The board of Casa Guanajuato in Moline, IL, without warning decided to fire Dr. Michael Woods, but community supporters are now challenging that decision, saying that the decision was a strategy to lighten the pressure from the agency and others involved.
Early November four Casa employees — Alicia Gomez, a bilingual family therapist; Glendy Aponte, a bilingual family & community counselor; Laura Huicochea, a family advocate; and Rosario Martinez, family advocate — approached the board about the rampant problems and asked for clarity about
the Executive Director Michael Woods unethical behavior and Casa’s lost confidential client files, double billing for services never performed, nepotism, and a toxic work environment. However, all of the efforts to resurrect the agency and keep the organization running has felt on deaf ears — have failed. In fact, Casa’s Board President Jaime Reyes, in a Jan. 30 story, stated “The issues that were brought up were reviewed and investigated through our internal process and we had no findings to act on… I do not feel it is a concern” So, if the lack of findings prevented the board from firing the Executive Director, than what lead to the termination? At that time, the board had not given any indication that they planned to fire the Executive Director. “It was shocking to many to hear the news because that was never discussed—the exact opposite was discussed”.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services investigation results are still pending. Yet, the organization continues to malfunction and crisis continues to come along. AmeriCorps Vistas (Volunteers in Service to America) Yenny Andreu, Julius Bell, Vivian Chang and Jeanette Del¬gado have been dismissed from the agency. Casa exercise classes, family night programs no longer are running. More surprisingly, Casa de los Niños Dav¬en¬port School will be closing its doors to the community at the end of March due to financial hardship and low rates of student enrollment. In addition, to date, the number of staff has withered from 30 to 23. Specifically, the 16th st Moline office has had a high turnover of 6 to 2.
Dysfunctional attitudes and emotions seem to permeate the atmosphere of Casa Guanajuato. Casa more than ever has a high widespread of anger and frustration. Blaming is the new sport and powerless HR Director Sue Reilly and the board continue to have meetings that are meaningless, vague objective and counterproductive plans. An anonymous source stated “Because there are no clear objectives, it can be tough to determine what’s important and what is not. Further, the lack of accountability from the Human Resources department and the board has caused valuable employees to quit. This, in turn, is causing burn out on the remaining staff, resulting in more failures… The lack of decisions that the board has made will continue to impact the community and eventually lead Casa to shut down. Because the process is dysfunctional, the results are meaningless”. Another, anonymous source stated “There is no doubt after the above findings that a toxic workplace includes widespread hypocrisy. The board and human resources to date have not acknowledged the serious problems plaguing Casa.
Instead, they continue to promote, the fiction of a healthy work environment run by enlightened board members. Worst of all, valuing and respecting others is publicized in the organizations mission and goal statement, but undermining and belittling others seems the new norm.
Other community consumers shared that it has been a slow, painful process, and as a result, volunteers, staff and supporters were hoping for something to grow out of all of this. Some feel that one of the greatest strengths Casa Guanajuato had was the ability to provide hope. But there has been a real sense of loss for the community and it’s almost like grieving a death. What truly hurts the community most is the lack of acknowledgement to the concerns as valid and significant.
What those four women did is brave and we mourn these great leaders departure because they have played a core part in the lives of the Latino/Hispanics in Illinois. These women are agents of change and growth. We could only imagine how worried they feel about the signs of the organization being on the line–Casa’s future is on the line. And worst of all, is that the board members are the ones making the decisions.
There is no doubt that the ax has fallen, when an organization has gone through as many changes as this, Casa don’t need a better executive, it needs a better board and better leaders.