Learning for Life, which in its heyday reportedly served up to 60,000 area youth annually in a nondiscriminatory manner, is down to about 500 participants.
“The in-school Learning for Life program was suspended at the conclusion of the 2009-2010 school year due to funding cuts,” the BSA Cradle of Liberty Council said this week, in a prepared statement. “Only the after-school, workplace-based Exploring program, which is part of the LFL program, continued in the fall of 2010.”
The 500 youth in the remaining workplace-based program are served by a full-time Cradle staffer and about 100 volunteers, according to the statement.
The city wants Cradle to vacate a city-owned building near the Ben Franklin Parkway, partly because it won’t accept gays in its traditional Scouting programs.
But Cradle filed suit in 2008, claiming the city violated its constitutional right to exclude gays during the eviction attempt.
In multiple court filings, Cradle trumpeted Learning for Life for imparting “life skills” to anywhere from 30,000-60,000 area youths in any given year.
The vast majority of Cradle’s activities in the Parkway building were focused on Learning for Life, the filings noted.
Now, with the program down to 500 youth participants, it remains unclear whether the building has been a help or a hindrance.
Some activists maintain that Learning for Life is discriminatory because it’s overseen by Scouting officials who cannot be gay, atheist or agnostic.
But Cradle’s statement stressed LFL’s nondiscriminatory nature.
“Learning for Life focuses primarily on serving at-risk youths and does not discriminate on age, race, religion or sexual orientation,” according to the statement.
Questions about Learning for Life were renewed last week after an April 2010 letter written by Cradle CEO Thomas R. Harrington came to light, in which he said LFL was suspended.
“[F]unding for our organization remains a significant challenge,” Harrington wrote. “In fact, we have recently been forced to reduce some Cub Scout programming and suspend our Learning for Life programs, which adversely impacts on the youth of our community.”
Harrington wrote the letter to U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond, who’s presiding over a case that seeks to recover money for investors swindled by a Ponzi scheme. Cradle is a defendant in that case because it may have inadvertently benefited from the scheme through a charitable foundation connected to it.
There are no allegations that Cradle knowingly participated in the scheme.
This week, Cradle clarified that Harrington’s letter was referring to the school-based component of Learning for Life — and its suspension didn’t go into effect until September 2010.
In June 2010, Cradle attorney Jason P. Gosselin praised the school-based program in opening remarks to federal jurors in the eviction case.
“The programs that the Boy Scouts, or that the Cradle of Liberty Council, administers are actually quite a bit broader than just Scouting,” Gosselin told jurors. “You’re going to hear about a program called Learning for Life. Learning for Life is administered by Cradle of Liberty Council, but it’s not Scouting. It’s actually a program that’s open to children in our area on a co-ed basis, both boys and girls, and it’s open to kids from kindergarten all the way up to high school. And in the Learning for Life program, they try to focus on things like discipline and life skills, the sorts of things that we want our kids to have so that when they go out into the world, they can be good and productive citizens.”
It remains unclear whether Gosselin knew about Harrington’s letter when he made the remarks.
Gosselin couldn’t be reached for comment.
In June 2010, jurors ruled that the city placed an “unconstitutional condition” on Cradle’s right to exclude gays during the eviction attempt.
Questions to jurors focused on an offer made by the city, allowing Cradle to remain in the building rent-free if it repudiated the national BSA’s antigay policy.
But jurors weren’t asked about another offer made by the city, allowing Cradle to remain in the building rent-free if it complied with local antibias rules.
Cradle maintains that Gosselin’s comments to jurors about Learning for Life were irrelevant to the verdict.
“Any reference to Learning for Life during the trial was in the context of the time period of the filing of the lawsuit, 2008,” Cradle said. “The verdict with regard to the building was decided on a set of facts of which the status of Learning for Life was not relevant.”
According to IRS records, Harrington’s salary and benefits in 2010 totaled $263,951.
Harrington couldn’t be reached for comment about the possibility of taking a pay cut so youth services can be restored at Cradle.
But Cradle’s statement addressed Harrington’s salary in general terms.
“Compensation for all staff members of the Cradle of Liberty Council is established annually by authorized volunteers who serve on the executive board of the council. These salaries and benefits fall within an approved salary-range chart which is established by the national council of the BSA and reviewed annually by outside audit firms to ensure that compensation is compliant with IRS Code, Section 4958.”
The city’s effort to evict Cradle remains pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where both sides are expected to file briefs shortly.
The Ponzi scheme was run by investment manager Jospeh S. Forte, who swindled about $50 million from about 80 investors. In 2009, Forte, 56, pleaded guilty to bank fraud, money laundering and related counts and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Forte is expected to be released from a federal prison in Michigan in 2023.
Litigation remains underway to determine if organizations that benefited from the scheme must return the money for redistribution to investors who were swindled.