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Walley in Wonderland
$14,500 raised for charities becomes $4 million in the telling


A recent article in the Vero Beachside News claimed that a program called “Change for the Better,” the brainchild of the publication’s publisher David Walley, had raised $4 million over the past three years by collecting pocket change from members of local churches and contributing it to area charities.

This apparent new font of millions of dollars attracted considerable attention from local charities, who in current economic times, are struggling to find sources of money to fund their programs. And “Change for the Better” would be an amazing source of funds, if claims were true.

The giving circle Impact 100, for example, had dozens of charities vying for the $232,000 it raised in 2009 – far less than the $1.3 million a year average that would seem to be available from “Change for the Better.”

Quail Valley Charities raised $250,000 during its flurry of events last January, and the John’s Island Community Service League raised and awarded $482,000 during the 2008-2009 season. Even the entire Indian River County United Way campaign, which funds dozens of non-profits, is hard pressed to raise $2.5 million annually.

Unfortunately, the claim that “Change for the Better” has raised $4 million for Indian River County charities over three years appears to be a wild exaggeration.  A survey by Vero Beach 32963 of the seven churches listed as participating in the program yielded reports of raising a total of only $14,500 for charity over the three years.

In the same article, Walley claimed “Change for the Better” had spread worldwide and raised more than $100 million.  Vero Beach 32963 was unable to identify any international participants in the program. 

Walley said he was too busy to be interviewed this week, and told us to call back in five days.  He did not return subsequent phone calls seeking a response to specific questions, but on Monday scotch-taped a typewritten statement to his office door.

In the statement, which was not responsive to our inquiries, he claimed more than 20 churches and synagogues were participating in the program – some of them in St. Lucie and Brevard counties. He further claimed that “numerous” retail businesses, medical offices and manufacturing firms also had put out fund-raising containers.

No new names were provided of participating churches or businesses, and no detailed information was offered to substantiate any of these claims.

There is no contention here that any of the money collected through “Change for the Better” has been mishandled or misappropriated, or diverted to Walley.  The participating churches said they took the small amounts of money collected, and made contributions – some in $200 increments – directly to such local charities as Redlands Christian Migrant Association, Our Father’s Table and the Gifford Youth Orchestra.

The contributions, in any amount, were undoubtedly greatly appreciated.

What strikes some non-profit fundraising professionals as bizarre, however, is that Walley would falsely claim to be generating millions of dollars for local charities, potentially leading to confusion among some of the more generous members of our community.

Among those Walley has named as benefitting from the program were the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross.

John Corapi, Development Director of the Salvation Army of Indian River County, said he had never talked to Walley about “Change for the Better,” and emphasized that the local Red Kettle drive is in no way affiliated with Walley’s initiative.

“There should be no confusion, this is strictly a Salvation Army program, we’ve been doing this since the late 1800s and it’s not part of anyone else’s program,” Corapi said.

Similarly, Sarah Ruwe, CEO of the North Treasure Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross, said her organization has been doing change collections for at least 10 years, long before the emergence of “Change for the Better.”

“We do change collections at events and sometimes when there is a disaster such as the Haiti disaster,” Ruwe said.

“The Red Cross has been doing this long before I got here. Change for the Better was not the inspiration for our program.”

Both Corapi and Ruwe said they had never sent reports of their collections to Walley to be included among the total he claims for “Change for the Better.”  Corapi said he told a volunteer once that didn’t know anything about the program, or how it had supposedly raised $4 million through change collections.

Representatives from the participating churches said Walley first began floating the idea of pocket-change collections to civic groups and churches after the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005.

There appears to have been no intention to organize the program more formally.  No organization by that name has even existed, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which regulates charities that solicit funds from the public.

“There is no formal Change for the Better,” said Martin Preuss, who heads up the effort at Our Savior Lutheran Church as part of the Social Ministry Team.

Preuss and his fellow congregants appear to have most actively embraced the idea, and report that Our Savior Lutheran has raised about $3,000 per year under the “Change for the Better” banner.

Our Savior Lutheran has a five-gallon paint bucket in the church and encourages its members to take home plastic cups, dump pocket change throughout the week and then empty them into the bucket on Sundays.

That money then is sent directly from the church in $200 increments to three charities -- Redlands Christian Migrant Association, Our Father’s Table and the Gifford Youth Orchestra, Preuss added.

Christ by the Sea United Methodist Church on A1A asks its members to toss change into a wishing well at the back of the church, according to Cookie Thompson, who coordinates the program.

The money is taken out and counted on at least a quarterly basis, then donated to the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, which the church also supports with donations and volunteer labor. Christ by the Sea reported they raise less than $500 annually.

St. Mark’s Anglican Church collects change in a jar and sends the money to The Source.

“Everybody knows that it’s for loose pocket change and it has a sign on it that says, ‘Change for the Better,’” said Rev. Michael Ward. “We’re not a huge congregation, we collect maybe $1,000 per year.”

Christ the King Presbyterian Church is still listed as a participant, but according to Rev. Mike Malone, the congregation only collected money for “Change for the Better” once, in 2007 or 2008.

The church did not ask for extra change, but took the change from the Sunday collection plate a few times -- which amounted to just less than $1,000 -- and gave it to the Women’s Refuge.

“It was approaching $1,000, it was a few hundred dollars,” Malone said.

Trinity Episcopal Church just signed on to the program.  First Christian Church failed to return several messages left asking for collection data.

The Community Church said it had agreed to be listed as participating in “Change for the Better” after they were told it was a precondition of having their worship schedule listed on the Vero Beachside News religion page.

Rev. Bob Baggott, who writes a faith column for Vero Beach 32963, said  he didn’t feel it was appropriate to seek contributions of change on top of the outpouring of generosity expressed by members on an annual basis.

He said Community Church told Walley it already gave about a quarter-million dollars a year to local charities, and Walley said that would be sufficient to have them listed as participating in Change for the Better.  Baggott said Community Church sends no reports of its giving to Walley.

We invite David Walley to provide us with a detailed accounting, broken down by givers and recipients, of money raised and distributed to charity under the banner of “Change for the Better.”  We are prepared to publish such a detailed accounting in our next issue.