Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local News

November 24, 2012

New Horizons seeks to realign its mission

AMERICUS — The ReStore, a retail effort of the New Horizons affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, is again asking for donations, of goods and cash, in an effort to get over its latest blip.

With the firing of its former executive director as well another staffer and in the midst of a “high-level” audit, the local Board of directors is seeking to restore the ReStore.

In an effort to gain an understanding of what has occurred with the organization over the six several months, Trent Tye, interim executive director since the end of August, agreed to sit down with the Americus Times-Recorder.

“We did uncover some problems with the management of our funds,” Tye said. “We moved very quickly to resolve that and we are currently fixing that problem. We found some possible problems that need to go to the DA (District Attorney).”

Tye said he had already turned over information for the DA’s review so that office can offer an opinion.

“We want them to make the call,” Tye said. “We didn’t want to take that responsibility ourselves.”

Tye said there’s a public perception that a “tremendous amount of money has evaporated,” but said that’s simply not true.

“We have clear accountability for where everything went; it went with poor management decisions,” he said.

“We do have issues with some of our accounts, but we’re working with (Habitat for Humanity) International and several banks and we expect for there to be no problem. First and foremost, our homeowners are safe.”

 New Horizons holds 308 family mortgages worth some $5.5 million in Sumter County which pump over $400,000 from the homeowners into the local tax base every year.

Regarding the ReStore specifically, Tye said there were “some symptoms.”

“There were a lot of bad decisions made on spending,” he said.

In May, Tye said that ReStore underwent a vast remodel and began selling high-end items such as $3,000 couches.

“Everyone was aghast,” he said.

“ ... the ReStore is going to be heading back to what it was intended to be,” he said. “It’s supposed to be one of those places where when you walk in and see something, whether you need it or not, the deal is so good on it that you have to take it home anyway.”

Tye explained that the ReStore was originally designed to intercept furniture, etc. that was “headed for the dump,” specifically used appliances after a remodel of the home. ReStore would clean up the items and get them into working order and offer them for sale.

“That’s what we’re going back to,” he said. “In the coming months you’re not going to see the ReStore advertising sales. You’re going to see the ReStore asking again for donations and the support of the community.”

Tye says they have “one of the nicest looking ReStores in the state.”

As a former Board member, Tye admits that he never realized the loyalty and dedication of the people working for New Horizons.

“New Horizons is an excellent organization and does a lot of real and tangible good ... I so appreciate the loyalty and hard work of the folks who make this work,” he said.

He also assured that the current Board is involved “up to their necks” and he has daily communications with them.

“We’re not in a critical situation but to give us some breathing room we’ve approached a couple of local banks. ... We’re not a small company. We’re leveraging some of those assets to get some extra breathing room until we get this whole thing resolved.”

Joe Kellum, former executive director, was removed over the poor  management decisions. Linda Palmer was placed on paid administrative leave for a month and half and then let go. After an internal audit was completed, enough job related issues were found to make a change.

“Not because of any pronounced wrong-doing,” Tye emphasized.

Carey Harbuck was placed on unpaid administrative leave. His position was covered by a grant and when issues were discovered and reported to International, the affiliate no longer qualified for that grant.

In a nutshell, Tye says the problems were a “culmination of a number of bad decisions that got past the Board ... a lot of accounting errors but nothing done in malfeasance, basic accounting errors. We have hired someone else to come in and straighten out our accounts.”

He said they expect the forensic audit to be completed by the end of January.

“There is a lot less skullduggery and a lot less cloak and dagger than everybody thinks,” Tye said, “but it’s under investigation.

“The company is not in any great danger. We’re working with International ... We have a tremendous amount of backing in the community. ... We’re having to work very hard to realign our mission ... The majority of the work in this has not been fixing some great error that someone stole something from us; it’s been making sure we have a correct direction ... making sure the vision of New Horizons is what it’s meant to be and that includes the ReStore ... ”

Tim Lewis is new president of the Board. Emmett Washington is now the manager of the ReStore.


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