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Report saw downfall
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Staff Writer
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel 06/22/2009

FAIRFIELD -- During the last few years, managers of the Good Will-Hinckley Homes for Boys & Girls have failed to devise a realistic survival strategy in the face of dwindling revenues from the state government and school fundraising, according to a confidential report obtained by the Morning Sentinel.

As a result, the report indicates, the not-for-profit residential school for troubled youth had recently bet the farm on a $12 million cash infusion from a longtime benefactor, the Harold A. Alfond Foundation. That proposal failed.

"Good Will-Hinckley needs to be far more than what it is -- or it may not survive," according to the report, written in March this year.

The confidential report was disclosed by Good Will board member Bill Powers, who is also a 1989 graduate of the school and serves as president of Good Will's National Alumni Association.

The release of the report, written by consulting firm Strategic Partnerships LLC of Alexandria, Va., sheds additional light on what led to the school's announcement earlier this month that it would shut down its core residential and school programs Sept. 1. The decision will result in 110 employee layoffs and force the school's 46 students to make other living arrangements this month.

The board of directors voted to suspend the school operations June 6 and the decision was publicly announced June 8. Good Will's board of directors received a copy of the report on June 12, according to Powers.

For now, the only program remaining on the Good Will-Hinckley campus will be the Glenn Stratton Learning Center, during the day, for 18 special-education students who have learning or emotional disabilities.

Powers said he was saddened and frustrated when he read the report, which the Good Will administration had previously only described to the board in general, overly "rosy" terms, he said. As a board member, Powers said he had been for years raising the very same red flags identified in the report, but to no avail.

"Reading the report, it goes back to validation. We didn't hit the mark," Powers said. The proposal to the Alfond Foundation "was developed hap-hazardly and was submitted with all the hopes that this was going to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."

Contacted on Friday, Greg Powell, chairman of the Board Trustees of the Harold Alfond Association, declined to comment on the report. Neil Colan, chief executive officer at Good Will-Hinckley, also declined comment.

Don Marden, chairman of the Good Will board, could not be reached Friday.

'A bet for the company'

Good Will-Hinckley, founded in 1889 by the Rev. George Walter Hinckley, has grown over the years into a storied program that provides a home, schooling and counseling for youth throughout Maine and from other states. Young people often come to Good Will from unsafe or broken homes or families they can't get along with, and have gotten into trouble for not attending school or for breaking the law.

It is located on a sprawling and pristine 2,450-acre campus along U.S. Route 201 in the Hinckley section of Fairfield and has about 45 buildings.

The Strategic Partnerships report was released to a select group of people in March 2009. The Harold A. Alfond Foundation Board of Directors commissioned the report in response to a proposal from Good Will-Hinckley in the summer of 2008. Good Will management sought some $12 million from the Alfond Foundation "to support a major change of course through a series of initiatives to rebuild and sustain the work of Good Will-Hinckley for the future," according to the report.

As part of the $12 million proposal, Good Will sought a $2.7 million investment in its Career and Technical Education Center. The balance would have gone toward staff and campus upgrades, while establishing Good Will as a "Center of Excellence" that maintains school programs, minus residential living on campus.

Strategic Partnerships was charged with recommending whether the foundation should accept Good Will's proposal and to conduct an analysis of other options for the school.

The bottom line was that Strategic Partnerships recommended against Good Will's proposal to the Alfond Foundation.

"We do not believe that the strategy outlined, especially the anticipated sources of revenue, are likely to be achieved," the report concluded.

Each student at Good Will equates to "lost revenue of $10,000 to $30,000 per student," according to the report.

Good Will was slow to respond to signals from the state government that it would be moving away from funding Good Will's type of residential housing, according to the report.

"In effect, the proposal to the Alfond Foundation was, in our judgment, far too much 'a bet for the company' proposal," the report said.

Committed, but complacent

In its assessment of Good Will staff and management, Strategic Partnerships said it was "genuinely impressed with the quality of the staff and services provided to the young people of Good Will-Hinckley." Management, the report said, is "both deeply committed and effective" while the staff are competent and passionate about the work they do.

Thus, "the reputation and confidence from a very broad range of public and private-sector leaders in Good Will-Hinckley is nothing short of remarkable," the report says. Good Will has "a terrific 'brand' and a remarkably high level of favorable recognition by the senior leaders of the state."

But Strategic Partnerships outlined concerns with both Good Will's management and its board of directors, saying neither exerted leadership in pursuing a long-term strategy, especially in light of the rapidly deteriorating economy. Good Will's fundraising projections were "too optimistic" and "too little effort" had been put into finding alternative sources of funding or other partnerships that would support the school.

"We believe the board may have been too myopic and complacent with the issues facing Good Will-Hinckley," the report says. "They have been too willing to accept the management strategies at a time of clear crisis for the organization with dramatic changes in the economic, governmental and services context for the targeted population."

Strategic Partnerships says it found "no evidence that they (the board) required clear alternative plans to make the organization a success if the Alfond proposal was not successful."

Going forward

Strategic Partnerships made a bevy of recommendations for changing the way Good Will operates, including downsizing management staff to reduce costs, forging partnerships with other organizations such as Jobs for Maine's Graduates and recruiting high-profile state and national leaders to the cause.

If Good Will did not restructure itself, it would at least need to aggressively pursue a broader range of students and funding and reduce operating costs, according to the report.

Gov. John Baldacci recently signed "Center of Excellence" legislation into law and has told Good Will officials in a letter that he will "energetically seek out creative ways to provide resources, including whatever transition funding can be marshaled in these hard economic times, to maximize Good Will's opportunity to launch its Center of Excellence."

Joe Corvino worked at Good Will-Hinckley for about 19 years, most recently as a program manager, and left in July 2008. Though Corvino said he had not read the Strategic Partnerships report, he said its findings appear to highlight how Good Will became to reliant on state funding over the years.

"I believe the true mission of Good Will-Hinckley itself was to rely on private support and funding from churches, just the belief that with God will come forth with the mission, and I believe we got away from that over the years," Corvino said. "It's a good place. It serves children and I'm hoping to do everything in my power to help that succeed."

Scott Monroe -- 861-9253

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