With Block foundation, differing visions

Critics say few funds going to shelters

officials counter that child-abuse awareness is focus

March 09, 2009|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,childs.walker@baltsun.com

This should be the best time of year for the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation. A pack of NFL stars are on their way to Baltimore to be honored by the foundation tomorrow and to spend time with abused children. Thousands of eyes will turn to Ed Block and its cause.

But the foundation is under fire from former board members and sponsors who say it gives little money to the 17 children's shelters it's affiliated with. In December, the foundation asked one dissatisfied board member to step down, and three others with ties to him resigned shortly after. Several significant sponsors have also pulled support, and one, the Ravens Roost 50 fan club, says funds earmarked for the 17 "courage houses" never made it to them.

Foundation officials say they're more focused on raising awareness of child abuse and on building relationships between shelters and NFL teams than on fundraising and donations. Their heavy focus on the annual March banquet is rewarded, they say, by the attention it receives.

The last available financial information - from a required 990 tax form filed last year - shows between June 2006 and May 2007, the foundation raised $346,771 in revenue but dispensed only $43,125 in grants. Of the 17 "courage houses" affiliated with Ed Block, only St. Vincent's Center in Timonium received any money ($15,000). That's a substantial change from the 2002 tax year, when Ed Block raised $305,174 in revenue but gave away $121,195 in grants. Eleven courage houses received at least $5,000, and St. Vincent's received $55,000.

Those numbers have ex-supporters and charity experts questioning the foundation.

"The event raises a lot of money, and it's a great thing," former board member John Valentini said. "But if we don't raise a lot of money for the kids, why are we having it?"

The American Institute of Philanthropy says a good charity should spend at least 60 percent of its revenue on programs. Between salary and grants, Ed Block spent about 29 percent of its 2006-2007 revenue on programs.

"It leaves you wondering why this is being done?" Daniel Borochoff of AIP said. "Why are they spending so much on management in general? They say it's all for abused children, but it looks like a lot of it is about putting on the event."

He wondered why NFL players couldn't pay for their own travel costs to attend the banquet. "In these economic times, people have to be concerned about a charity paying for star treatment," he said.

Ed Block staff and board members said these questions are unfair, and they portrayed Valentini as an embittered figure who was dissatisfied the board would not act on his whims. They argued Ed Block performs a unique service by forging ties between charities and their local NFL teams.

"We pair them with the greatest partner in the world," Ed Block president Sam Lamantia said. "Who wouldn't want to be associated with the NFL?"

Ed Block officials said with an unpaid board, one full-time staffer and two part-timers (no one makes more than $45,000 a year), the foundation can't put on more than a few events per year.

"The problem is that we're a unique charity," board member and treasurer Anna Lybrook said. "Most charities focus on donations. We don't. Most charities spend most of their effort giving money away. We don't. Our main purpose is to raise awareness of child abuse."

Ed Block accomplishes that mission, said some representatives of the charities and sponsors that work with the foundation.

"For us, the relationship is a positive because it provides us with a pipeline to the Cowboys," said Edward Shipman, director of the Dallas courage house. "In terms of their concept and their commitment to the foundation's long-range goals, I think their motives are good and pure."

Despite such support, Lamantia said the public criticism has made it more difficult for the foundation to raise money and maintain sponsorships at its most crucial time of year.

"There's a cloud over Ed Block, and that should not happen," he said. "The timing of this is a disaster for us. That's my concern."

Several sponsors have left since a report on Fox 45 News last month raised questions about the foundation's spending habits.

Don Miller, president of Ravens Roost 50, said he recently stopped payment on a $25,000 check to Ed Block. He said he specifically asked that each courage house receive $200 from last year's donation of $28,400. Foundation officials said they have used that money to bring representatives from the courage houses to the banquet in Baltimore.

But that's not good enough for Miller, who said the foundation ignored his wishes.

"I'm thinking that this whole thing started as a great concept," said Miller, whose club had worked with Ed Block since 1999. "But it's become nothing more than a show."

He said Ravens Roost will instead give money directly to St. Vincent's.

Ex-Colts concerned

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