Lost-n-Found Youth re­in­states co-founder Rick West­brook

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Lost-n-Found Youth’s board of di­rec­tors re­in­stated Rick West­brook as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor af­ter a week they’d like to for­get that in­cluded West­brook’s de­mo­tion, com­mu­nity back­lash and mass res­ig­na­tions that dec­i­mated their board.

The move hap­pened at a pas­sion­ate and some­times con­tentious board meet­ing on Aug. 26 at the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s of­fices, where around 40 peo­ple—in­clud­ing sup­port­ers and crit­ics of West­brook’s, for­mer vol­un­teers and board mem­bers and oth­ers—crowded into a board room to wit­ness the pro­ceed­ings and speak their minds. The board’s de­ci­sion to re­in­state cost them an­other board mem­ber though, as Lil­iana Bakhtiari re­signed in protest, got up and walked out of the meet­ing as it be­came clear the vote was about go in West­brook’s fa­vor. That leaves Lost-n-Found with just four re­main­ing board mem­bers—chair Bruce Gar­ner, trea­surer David Lit­tle, Marci Alt and Jesse Peel—and makes Bakhtiari the eighth mem­ber to re­sign since the Aug. 22 an­nounce­ment of West­brook’s de­mo­tion.

There were 12 board mem­bers as of Aug. 22, but a se­ries of res­ig­na­tions fol­lowed that day’s move to de­mote West­brook to out­reach di­rec­tor and the en­su­ing com­mu­nity back­lash. Chris Burgess, Michelle Groover, Ed Smith-Lewis, J. Harry Shan­non, Char­lotte Ca­gle, Keith Hollingsworth, and Mau­reen Kal­man­son all re­signed.

“I al­ways want Rick to be the face of the or­ga­ni­za­tion but we grew to such a size – we had a lot of is­sues,” Bakhtiari said in her com­ments on what tran­spired through­out the week lead­ing up to the board meet­ing. “This or­ga­ni­za­tion is big­ger than Rick, big­ger than any­one in this room. It is about our youth and this past week, peo­ple have com­pletely lost sight of that.”

Grow­ing pains and trans­parency is­sues

“Grow­ing pains” was a fre­quent topic through­out the meet­ing, with West­brook and Rick West­brook (left, in purple shirt) was re­in­stated as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Lost-n-Found Youth on Aug. 26. (Photo by Pa­trick Saun­ders) the board re­it­er­at­ing that in a press re­lease is­sued im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the meet­ing.

“While the nor­mal de­vel­op­men­tal pe­riod for a new non­profit is around 15 years, that time­line gets con­tracted to about five years for non­prof­its founded in re­sponse to cri­sis sit­u­a­tions,” the state­ment read. “We are a few months short of the fifth an­niver­sary of our found­ing. While we re­gret that some of our grow­ing pains have played out pub­licly, we re­main com­mit­ted to our mis­sion and re­build­ing the trust of the com­mu­nity we serve. Sim­i­larly we are work­ing to in­sure that we have ad­di­tional staff and board mem­bers com­mit­ted to those we serve.”

Trans­parency was an­other topic of dis­cus­sion both in the meet­ing and on­line in the days lead­ing up to it, with many in the com­mu­nity (in­clud­ing for­mer board mem­bers and em­ploy­ees) crit­i­ciz­ing West­brook and the board for not be­ing more trans­par­ent about their prac­tices. West­brook vowed that they would sup­ply any fi­nan­cial doc­u­ments they’re legally re­quired to make avail­able, and that links would be added to the group’s web­site with their lat­est form 990 and 2016 ap­proved op­er­at­ing bud- get, which West­brook said was $800,000 for this year but added that they will likely bring in over $1 mil­lion.

As of Aug. 30, the 2014 and 2015 fi­nan­cial au­dits and IRS 990 forms are avail­able on the group’s web­site, but the 2016 ap­proved op­er­a­tion bud­get was not.

Group searches for op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor, new board mem­bers

Much of the crit­i­cism against West­brook was about his try­ing to do too much and get­ting in­volved in ar­eas that don’t play to his strengths, with even some of his sup­port­ers con­ced­ing as much in public com­ments dur­ing the meet­ing. He took it in stride in an in­ter­view af­ter the meet­ing was over, say­ing, “Ad­min’s not my thing. That’s why I need a di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions.”

Clay­ton Skin­ner re­signed as COO on Aug. 23, a day af­ter be­ing named di­rec­tor of op­er­a­tions, telling the Ge­or­gia Voice that he never for­mally ac­cepted the po­si­tion.

“The is­sues sur­round­ing home­less youth in Ge­or­gia and the South­east, and in par­tic­u­lar the in­cred­i­ble strug­gle of LGBTQ young peo­ple in our com­mu­nity, can and should be the fo­cus of our at­ten­tion,” Skin­ner wrote in his res­ig­na­tion let­ter, which the Ge­or­gia Voice ob­tained a copy of. “Re­cent events com­pounded with on­go­ing is­sues, many of which the com­mu­nity are not be fully aware, have led me to be­lieve that my per­sonal ef­forts can be bet­ter spent to­wards this en­deavor in other ways, out­side my cur­rent role with Lost-n-Found. It is with this in mind, that I re­spect­fully of­fer my res­ig­na­tion as Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer to the Board of Lost-n-Found Youth, Inc.”

While West­brook says he hopes to con­vince Skin­ner to re­con­sider, the search to fill the po­si­tion is on, as is the search to fill the eight va­cant po­si­tions on the board. West­brook says he has a stack of re­sumes of peo­ple in­ter­ested in join­ing that he’s pass­ing on to the board to re­view.

Look­ing back on Lost-n-Found Youth’s chaotic week, the newly re­named ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor turned things back to what many in the meet­ing said they needed to turn back to—Atlanta’s LGBT home­less youth.

“It’s a good thing for my kids be­cause my kids can see, ‘Look, the com­mu­nity sup­ports y’all. They want y’all to have what you need.’ And we’re go­ing to do what­ever it takes.”

By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

Septem­ber 2, 2016

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