in November and we were greeted with what I considered somewhat mixed emotion. It was my first knowledge of the former Homefront Heroes and I was told there had been a 'few' problems and it no longer existed. Some comments suggested our timing might be good because the community still had a desire to give while others thought we had a huge obstacle to overcome. It turns out the latter might have been closer to the truth.
At subsequent events and efforts at garnering community support I seemed to hear the previous organizations name more than I really needed to. I also heard many negative comments that seemed to group us together. We are NOT a resurrection -- we are NOT the same group with a new name. As one enlightened citizen suggested, we are NOT a 'fly by night' charity. As the days progressed so did the stories I heard about what 'had reallly happened' and the more confused I got. The stories ran the gamut of embezzlement by the founder to storage lockers of rotted goods that were never sent to the troops as believed. I was told they were still operating underground (interesting scenario for a non-profit)and I was told they were disbanded and their 501(c)3 status had been revoked.
After a recent event at the mall where I was verbally attacked for a variety of incidents and happenings I have no knowledge of I decided to try and come up with a solution. It was depressing to host a large event at the mall and be shunned by over 50% of the shoppers and to leave with our donation baskets and cups close to empty. Many of the mall patrons even shied away from signing a valentine. I also decided to see what the real story was on the defunct Homefront Heroes.
An aquaintance confided that she avoided attending larger events with us because of her prior involvement with Homefront Heroes but she hasn't been a large source of information. She has attended events in the shadows and passed out steakhouse gift cards that were "from Homefront Heroes but I don't say so" I suggested they be donated to Blue Star Mothers and was told the organization was thriving on the eastern slope. I suggested evrything from this side go over there to make a clean break for the community. She mentioned they were still hoping to revive it and that audits had been done and were available for viewing.
A check on the Colorado State website showed the name is still in use and registered but there is no record of State charities registration. A further check on the IRS form 78 shows the 501(c)3 status is not in effect as of Dec 2007.
An internet search on Homefront Heroes turned up some interesting facts. For one thing, they still claim to be in operation in Grand Junction although the rumors of them being underground might have a basis in reality. The website is not homefront heroes but militarysupportgroup .com . They are still selling magnets, they are still accepting donations, and they still have a full board of directors for Grand Junction. A second website procalims them to be somehow involved with A local check cashing store http://www.cashnowcolorado.com/homefront.html
although on a phone call to one of the offices I was told 'We don't have a website' and when I gave her the URL she seemed quite shocked and said she was going to see that it was taken down immediately.
Then I received a call from a girl scout troop who had seen us on the news and want very much to be able to donate cookies to the troops again and asked would we work with them. I felt good but was taken aback when asked if we needed them to box them and pay the postage as well so they wouldn't rot in storage. My explaining that we were scrambling to have enough items to fill packages and storage was the least of our concerns were met with her stories of previous negative publicity with Homefront Heroes.
Again I searched not only through Google and Yahoo but also through the online archives of the Free Press. I found several stories of the growth of Homefront Heroes, of the large cookie campaigns and of the communities donations to the Steakhouse gift cards. Nothing negative appeared anywhere in the archives. It seemed I was to stay in the dark until I made one more internet search through the Sentinel's archives. I found it listed on a page of the top stories of the year but a click on the link informed me the story had been removed. The headline, however, divulged a name -- a different name than I had encountered in my research of Homefront Heroes.
I then did a search on the name Sarah Kenney and found probably more than I wanted to know. The original story from the news article is included at http://www.mudvillegazette.com/archives/002191.html
and is there through the cuortesy of Google cache. For any who do not know, web pages remain in storage in a cache for years after they are deleted. The story is a tragic tale of a young soldier who jumped in front of a young Iraqi girl to save her from a bullet and was killed leaving his pregnant wife and family behind. Homefront Heroes had submitted the press release, complete with photos to the Sentinal and were raising money for the bereaved widow and her family. The story was a fraud.
More details can be found in the write up by the mudville gazette
, including other facts they gleaned from the sentinel before they were deleted. The involvement of Homefront Heroes is fuzzy but questionable. The story itself had too many verifiable details to have been submitted without verification. One would also have to question the Sentinel. In fact it had too many storybook characteristics to be accepted at face value but it was -- and it was published and the community rallied in support. However it did run -- and was a bogus story for apparently illicit purposes -- and has left Blue Star Mothers of the Grand Valley with a hurdle to climb -- but climb it we will!
A more complete article, also from caches of the Sentinel's archives can be seen here
. And the Free Press did indeed have coverage, in fact they did plenty of investigating to help uncover the scam. A report on this is in the Vail Daily
This article covers some of the other comments we have been confronted
with. I gather Homefront Heroes was involved in more than one episode of
an excerpt... "Huffman and fellow ex-board member Tom Logsdon
spoke with reporters in a press conference called by the former board shortly
after 11 a.m. — held in front of the Grand Junction Police Department at the end
of interviews they had with police that started at 10 a.m. Huffman said herself,
Logsdon and his wife, Sherry, and Carrie Harmeyer presented “written and verbal”
financial information to Grand Junction Police Lt. Greg Assenmacher and Chief
District Attorney’s Investigator Gil Stone." An article is in the GJ Free
Another Update........ More Details on the Junction Daily Blog