Charity set up after RI fire has had modest effect
The charity’s claim of lining up over $12.8 million in pledges was determined by assuming all 76 children would redeem every possible scholarship at multiple schools simultaneously until 2024, according to calculations King provided to the AP. Bowen says there’s ‘‘no way’’ the value of the scholarships is close to that amount.
The three recipients of scholarships so far include a student at Roger Williams University, who has received $30,000. That could grow to $60,000 if the student completes a degree in two years, a university spokesman says. Johnson & Wales says it has given $32,500 in scholarships to one student.
New England Tech awarded a $2,300 scholarship to Savannah Pimentel in January 2012, but she dropped out the same semester. Pimentel’s father, Carlos Pimentel Sr., died in the fire, leaving a wife and four children. Savannah, now 25, is the oldest.
Pimentel says King helped negotiate a scholarship for her and installed some programs on her computer. But she says she thought the fund would give her an additional $2,300 to match her scholarship. She says it was hard to get in touch with the fund because its phone was disconnected.
After several back-and-forth conversations with King and Jeffrey Derderian, she says, she gave up and dropped out, unable to pay.
‘‘Supposedly there’s all this money; I just don’t know where it is,’’ Pimentel says. ‘‘I think they’re just doing it and they put it out there for a good name for themselves.’’
King says he worked hard to get Pimentel the help that she did receive.
‘‘I think we gave to her what we said we could do,’’ King says. ‘‘You can’t make them all happy, no matter what you do, no matter how you present yourself.’’
King says the fund that helps cover miscellaneous educational expenses has helped 22 children in all. Citing privacy concerns, King wouldn’t release any beneficiaries’ names or connect the AP with any of them. AP contacted several families representing more than a dozen children. Only two had received help from the charity: Pimentel and Melinda Bloomingburgh, whose son, Kevin Gage, lost his father.
Bloomingburgh says she is grateful the fund paid for summer school and school supplies for her son, now 21. And while King took Kevin under his wing when he was younger, Bloomingburgh says that as he got older and things got tougher for him at school, the attention stopped. He dropped out of school at 18. At one point, she says, Jeffrey Derderian came to her house to talk about the fund and was apologetic.
Bloomingburgh says she wishes the charity had helped her son get the counseling he needed to deal with his anger at his father’s death and to stay in school. She says she called several times asking for help finding counselors and never got a call back.
Denise Gordon’s son, Brandon Crisostomi, lost his father, Alfred Crisostomi, in the fire when he was 10. Gordon says they went through tough times afterward. She says she hadn’t heard of the Station Education Fund until asked about it by the AP and wishes she had known so she could have reached out for help to buy her son a computer or pay for other school expenses.
King says the fund tried alerting families by sending a letter through families’ lawyers, but many of the letters were returned. He says the fund was well-publicized, but in recent years, there has been a drop in applications. The group received eight requests for help in 2010, nine in 2011 and six in 2012, all of which were granted, King says. The group hasn’t held a fundraiser since 2010.
‘‘There comes a point where you have to slow down, because the applications are not coming in,’’ he says.
Bowen says if the effort helps one student, it is worth it, and he believes the Derderians and King are sincere in wanting to help but lack experience.
‘‘They really have very good intentions, but there’s some naiveté in this,’’ Bowen says. ‘‘This is a steep mountain that they’re trying to take responsibility for.’’