Thursday, September 26, 2013

Should You Donate to the "Help Me Save 300" Fund?

By now, you've probably heard about the teenagers who trashed Brian Holloway's former home, but just in case:

Former NFL player Brian Holloway lives in Florida now, but still has temporary ownership of his former residence, 742 NY #43 in Stephentown, NY. His son found out via Twitter that a bunch of kids had broken into the house and were throwing a huge-- and destructive-- party. The kids were taking photos and bragging about it on Twitter in real time. Police showed up and broke it up, and Brian understandably freaked out.

Then he did something that drew a ton of attention: Instead of just pursuing criminal and civil charges, he called out the kids and their parents online, reposting their photos and naming names. And he invited them to redeem themselves by showing up to help him clean up the damage. While plenty of locals have shown up to help, only one teen from the party and one parent showed up the first day, and four showed up on a second clean-up day.

Brian has been all over the media talking about this, and the need to save these kids' lives from drugs, alcohol, and other bad influences. I'm so with him up to here. It sounds like a noble response to something so horrible, and people have talked about what a classy reaction this has been.

Unfortunately, there are some holes in this story that need patching.

Brian has been asking for donations since this broke. It was unclear to me how the donations would be used, so I asked... four times (privately and publicly) and never got a response. First, he asked the teens to donate to a breast cancer charity, which is linked on his website. But right next to it is a general "Donate" button that goes to his own account, not a charity. He also set up a separate "GoFundMe" donation page, which says, "We're looking for donations to help with damages to the home and more importantly to help with funding to start the Help Me Save 300 movement." On first glance, I thought it was reasonable to ask for help fixing his home until I realized a few things:

-This is a very rich man, and this is his second home. It's listed for 1.5 million dollars, while his primary home is in Florida. He is clearly far richer than most of the people who are donating to him, and charges upwards of $10,000 for his speaking fees-- never mind his multiple other businesses. If I were a millionaire, I'd feel morally wrong asking strangers on the Internet in a difficult economy to help me fix up my second home that's for sale.

-Homeowner's insurance has never been mentioned, but should cover this-- as long as the house is actually his and he's paid his insurance.

-Right away, businesses stepped up and donated their supplies and labor. Community volunteers also showed up in large numbers. When one volunteer showed up to help, he realized the "destruction" had been overstated. He said, "I visited the house last week and saw no party damage that still needed to be cleaned or fixed. When I asked to see examples of damage, Holloway showed me a dirty sink and scuffed floors. Yes, there was graffiti and stained carpets, but both (and the scuffed floors too) existed before the party. On the day I was there, Holloway actually had volunteers loading boxes from a storage area into a car (photo above)." (See Chris Churchill's essay here.)

-Brian regularly speaks about wealth management, sales and marketing, and has a club just for wealthy Wall Street "power players" where they have to pay a minimum of $25,000 to join. See the press release here.

-Despite that he is all over the place talking about wealth and how to keep it, the house in question is in foreclosure and up for auction in October. He has not paid the mortgage or property taxes. It seems to follow a pattern-- many years ago, he owed $11,000 in child support during a divorce that wound up with a restraining order and charges against him for violating that restraining order. It seems to me that although he is capable of paying his debts, he chooses not to. It also seems that he has a problem taking personal responsibility, as evidenced by this very strange interview.

-Many of the kids have apologized and explained that they didn't know the house was broken into. They believed that the house was owned by the parents of the kid who threw the party.

-There has been no independent corroboration of any intent to sue him by any of the parents, though they're being demonized for it.

So let me explain one thing first: I absolutely know that what those kids did was wrong. Very wrong. Even if you DO believe the house belongs to the host's parents, you don't add graffiti to it, get drunk, get into fights, steal things, etc. And if you're dumb enough to brag about it on Twitter, you can't complain when it gets out that you participated in this. And you darn well should show up to help clean up your mess when you realize that you did something wrong. Your parents should be there, too, falling all over themselves to apologize and take responsibility. There should be groundings and tough conversations between those parents and teens.

But I also smell a rat here. It's partly about the money, and the massive media campaign that seems suspiciously self-serving to me, and the fact that I'm just not buying this man's character. There is an utter lack of transparency here about what all the donations will be used for. What is the "movement" we're paying for? The picnics and website? His speaking fees and travel fees to go on the news? It all feels opportunistic to me, and I'm surprised that the reporters who've interviewed him have not asked any of the tough questions-- like, what's the breakdown of expenses? What's already been donated and covered by insurance? Why are neighbors saying the house was already in disrepair and the damage is being exaggerated?

Brian says he's trying to raise $20,000 (I'd be surprised if he hasn't surpassed that already, considering the massive media campaign), and all I can think about is my local domestic violence center, which puts people on months-long waiting lists when they come in asking to join one of the counseling groups. Or the food pantries around here that run out of food before they run out of people needing it. Or the couple whose house is in foreclosure because their daughter has cancer and they can't keep up with the bills. There are so many people and charities that really need that $20,000. It makes me sad that they won't get it because this man is convincing us that we should pay for his scuffed floor. Or worse, that people are donating because they don't understand that he's not doing something charitable with the money. Even all these picnics are serving to keep his face in the media and raise his profile, which will keep donations rolling in and help him become more in-demand as a high-paid speaker and consultant. He's also calling for IT techs to fly out to meet him and develop an app for parents to monitor their kids' Twitter activity (which could also be called "Don't let your kids use Twitter unless you know their password and check in regularly").

It gives me no joy to post this, because I was among the many who was originally inspired by this man and his seemingly big-hearted gesture to help teens in trouble. I like believing that there are good people in this world who would be so forgiving and caring as to want to help people who've done them wrong. I wish I didn't have to see it any other way now.

So now I'm calling you out in the same way you called those kids out, Brian: This is your chance for redemption. Do the right thing with the money you've collected. Use it in the spirit in which it was given, and stop collecting more until you've outlined where it's going.


Photobucket