By Rick Armon
Beacon Journal staff writer
The nonprofit Autism Family Foundation of Northeast Ohio has closed.
The Copley Township group issued a four-paragraph statement Monday saying the board had voted to dissolve the foundation effective immediately because of financial stress.
“The board appreciates all of those who generously supported this important cause for the past six years,” the statement says.
The group noted that the Kids First school, formed to teach students with autism and run by the Summit County Educational Service Center at the Robert J. Keegan Family Center in Montrose, is not affected.
“... It is growing and will continue to grow and is financially independent,” the foundation said.
The statement says the group was under financial stress from a lease signed by previous leadership that cost $240,000 a year.
“While the landlord and the foundation negotiated an exit agreement, the board was faced with the decision to go back to our donors and ask for money — of which a large percentage would be used for administrative costs including the cost of relocating,” the group said. “The board did not feel comfortable with this option. Therefore, the decision was made to dissolve the foundation.”
It added that the board members “remain committed to helping families coping with autism, and we urge our donors to continue to support other established organizations.”
The statement didn’t say when the board voted, but dissolution paperwork was filed Aug. 1 with the Ohio secretary of state’s office.
Board member Rob Whitehouse said in an email that remaining financial assets were “used to pay outstanding obligations.”
The statement was issued after the Beacon Journal inquired about the foundation’s status. Its website had been taken down late last week and a former board member contacted the newspaper questioning whether the group had dissolved.
The Autism Family Foundation was formed in 2006 with the goals to create a center where the families of autistic children could gather for support and information, and to establish a school for students whose needs could not be met in a public school.
The group set up the Robert J. Keegan Family Center and the Kids First school with the Educational Service Center on Commercial Drive.
But the foundation was thrust into a negative spotlight last year after the Beacon Journal profiled infighting that led to the resignation of three of its founding members.
Beacon Journal columnist Bob Dyer compared the foundation to “a Jerry Springer show.”
In the unflattering story, former President Barbara Hudak and others said they were ousted by retired Goodyear Chairman Robert Keegan, who denied the accusations.
The foundation was known for swanky black-tie affairs and big-ticket auction items such as a trip for four to Italy and a visit to Jay Leno’s car collection in California. A single auction at the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn in October 2010 raised more than $250,000.
Dan Marchetta, whose company built the 9,000-square-foot headquarters and served as the landlord, disputed the claim that the lease undid the foundation.
“It’s for other reasons like poor leadership,” he said.
Marchetta added that he and others are trying to create a similar group and continue the foundation’s original mission.
“We’re trying to develop an organization that will help children and families with autism and other disabilities also,” he said. “The autism school is still there. We’re delighted that they are still there and their school is doing well.”
Summit County Educational Service Center Superintendent Linda Fuline couldn’t be reached for comment.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.