By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer

Champion Team seeks help to keep doors open

Champion Team — a McMinnville nonprofit that provides services to people with mental health issues, homelessness and drug addiction — is asking the community for some help itself.

And for its part, a new director and board president say the organization is correcting past wrongs that led it to the brink of closure.

The Yamhill County Health and Human Services Department has terminated its contract with Champion Team, which was the agency’s sole source of revenue. But Board President Carrie Martin said the government agency, which managed state and federal revenue on behalf of the nonprofit, had no choice because Champion Team had long lacked proper record keeping.

“I don’t fault them at all,” Martin said. “They have been a wonderful partner; we have had many conversations with their staff, but at the end of the day they had to do what was best for them.”

Health and Human Services Director Lindsey Manfrin declined comment on the contract termination, or how services might be replaced.

“HHS values peer supports and greatly appreciates our partnership with many peer organizations. We will continue to find ways to support people through peers in the community,” Manfrin said.

Now, without an infusion of cash, organizers say, Champion Team will have to close its doors just as the cold of winter hits, leaving area homeless people without a warm, safe place to be during the day.

“There is no other organization that can pick up the slack,” Martin said. “If the drop-in center does not exist, there is no place for those people to go to get warm, to have some respite, to get a couple of meals, to get donated warm clothing.”

Interim Executive Director Howie Harkema concurred: places such as First Baptist Church in McMinnville and the Gospel Rescue Mission also provide aid, but they “can only do so much.”

Martin described the drop-in center as “step one” for clients in need. 

“You come through the door; you are met with fellowship and kindness and food and shelter and clothing,” she said. “Then you’re met with people who are trained to work with you and make referrals to other agencies and persons ... But there is no one else who provides this initial step.”

First Federal Bank in McMinnville has provided a grant for $5,000, Martin said, which will allow Champion Team to operate its drop-in center for the first two weeks of December. It takes a little more than $10,000 a month, she said, to keep the organization running, Martin said.

She said she’s especially concerned about the timing.

“Winter is really tough when you don’t have shelter. Days are long when you’re cold. Winter is very different than if we were dealing with this in the spring or summer; it’s very unforgiving weather conditions,” she said.

Both Martin and Harkema joined Champion Team in August amid turmoil surrounding how the organization was being managed.

With accusations about the nonprofit and its staff circulating in the community and on social media, Martin was asked to attend a board meeting to provide guidance, she said.  

“They didn’t really have a sanctionable board, is what we discovered,” she said.

County Commissioner Casey Kulla asked Harkema, a former director at the Soup Kitchen @ St. Barnabas and longtime homelessness advocate, to the same meeting, along with several other people. But because the organization had only two board members, the meeting couldn’t legally proceed until the board membership positions were filled.

“As a consequence, that board nominated and approved five of us to join the board that night,” Martin said. Martin and Kulla were among the new board members. “I really did not see that coming. But it was very clear to everyone who was in attendance that this was something that was desperately needed; that they were really needing help and had needed help for a long time.

The newly enacted board listened to staff describe issues within the organization. 

“It was clear that aspirations had gone off the rails some time before, and wasn’t a COVID-19 thing; it had happened for awhile and got really bad from COVID,” Martin said. “They have done some really amazing work. But it wasn’t sustainable, at the end of the day.”

The board terminated former director Heather Hunter, and appointed Harkema as an interim replacement.

Martin credited Hunter for her dedication and passion for Champion Team’s work, but said lack of staff training and record keeping led to failures within the organization. 

“There are a lot of rules ... and you have to keep meticulous records,” she said. “You have to be able to document the services you provide, have clear record keeping that documents every dollar that comes through the door; where did you get it, and how did you spend it. If you’re not familiar with those, things start to slide.”

One of the great aspects of Champions Team, Martin noted, is how clients become volunteers and then staff members, building a peer support system that those in need find more trusting.  

“But there has to be a clear understanding that there is a real need for training,” she said.

Another problem occurred when the organization’s bookkeeper left at the beginning of the pandemic, and not replaced.

“There is no question the staff have always put the clients first, and have worked literally around the clock,” she said. “But you have to run the business of the organization.”

Martin said she and Harkema have been doing the bookkeeping, and have managed to bring it up to date. The board had intended to hire a bookkeeper, she said, but that plan was put on hold “when the funding was pulled.”

Following the August meeting, the board decided to investigate all the complaints made by staff and volunteers, including operational deficiencies and legal compliance as a 501(c), Martin said. “And then we would make a determination whether we had done enough and Champion Team could continue or had to close its doors.”

Martin said they noticed the nonprofit assumed more than it could handle. It was created in 2000 to serve a population needing diverse mental health services, but in time expanded its mission. 

“It has now become the sort of first responder agency to people who experience homelessness, people who experience drug and alcohol addiction and people with mental health issues,” Martin said. “It has also become a catchall for people post incarceration who are homeless. So those are four very different populations.”

Without board oversight, it faltered.

“Nonprofits rely heavily on the board; it has the ultimate responsibility for the organization and the employees,” she said. “They had two people and they hadn’t been having any meetings. And that’s not Ok.”

Eventually, some staff took their frustrations to social media, which was fortunate, Martin said. “It got people’s attention; people were able to step up and say ‘I didn’t realize you were in trouble.’”

Harkema said the board hired an attorney to investigate the complaints, but declined to detail the findings, other than to say they were “too deep to keep Heather on, so she was let go.”

The board also conducted a financial audit.

“We have not identified any criminal charges,” Martin said. “There were errors in judgment and lack of competency.”

Hunter could not be reached for comment.

Harkema said he re-hired two other staff members who had been fired before he came on.

“They were down to one and some volunteers,” he said. “I had to rehire two of the staff who had been laid off, immediately, even to find out what was going on around here.”

Harkema said he conducted interviews about staff termination and concluded it was as much the past director’s problem as theirs.

“So I rehired them, partly because I needed the input and they had the expertise and experience here and partly because they were good people to begin with,” Harkema said.

Harkema said the center serves two meals a day, and remains a place for people to stay warm and out of the winter weather, as well as to seek referrals to other services in the county.

Many people, he said, don’t necessarily know how to find the agencies offering services they need, so staff helps with that research.

He’s up to three full-time staff members, he said, plus a newly-hired security guard, but it isn’t enough to run the agency properly.

“I am short staffed every minute of every day,” he said. “If I had a perfect number, it would be seven, because these guys are busting their rear ends on a daily basis to get everything done that needs to get done in a day. It’s almost impossible, and I’m working enormous amounts of hours.”

Without the drop-in center, Champion Team’s clients would “go back to Third Street and disperse into the neighborhoods,” Harkema said. “I’m unsure what would happen. … I am super concerned about what’s going to happen if we have to close for the winter. I’ve been involved in this homeless issue for 14 years, and I don’t want to see another person die on the streets, and I don’t think anyone in McMinnville wants to see that either.”

Kulla described the center as “a dignified, non-judgmental place to simply and safely be.”

He also stressed how temporary funding is needed now to get through the winter. “

Then a sustainable funding source to keep going past winter: people need a space to be, a place to rest, and a space that connects them with help,” he said.
If new funding is secured, Martin said, the nonprofit will hire additional staff.

“For the organization be able to move forward in a meaningful way, certain positions must be in place. You must have a bookkeeper, you must have an executive director, and you must have a full, functioning board,” she said. “If we are not able to create a level of financial stability to allow us to hire the positions we need, we are not going to be able to continue.

“That would be unfortunate, but we’re not going to cut those kind of corners, because that’s just not how you run an organization.”

The agency may be reached at 503-474-4600. Donations may be mailed to 1300 N.W. Adams St., Suite B, McMinnville OR 97128.

Comments

Oregonian

“We have not identified any criminal charges,” Martin said. “There were errors in judgment and lack of competency.”

And with that statement, you have guaranteed there will never be financial support from the community. Let it fail and maybe someone who is competent and has good judgement will create something new.

David S. Wall

In my opinion,

It is a matter of record I do not support Champion Team and HHS management.

*Note the following statements from the Director of HHS concerning "Champion Team" and "many peer organizations."

*[" Health and Human Services Director Lindsey Manfrin declined comment on the contract termination, or how services might be replaced.

“HHS values peer supports and greatly appreciates our partnership with many peer organizations. We will continue to find ways to support people through peers in the community,” Manfrin said."]

Manfrin has been around for several years under the former Director of HHS when Champion Team was nested under the Yamhill Community Cares Organization (YCCO).

Review Champion Team's Registration and Amended Annual Reports here:

http://egov.sos.state.or.us/br/pkg_web_name_srch_inq.show_detl?p_be_rsn=633327&p_srce=BR_INQ&p_print=FALSE

Champion Team's Amended Annual Reports indicate multiple personnel changes over time. Why?

Now we are supposed to "feel sorry" for Champion Team and "bail them out?"

Champion Team should never have been given the HHS contract in the first place and...HHS management should have been held accountable and summarily discharged from service for allowing the contract to go forward and to permit YCCO from being formed and nested under HHS.

HHS management stinks to high heaven for what has been allowed to occur over the past few years as well as the scandals concerning YCCO and Champion Team. (There are other scandals with other "Non-Profits.")

List all of the "many peer organizations" HHS has contracts for service.

Check them out and contact Commissioner Mary Starrett for more information on "peer review services" and who is paying their; salaries, benefits and retirements.

https://hhs.co.yamhill.or.us/communitysupportservices/page/peer-services

David S. Wall

Hibb

"[E]rrors in judgement and lack of competency" is a politically correct way of addressing the ongoing dilemma being experienced at Champion Team and it will be the patrons of that establishment that will pay the high price of it being closed.

Champion Team was an eyesore and let's not fool ourselves into thinking it was anything other than that. The neighbors of Champion Team have long had to pay the cost of the high traffic of people that would go there, many of whom are addicts, and their bizarre, erratic and sometimes dangerous behaviors. Local law enforcement were called there numerous times, as well as the County Crisis Team and local fire department. These changes were all innovations of Ms. Hunter and even previous Board Members expressed their displeasure at the way 'things' were now.

Sadly, all the 'good' that Ms. Hunter supposedly accomplished during her tenure and was once lauded for by area civic leaders is now forgotten and on a personal level faces the incriminating accusations and suspicions that if proven could lead to a prison term. Lindsey Manfrin did the right thing by pulling the funding and now the second step is for the new ad hoc board to refer these matters to the authorities to investigate and determine if the level of abuse perpetuated by Hunter warrants prosecution. The "new" Board's so-called investigation is nothing less than a whitewash of the facts and Howie Harkema, the interim Executive Director, should demand that justice be served.

Champion Team had been a toxic work site for nearly the entirety of Hunter's tenure and that explains why there was such a high turnover rate of employees. In hindsight, Hunter should of never been put in a place of such responsibility and never been given free reign over a bank account that often saw upwards of $150,000 pass through it on a yearly basis. I guess we won't have to worry about that anymore....

Hibb

How convenient that the new Interim Executive Director Howie Harkema has the same initials as Heather Hunter (HH), so now they will not have to replace the towels in the Executive Washroom.