Northwest Giving Hope: Context is everything in reporting truth
Pamplin Media Group recently published an article saying, "Northwest Giving Hope owner Corey Stark is banned from charitable solicitations in Oregon following a settlement."
At the close of the article was this final entry: "Pamplin Media Group was unable to reach Stark for comment." The reporter called me only once for comment, correction, input or clarification, receiving the message: "The Google subscriber you have tried to call is unavailable." I have two other phone numbers available publicly online where Pamplin Media Group could have left me a voicemail.
It is with gratitude towards Clackamas Review Editor Raymond Rendleman for his contact and candor that I, Corey Stark of NWGH, with a clear conscious, have accepted the invitation to respond to the shape of this article.
As an American citizen, the U.S. Constitution recognizes a number of inalienable human rights, including the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to a fair trial by jury. Among these rights there comes context that people will exploit for a number of reasons. Perhaps, too many reasons for any one person to list here, because the reason for this article is to show how a little freedom of speech can alter the truths of a well-intentioned organization.
"Banned" sounds so harsh… unwelcoming, almost like a punishment for doing something wrong. What if Pamplin Media Group had written, "NWGH, having registered as a nonprofit corporation in Washington state in late 2019, accepted a proposed voluntary assurance agreement presented at the Clackamas County Circuit Court stating, 'Oregon will not recognize your faith-based organization,'" instead of saying banned?
"Owner" â€“ a nonprofit, regardless of its specific distinction, is not owned by those who start it nor their successors. Instead, these individuals, me included, then operated in a position of transparency, trust and accountability to the public at large.
"Per legal documents obtained…" Did you know that every cowardly complaint, truthful or not, given to the charitable activities section of the Oregon Department of Justice is and must be investigated? This means every disgruntled volunteer dismissed for stealing can anonymously draft a letter or call and accuse NWGH of anything, and that becomes "several complaints and legal documents."
Unfortunately, the article left questions and conclusions to be drawn by the public that are slanted in a very unfavorable way toward an organization that was maybe unorthodox but does continually bring awareness to a problem that most ignore. As for me, there are plenty of people who don't like me for one reason or another. Some have taken a disgruntled approach with false narratives in an attempt to smear, but I have made decisions the same way for decades and will continue by this one very simple principle: "What do I want to tell a jury of 12 people two years from now why I did what I did today?"
To the jury
It was the summer of 2017 I wrote a business plan and sought out advisors and friends to create something that not only gives the giver something to take home but would create revenue for an existing OC organization I had auctioneered for the previous year.
We first formed NW Giving Hope Foundation as a self-supported ministry in 2017 (not 2016, as reported by Pamplin Media) because I personally and privately funded the startup with my yearly bonus savings at the time and 401k (approximately $37,000).
We secured the building on Washington Street and began live auctions in February 2018. Attendance was mostly vendors from local antique malls at our weekly auctions, not to support the cause of helping child trafficking victims, but instead to partner up with their buddies (other antique buyers). They didn't bid against each other and only paid $5-10 an item before loading their trucks and trailers with merchandise. They effectively ran us into the red with the idea that, "If we received the merchandise free, then what is the big deal?"Lead volunteers were stealing items out the back door, and the public dumped garbage on the front stoop weekly. Rent was $3,300 monthly, utilities $300-800 and our highest grossing auction was $1,100. We broke even two months, profited one month and lost money during nine months in our first year!
At the suggestion of a returning auctiongoer, we modified the weekly auction to a thrift shop during the winter of 2018 and began to attack the idea of creating/sponsoring our own behavioral program.
Also, during the winter of 2018, at the urging of advisors, we solicited an investment group for donations when a tremendous property came about in Clackamas County to launch our first House of Hope. Through this process of vetting our organization, we were advised that in order to receive funding we would need to register an LLC. So we did (mistakenly) under the same name we had registered the nonprofit federally.Our real estate broker said it best in the end, "The more God and prayerful giving in a deal, the bigger the explosion when it goes bad."
We had received gung-ho financial commitments from local backers/donors, but they just disappeared when it was time to write a check. The property owner's realtor corrupted the transaction through the title company because of greed, and boom, everyone loses in the deal in the spring of 2019.
In June 2019, while speaking at a children's hospital and surrounding areas in Mexico, I received the first call from DOJ regarding a complaint. Upon my return, I set up a meeting with DOJ in their office where I was confronted with the idea that I was going to be destroyed in the media and possibly go to jail if we didn't rethink our organization's mission and registration in Oregon. We had never paid the state to discharge the LLC after the land purchase ended. I explained, and they didn't care. They sent me a couple of informational packets urging NWGH to conform with options available to us or they would essentially massacre NWGH to the media (citing an example of another noncompliant organization) and we'd never receive another grant or donation. Now, don't get me wrong, the DOJ insulted and threatened me personally in the absolutely nicest way possible in their office. Our advisory board quickly assembled and discussed the options before us and began the process to register.
In August 2019, NWGH was donated land in Southwest Washington that had some identified hurdles but seemingly a great opportunity to develop a possible House of Hope at the same time. We decided to register in Washington because, with that property being a certainty, it would be wise to exist in there for future dealings. We notified Oregon DOJ by certified mail of the decision and received no response.
In October 2019, on the eve of our annual benefit dinner and auction, my home in Oregon City burned to the ground, because of a small stovetop fire started while making centerpieces for the NWGH event. Fast-forward weeks later (and a smaller crowd), we were supported by the FBI and Clackamas County sheriff's human trafficking taskforce leaders to share case-study results for our attendees and a live auction to raise awareness and launch our first House of Hope.
In January 2020, we received paperwork demanding proof of spending, meeting notes and archives for three years from NW Giving Hope Foundation LLC. Our response was documented by certified mail: The LLC entity they'd listed didn't have any financial spending and only existed for possibly six weeks to foster an investment that never happened.
Secondly, we had, and still are two years later, registered in Washington as a corporate nonprofit per the DOJ "encouragement" and frankly, exempt of any such ongoing attempts by the DOJ.
Lastly, our laptop and subsequent auxiliary drive was lost in a house fire so bank records is all they were given. Next, the COVID/Gov. Kate Brown rollercoaster story destroyed any chance we had to keep open and above water in 2020. We, as an organization made a hail-mary attempt to a membership format, in all honesty to liquidate the inventory, before closing for good at year's end.
In January, I was served with a petition to "show cause" why I didn't provide additional docs the year prior and I responded with the same letter of recognition. The state of Oregon only petitioned the court for a hearing to ask a judge to force us to provide documents that were destroyed, that's it. There were no filed charges, trial, witness testimony, formal accusation nor evidence whatsoever to support any outcome other than Judge Wetzel's decision to dismiss the idea of harassing me further because of hearsay.
As for the reporting "questionable financial practices including payment of Stark's personal expenses using charitable assets, and no apparent charitable activity or program services," under current law, trustees of private foundations may be compensated in multiple ways. Among those listed is repayment of initiating funds through stipend as detailed in the executive summary and founding documents. The balance is not yet paid in full. Additionally, when sponsoring a program of this sensitive nature, to hang a neon sign promoting care for trafficked youth at the front door is not wise. In the fall of 2020 an article appeared in another local newspaper where NWGH brought attention to the state of Oregon for its involvement in corporate child trafficking cases throughout state foster care programs. State officials and the DOJ didn't enjoy that article.
A gentleman named Raymond Rendleman once asked me what my qualifications are for being the director of NWGH. My response was: "You cannot care what people think of you because their anonymous courage is endless."
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