Colorado Springs Community Abandoned by ACORN
From Colorado Springs Gazette,
Last year, ACORN, a national organization dedicated to social justice for low-income neighborhoods, sprouted a new branch in Colorado Springs.
Its first project was a voter registration drive, followed by efforts to organize residents in unincorporated Stratmoor Valley and in the city's Wildflower neighborhood near the airport.
The voter registration effort was tainted when a temporary worker hired by ACORN was indicted by a grand jury and accused of forging 19 registration cards.
Now, there is more trouble for ACORN's Springs chapter.
Representatives in Stratmoor Valley and Wildflower have quit ACORN despite some success raising money to build parks and get streetlights for the neighborhoods.
"It all started off good," said Albert Aldaz, a leader of the Stratmoor Valley group. "But it turned out so bad."
ACORN has a long history of abandoning communities. I personally witnessed offices that had accomplished great work where ACORN just mysteriously closed the office with no warning. After residents had rasied money and paid their dues. After leaving ACORN kept taking money out of people's accounts even though they no longer had any investment in the community
"Julie Wilson of the Wildflower neighborhood is grateful for the help Wildflower re- ceived from ACORN -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which claims 850 chapters with 175,000 members in 75 cities.
"We give them credit for bringing us together and helping us," Wilson said. "But we severed ties in August. We felt it would be in our best interests to go our separate ways. We wanted more control and say-so."
Both Aldaz and Wilson said they questioned why ACORN wanted individual members to pay monthly $10 dues to the national organization.
"The dues were supposed to come back to the neighborhood," Wilson said. "So we figured, why not just keep them here to begin with? Why go through a third party?"
Aldaz said the issue of dues and how they are spent hit him in July when he was invited to spend a weekend in Washington, D.C., attending ACORN-sponsored events.
"The light bulb went on," he said. "I was at this legislative meeting. They flew me out. Put me up in a hotel. Fed me great meals. And I thought something wasn't right. We're paying for that with our dues."
It is often true that communities cannot get money invested back into their community after they have raised it. They are told the money they raise is going to help the community, but then members finding themselves on some trip to Washington on some national agenda they know nothing about.
He didn't feel good, knowing money from poor neighborhoods like Stratmoor Valley was being spent on lavish events elsewhere.
"Our money goes to the national chapter to support their agenda," Aldaz said. "They convinced us we could do something for our neighborhood when they really wanted to lure us into something larger and political in Washington."
So when he got home and thought about it, Aldaz decided to quit the group.
"We no longer are affiliated with ACORN," he said. "We started a new group. We're not forcing anyone to pay dues. If they want to make donations, we'll take them."
But it's not so easy to quit.
The Stratmoor Valley group says it can't get access to $3,000 or so it generated in fundraisers and donations for its campaign to get streetlights and a park in the neighborhood.
"We don't know where our money is," Aldaz said. "We've tried to get answers, but we can't get any. We feel abandoned."
Even worse, the group said it's being dunned for $200 in bills left by ACORN when its paid organizer, Rachel Stovall, quit in August.
Rent has gone unpaid on ACORN's office leased from the Urban League of the Pikes Peak Area. And teenagers hired to help with Stratmoor Valley cleanup were never reimbursed by ACORN, Aldaz said, adding that he and others paid them from their own pockets.
But the worst problem, Aldaz said, is the issue of dues. Many Stratmoor Valley residents agreed to let ACORN automatically withdraw monthly dues from their bank accounts.
"A bunch of people in our neighborhood are still paying dues," Aldaz said.
Stovall said it's unfair to blame her for any problems because she quit in a dispute over sick time and ACORN has not replaced her.
"I don't work for ACORN anymore," she said, "but I'm willing to help these people. They shouldn't have to pay dues if they don't want to pay dues. And they need to be seeing treasury reports and things."
ACORN's Western regional organizer, Clare Crawford of Albuquerque, blames much of the confusion and problems on Stovall's abrupt departure and on Hurricane Katrina, which forced the group from its New Orleans headquarters and snarled communications, paperwork and financial transactions.
"We've had a lot of difficulty recovering," Crawford said. "A check that is normally issued in a week now takes a month or more. We're trying to get rent checks issued. And I have at least one reimbursement check that I've processed for them."
She asked ACORN members to be patient until she can visit Colorado Springs later this month to meet with them and resolve outstanding issues. "I don't understand why they want to cancel their memberships," she said. "I have been in e-mail contact with several officers there. I have invited them to call me.
"We want to solve this situation as quickly as possible. I would really hope, based on the good work we did early on, that people will have a little bit of patience. We do have a commitment there."
Just another day with ACORN