Couple Under Investigation for Defrauding Homeless Man

Couple Under Investigation for Defrauding Homeless Man

Sep 06

Last year, Kate McClure was in an unfortunate situation: out of gas and stranded on the side of the freeway outside of Philadelphia. She was spotted by John Bobbitt Jr., a homeless man who was a regular to that stretch of road. He only had 20 dollars, but he spent it to get her a can and a few gallons of gas, which got her home. McClure and her boyfriend, Mark D’Amico, said they were determined to pay back his kindness. They gave him warm clothes and $100, but didn’t stop there. They began a GoFundMe on his behalf. Bypassing all expectations, it raised more than $400,000 from 14,000 donors. Bobbitt compared it to winning the lottery. But this is where this warm tale turns cold. A year later, the money is gone, and where it’s gone is unclear. Bobbitt claims he was only ever given $75,000 and less than a third of that in cash. The attorney for McClure and D’Amico claims he was given over half of the raised funds. During the time the GoFundMe was active, the couple promised donors they would use the funds to buy Bobbitt a house and set up two trusts to maintain him and turn the massive windfall into an income. Instead, a tip led Action News of Philadelphia to discover that the two had gone on expensive vacations, helicopter rides, and massive shopping sprees. Suspicious activity, as both McClure and D’Amico’s incomes together would barely stretch to be called middle class. No house for Bobbitt materialized, nor trust. The couple bought him a used camper van, but as he pursued the rest of the money raised in his name, they evicted him, and he is once again homeless. In an interview with the Inquirer, D’Amico said he would continue controlling the money until Bobbitt is drug-free, which was never a part of the fundraising disclosure, and is at odds with the lawyer’s statements that there is no money left. GoFundMe is participating in the courts’ investigation, and if the couple is found to have exploited Bobbitt and all 14,000 donors, has stated they intend to reimburse all donors up to $1,000 a head. They have also provided Bobbitt with $25,000 to help with living...

JJ Watt Provides One-Year Update on Hurricane Harvey Fundraiser

JJ Watt Provides One-Year Update on Hurricane Harvey Fundraiser

Sep 01

On August 26, 2017, Hurricane Harvey blew through Houston and the surrounding areas to become the most costly hurricane in American history, both in lives and livelihoods. It killed 88 people and caused nearly $200 billion worth of property and economic damage. In the aftermath, J.J. Watt, a player on the Houston Texans team, saw the intense need in his adopted hometown immediately. By September 1, 2017, he had put up a fundraiser on the site Youcaring (now absorbed by GoFundMe) with an initial goal of $200,000 dollars. “Hurricane Harvey has taken a catastrophic toll on our great city, while leaving many stranded and in need of assistance. We must come together and collectively help rebuild the aspects of our community members lives that were damaged or lost. Any donation that you can spare, no matter how large or small, is greatly appreciated. We will come out of this stronger than ever. We are Texans,” wrote Watt in the fundraiser’s initial pitch, which was accompanied by a video of the athlete making a heartfelt plea. Within three weeks, more than 200,000 individual donors had amassed a donation of over $37 million. On August 27, 2018, one year after Harvey, Watt, who had promised transparency to his donors, posted an update detailing the reach of the donated funds. Managed by Watt’s charity foundation, the Justin J. Watt Foundation, the money grew over the next year to more than $4.1 million, and was put to use rebuilding more than 600 homes and supporting Houston Food Bank and Feeding America, who together served over 26 million meals to those displaced and put in need by the hurricane. It also supported the rebuilding of 420 childcare centers to serve over 16,000 children, and got medicine to more than 10,000 patients in need. The fund is not exhausted, either. The Foundation intends to continue building homes and assisting Houstonians with medical and food needs as long as they can, alongside nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and the Boys and Girls...

$150k Grant Will Provide Tesla Powerwalls to At-Risk Populations

$150k Grant Will Provide Tesla Powerwalls to At-Risk Populations

Aug 24

In 2017, 14 people in a Florida nursing home died when Hurricane Irma knocked out their power. Without air conditioning, they died of overheating. Twelve of those 14 deaths were ruled to be homicide, as they could have been prevented if anyone had taken action on their behalf. Hurricanes and high heat are a growing fact of life on the east coast of the U.S., and odds are good that this exact scenario will happen again. It is with this in mind that the Vermont Low Income Trust for Electricity (VLITE) has backed a grant to help. They have offered $150,000 to install 100 massive battery backups in the walls of low-income, high-risk customers. The batteries, Tesla Powerwall 2.0 batteries, are meant for exactly this: to power a home for a short period of time (8-12 hours for a whole house, longer if used selectively) in case of a blackout. Ordinarily, through the provider (Green Mountain Power, in this case) they cost $1,500 upfront or an ongoing $15/month fee. To buy one outright and have it installed can cost over $10,000. Green Mountain reports that the 2000 Powerwalls they’ve already distributed to paying customers can be expected to save them an accumulated $2-3 million over the batteries’ lifespan, and much more for customers who supplement with solar. The customers chosen to receive free batteries and installation with the grant will be mostly senior citizens and the disabled, along with people who have medical needs for uninterrupted power or those who would be endangered by the loss of their air conditioning. VLITE is a nonprofit, public benefit corporation with a mission to represent “the best interests of the public” in building an energy-secure State of Vermont. They are currently overseeing 21 different energy-related grants to a total of nearly $2 million. They are funded by dividends from Vermont Electric Power Company. Photo courtesy of Kenneth Lund via Flickr Creative...

Frequent Flyers Donate Their Miles to Migrant Families in Need

Frequent Flyers Donate Their Miles to Migrant Families in Need

Aug 15

Most Americans collect some kind of travel rewards with their credit cards. As many as two-thirds, actually. And more than a quarter of those just let the miles expire, essentially leaving money owed to them to revert back to the airlines. Most, for instance, don’t actually spend or fly enough in any given year to earn a free flight. So the reward miles add up, then drain away without ever being spent. Beth Wilensky is a law professor at the University of Michigan. Her husband travels often for business, building up a lot of reward miles they never have time to use. This year, instead of letting them expire, her family redeemed miles to put a family back together. Her miles let a father pick up his three-year-old son from Michigan and take him to stay with their extended family. The father and son had been separated by immigration officials at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the little boy sent over 2,000 miles away to a holding center. When they were allowed to reunite, there was no assistance offered for travel. Last-minute tickets sell at a premium; without this help, that father or his family could have spent thousands to get their child back. Wilensky tweeted about her experience, offering to coordinate other potential donors, but the response—140,000 likes and 30,000 retweets on Twitter alone—quickly overwhelmed her ability to respond, so she instead connected interested parties to two charities: Miles4Migrants and Michigan Support Circle. By Friday, only four days after her initial tweet, Miles4Migrants had received nearly 6 million donated miles, and Michigan Support Circle had 252 new donors on standby. It’s a kind of need often overlooked. Travel expenses don’t often seem like a dire strait, but they can be the difference between a family never reunited, an immigrant left homeless with no resources wherever he’s released, and a father and son making it to a safe new home, hearts...

El Pomar Foundation Donates $500k to Colorado Hailstorm Victims

El Pomar Foundation Donates $500k to Colorado Hailstorm Victims

Aug 10

Hail is not typically seen as a disaster-scale weather incident, but those living in southern Colorado would beg to differ. Multiple hailstorms swept through the area this past week, dropping baseball-sized chunks of ice at terminal velocity. Most of the damage has been to cars, with hundreds of windshields smashed, but hail has also smashed though home windows and skylights, and damaged roofs as well. People have been injured, and a number of animals in the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo were killed by the projectiles from the sky. So far, 8,000 claims for vehicle damage have been submitted to insurance company USAA alone, and total damage was estimated to be around $500 million after only the first storms, on the weekend of August 4th and 5th. But for many, the damage isn’t covered, and replacing a windshield can run into the low thousands. On Thursday, El Pomar Foundation waded in to help, with a $250,000 donation to people dealing with hail damage. That was exhausted by noon of that day, and so on Friday, August 10th, they donated the same amount again. Applicants for the aid formed a line around the block. The two donations together are expected to help about 800 people. El Pomar Foundation is a general-service nonprofit founded in 1937 by Spencer Penrose, an entrepreneur and mining baron who invested an initial $21 million in contributing to the future of Colorado. They support a number of art and culture institutions, as well as the Colorado Wildland Fire Fund. Current estimates show the Foundation has had a $1.16 billion impact on the state of Colorado in nearly 80 years. Interestingly, Spencer Penrose also founded the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo which was so affected by the storms. The cleanup from these storms will take some time yet. Homes are damaged, auto dealerships are particularly hard-hit, and a rental car can’t be had in Colorado for love or money, with so many private vehicles...

Woman Donates Over 10,000 Handsewn Toys to Refugee Children

Woman Donates Over 10,000 Handsewn Toys to Refugee Children

Aug 03

Sarah Parson of Cedar Hills, Utah, has five children and a good heart. When she heard from a friend about refugee children in Greece who had nothing to play with in their camps but garbage and wildlife, she imagined her own children in their place. Her five are dedicated to their toys, and take so much joy in them. Parson realized after that 2015 conversation that she could offer something to children in straits like that. She had always made dolls for her own girls, so she could make them for anyone. She began immediately, founding Dolls of Hope, a charitable organization centered on sending children’s toys to refugee camps all over the world. As of 2017, they had sent over 10,000 toys to 23 countries. According to their most recent Facebook post, they are currently collecting for children in Syria, Uganda, Pakistan, and Kenya. Parson began the effort, but she’s not making toys alone. Her Facebook group posts patterns and organizes crafting groups to make and send handsewn dolls and bears abroad. A recent shipment sent 1,200 stuffed toys from her local group to children separated from their parents at the Mexico-U.S. border. “My hope is we are giving a little piece of their childhood back,” said Parson to Inside Edition. “That they can find comfort in that stuffed animal, or that doll. And that they can love that doll and hug that doll, even though they can’t hug their parents.” Of her own commitment, she said: “While it may seem overwhelming or we think the problem is too big, we could never solve the problem. We can’t let that immobilize us to doing nothing because that doesn’t help. So we have to start where we are, doing what we can.” Being a refugee is traumatizing. Being separated from one’s parents is traumatizing. Anything any of us can do to give play and childhood back to these effected children increases their chance of a successful future. Parson and her like are doing vital, needed...

Lottery Winner Starts Her Own Charity with Winnings

Lottery Winner Starts Her Own Charity with Winnings

Jul 13

Rachel Lapierre won the lottery in 2013—a one in seven million stroke of luck, netting her C$1,000 a week for the rest of her life. At the time, she was a nurse, a former Miss Quebec, and already a person dedicated to helping those around her. At 20, she ran a modeling school to help young women build careers under their own control in the fashion industry. Later, as a nurse, she worked in emergency departments and was a part of overseas humanitarian organizations. Lapierre was 56 when her numbers popped up on the Canadian National Lottery. “I figured that if I won, I would go ahead with this project of founding a charity,” she told le Journal de Montreal in 2013. And she’s done just that. Using her winnings to organize teams of volunteers under a charity called Le Book Humanitaire, she has worked in eight countries and counting. Beginning in her hometown of Montreal, providing food and clothes to the homeless, she has also traveled abroad, building things like street clinics in India, Haiti, and Senegal. “Money is money,” said Lapierre in an interview with the Mirror about her passion project. “When you’re born, you don’t have anything. And when you go, you go with nothing but your memories. You go with what you did here in life. “We just try to promote good deeds. Good deeds can be so many things. It can be a bike, it can be food, it can be transport to go to the hospital.” Lapierre’s winnings are supplemented by a number of partner companies to fund the charity, including Les Ateliers, Lunettes Dépôt, and international shipping company Transport Charrette. Lapierre’s whole life is a story about making sure that her successes elevated others with her. If one can be said to deserve to win the lotto, surely she did. And she continues to make sure that her rising tide lifts all...

Late Special Education Teacher Leaves $1 Million to Students

Late Special Education Teacher Leaves $1 Million to Students

Jul 11

For 45 years, Genevieve Via Cava taught and helped students with learning disabilities in Dumont, New Jersey. It was her life. In 2008, she told the superintendent of her school district, Emanuele Triggiano, that she would donate a million dollars to the Dumont School District. He assumed it was hyperbole, and laughed it off. When she passed away in 2011, he remembered her life of service and education, but not the off-hand promise. This April, he was reminded of the “joke” in the best way possible—by a check for $1 million from Via Cava’s estate. It may seem strange that a woman working in special education for a public school district could amass a million-dollar nest egg, but Via Cava lived a quiet, frugal life, and most of her needs were taken care of by her late husband’s pension. With no children or close family, her only thought of a legacy was towards the students to whom she dedicated her entire life. James Kennedy, a friend of Via Cava, said that she would continue to help her special education students into their adult lives, as long as 20 years after they graduated her classes. “She had an uncanny memory when it came to her students and could remember things that happened a long time ago,” said Kennedy. He met her as a student himself, and then proceeded to work with her as an adult, when he became director of special services and later principal of one of the schools in her district. The money Via Cava donated will be invested, the interest to provide scholarships to special education students from Dumont School District seeking opportunities in secondary education, $25,000 at a time. An incredible legacy from a woman who no doubt has left many such legacies in the people she helped to...