Despite starting a tumultuous year with allegations about misused funds and lawsuits, the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth soldiers on.
The charity announced Thursday it has restructured the organization over the past few months to continue focusing on what matters most- serving youths in need.
"Don't let just this one controversy diminish everything this organization has done," said Zafra Figueroa, an 18-year-old college student who has received services from the agency since she was 16. "It's not just me, it's thousands of kids."
In January, allegations against the partnership's founder and former Chief Operating Officer Kathleen Vermillion surfaced with the implication that funds from the charity had been misappropriated. Arash Ghafoori, the organization's executive director, filed a complaint with the attorney general's office in January raising concerns. Around the same time, several board members resigned.
John Simmons, chairman of the partnership board, said Wednesday the board conducted an internal and external investigation with two forensic audits. Simmons added that the organization evaluated all levels and functions of the charity from "the top down."
"One of the primary objectives with the forensic audit was to implement additional practices and procedures to ensure the future security of the agency," Simmons said. "Based on the audit and our own internal investigation, we believe under the prior leadership of NPHY there were deficiencies in the agency's financial controls. As a result, money was improperly transferred."
Simmons said the transfer took designated funds out of the partnership and put it into the Homeless Youth Foundation, which was established to secure the longevity of the organization through fundraising.
"We are in the process of reconciling every transaction there is a record of to understand exactly how the transferred monies were used," Simmons said.
Vermillion sued the partnership in June, accusing Ghafoori and board members of defaming her.
"The board was shocked and disheartened when we learned she was suing the organization," Simmons said. "NPHY intends to vehemently defend itself against these claims. We are competent the facts of this case will prove Ms. Vermillion's claims against the organization and against its membership are entirely without merit."
When reached Thursday, Vermillion disagreed.
The lawsuit does have merit," Vermillion said. "If it didn't, their motion to dismiss would have been honored."
Amid the controversy, Ghafoori said the organization continues to carry out its mission to help homeless youth.
Ghafoori said since January the partnership has helped 270 clients in the walk-in center and served about 1,400 youths on the street. The help it provides to homeless youths ranges from emergency shelter to outreach programs in local schools.
"We have served almost 17,000 youth in schools and the community in preventative outreach," Ghafoori said.
The organization has increased services to clients by 31 percent, Ghafoori said.
Though the partnership is going through troubled times, Ghafoori said client services remain its primary focus.
"If we were to disappear, the void of our services would have a very negative effect on our community," Ghafoori said.
Figueroa said she wouldn't know what she would do without the organization.
"I would probably have an emotional breakdown," Figueroa said.
Figueroa was 14 when her mother was deported, leaving her and a younger sister in the care of their father.
"My dad was an alcoholic and abusive," Figueroa said.
After her dad gambled away money, Figueroa said she would often have to beg on the street just to provide food for her sister. When her father's abuse escalated, Figueroa said she would run away, only to return the next morning.
"I didn't have much choice," Figueroa said. "My sister was there."
After her father threw her out of the house when she was 16, Figueroa confided in a school counselor who guided her to the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth. Figueroa is now studying English at the College of Southern Nevada and wants to teach English overseas. Her long-term goal is to gain custody of her sister.
Ghafoori said part of the restructuring is about restoring the community's faith in the organization so it can continue to protect "the most vulnerable population."
"Thousands (of youth) share this same experience," said Figueroa of her hardships. "It makes such a difference in your life."
Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 387-5201.