JONESBORO -- It won't be long now until the rush for school supplies. It's not uncommon to hear of community efforts to outfit students who may not be able to afford supplies. But, before you open your wallet to help out, ask questions. You might be surprised to find that things aren't always as they seem.
An article in last Saturday's Jonesboro Sun tells of a school supply drive organized by Restoration Phase One Incorporated. It's the same group that last fall helped to provide a thanksgiving dinner and gave toys away on Christmas to needy children. The difference this time is the organization claims to be doing work that CRDC, or the Crowley's Ridge Development Council has passed onto them.
"We are concerned as far as the Crowley's Ridge Development Council, because our name has gone out there and we're not sure how much funds have been raised," said Loyd Price, Executive Director of CRDC. "There's no accountability."
Price is particularly alarmed by a letter which solicits funds to Restoration Phase One Inc. on behalf of a school supply drive. The letter surfaced at a local bank. It claims all school supply efforts once coordinated by CRDC have been passed onto the organization led by Shameka Williams-Haynes.
"Some people may be thinking they're sending funds in to help us, to help our programs and to help our SOS program--but since we have not had that agreement, we don't know where the funds are going," said Price.
Diana contacted Williams-Haynes to see if she would talk about the school supply drive.
That was the same day Williams-Haynes was to have signed a contract with the Northeast Arkansas District Fairgrounds for her event. CRDC representatives hoped to catch up with her to--to get answers to their questions. But, she didn't show.
"We have the contract prepared and we're waiting on her certificate of insurance and her check for rent," explained Jerry Reece, general manager for the Northeast Arkansas District Fair.
And they could be waiting for a while, Williams-Haynes told me over the phone that her event has now been delayed until August. Jerry Reece says that's not possible. No buildings are rented during that time in preparation for the fair.
"Have you gotten people to give you money?" asked Diana.
Williams-Haynes, who declined an on-camera interview, says she's approached area banks, one local hospital, a few lawyers and some doctors for school supply funds. She says she's still waiting to hear from most of them. And that's disturbing when you consider this... The non-profit tax ID number appearing on her letter doesn't check out. In fact, the Internal Revenue Service says this quote: "There is no record that this organization is tax-exempt by virtue of an approved application."
At the same time, Shameka Williams-Haynes faces at least four arrest warrants for hot checks, according to the Jonesboro Police.
"One of the banks contacted us and told us that they had been solicited by her," said Loyd Price. "They wanted to contribute but they wanted to be sure that the money was going to the right place."
Williams-Haynes told me that she never intended to use any of the funds raised for her personal use. She also said her assistant wrote this letter. After my phone call, she contacted CRDC and told them she would clear up all of the miscommunication with another story in the Jonesboro Sun. A very small article appeared in today's paper talking about a delay with the event. But, there was no mention of CRDC--and CRDC has yet to receive of list of businesses and individuals Williams-Haynes contacted for funds.
Williams-Haynes article in the Jonesboro Sun said that security and transportation to the school supply event would be provided by the mayor's office. Doug Forman's office says there will be no security provided and the only transportation available is a city bus.
Thursday afternoon Williams-Haynes sent a letter to the CRDC apologizing for any miscommunication. She also decided to cancel her event on behalf of Restoration Phase One, Incorporated, but still did not mention specific businesses she has approached for contribution.
After hearing of this story, you may be asking yourself, "What about SOS--Or Supply Our Schools, the yearly event that KAIT and CRDC have sponsored in the past?
We are working with the United Way and CRDC this year to get students the tools they need for school. We are not affiliated with Restoration Phase One Incorporated. If you have made a donation to this organization on behalf of the school supply drive, CRDC would like to know. You can reach Loyd Price at Crowley's Ridge Development Council. That number is 802-7100, Ext. 113.