By SHERMAN SMITH
TOPEKA — J.T. Burnley says he owes every part to Saint Francis Ministries.
Like others whose lives have intersected with the Salina-based foster care supplier, he was sorry to see the group “catapulted into limelight,” as he places it, by the monetary scandal surrounding just lately deposed management.
Kansas Reflector first reported on an investigator’s conclusion that former Saint Francis CEO Robert “Father Bobby” Smith made private costs with the nonprofit’s bank cards, hid monetary losses from his board of administrators, and made inappropriate investments in Invoice Whymark’s software program firm.
“I can solely maintain my head excessive after I hear that as a result of I can stand earlier than you as a grown man and say that isn’t Saint Francis,” Burnley stated. “I can be indebted to Saint Francis day by day of my life. It modified my life. I owe my growth as an equestrian.”
As a boy within the Seventies, Burnley was faraway from his small-town Louisiana dwelling, the place his violent father inflicted bodily and emotional ache, and positioned by courtroom order at a Saint Francis boys dwelling in Ellsworth. Now 60, Burnley is a world dressage competitor who trains horses by way of the corporate he owns and operates along with his spouse in southwest Kentucky.
In Ellsworth, Burnley benefited from an equine remedy program. He discovered it simpler to attach with horses and other people, and the workers helped him harness the expertise that will assist him excel at dressage. For the unfamiliar, Burnley described the Olympic sport as “ballet with a horse.” He has competed in Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Holland, Canada, Mexico and Brazil.
“What sparked this curiosity was the time I spent at Saint Francis,” Burnley stated. “It was studying the best way to be chargeable for your self and as a substitute of cower away from every part, or dwell in worry, to carry your head excessive and be respectful of different individuals.”
One time, after making an attempt to guard his brother, Burnley’s father beat him so badly he needed to lay within the bathtub with epsom salts for 3 days so his bloody wounds from his shoulders to his knees wouldn’t get contaminated.
In his remaining yr at Saint Francis, he obtained a job at a ranch owned by the daddy of a Saint Francis counselor, Cory Rathbun.
“I bear in mind seeing Cory say, ‘I like you, Dad,’ and hug his dad. And I’d by no means seen that in my life,” Burnley stated. “I assumed, ‘Holy Jesus. I can’t think about having that type of relationship with my father.’ It’s type of terrifying and type of unbelievable and type of simply hurts. Simply utterly earth shattering.”
The expertise, he stated, modified his life.
Rathbun’s spouse, Cheryl, is now a part of the Saint Francis management staff working to revive deal with work to assist kids and households. The group employs 1,600 individuals in six states, and serves greater than 10,000 kids and households.
Cheryl Rathbun, chief medical officer, has spent 43 years at Saint Francis. She stated workers want time to course of the main points of the investigative report that led to the departure of Smith, common counsel David Schaffer and chief working officer Tom Blythe.
“It’s simply exhausting,” she stated. “I don’t know the way else to say it. It’s simply exhausting.”
Her message to workers: “These people will not be a mirrored image of the work you do, and what you do is rather more essential than what they’ve performed. Preserve doing that good work.”
Trish Bryant, vice chairman for residential providers, has been at Saint Francis for 35 years. She stated her focus is on working tirelessly to make sure kids and households are properly taken care of.
“I’ve skilled a spread of feelings over the previous month as we’ve labored by way of this, and I feel disillusioned might be the place I spend time — feeling simply disillusioned in that this has occurred,” Bryant stated.
Saint Francis’ board of administrators instantly suspended management in October when newly employed chief monetary officer Lora Winchell made them conscious of the group’s extreme monetary issues. The board employed an legal professional from Kansas Metropolis, Kansas, to research her considerations.
The board was unaware of the quantities of cash Smith licensed on software program and miracle meals tasks that he had defined would sometime flip a revenue, or that he bought $65,000 value of Chicago Cubs tickets with the intent to flip them for extra money. He didn’t inform the board that he knew a five-year contract signed with Nebraska in 2019 would price the group hundreds of thousands.
Money stream issues reached a tipping level this spring when Intrust Financial institution refused to increase a $10 million line of credit score for a company that appeared to don’t have any method of turning into solvent. At one level, in an e-mail to Blythe, Smith proposed canceling the contract with the state of Kansas to save cash — a transfer that will have jeopardized the look after 3,100 foster kids. As a substitute, the nonprofit obtained a $10 million mortgage by way of the federal paycheck safety program.
Interim CEO William Clark stated the brand new management staff has labored to revive monetary stability by figuring out new offers with Kansas and Nebraska, and reining in spending. The group is on tempo to be money stream impartial by the tip of the present fiscal yr, which ends in six months, he stated.
“The work that’s been performed to maneuver the group ahead in a two-month timeframe is totally unbelievable if you consider it,” Clark stated.
Along with implementing new controls to forestall one other scandal, Clark stated he’s selling a tradition of integrity inside Saint Francis.
His mantra: “You do the precise factor on the proper time for the precise purpose when no one’s trying.”
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The above story is republished with permission from Kansas Reflector.
Sherman Smith has written award-winning information tales concerning the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by authorities officers, sexual abuse, expertise, training, and the Legislature. He spent 16 years on the Topeka Capital-Journal, the place he began on the copy desk, then oversaw digital operations, was the managing editor and reported from the Statehouse.