Strive to Excel will cease operations at the end of this year

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Strive to Excel will cease operations at the end of this year

By PATRICK DONOHUE
pdonohue@beaufortgazette.com
Published Saturday, December 17, 2011   |  714 Words  |  

Strive to Excel will cease operations effective Dec. 31, the nonprofit mentoring group announced Saturday, a decision that follows four months of controversy over the group's finances and board governance.

The decision to fold was based upon "uncertain conditions of the local economy, combined with other considerations," according to a news release.

Board secretary Tom Gardo had said recently that concerns about the group's accounting and the salary of president Tim Singleton had not harmed the group's fundraising.

Gardo said Saturday he did not know how much money remains in the organization's coffers but that Strive's accounts would be reconciled when it is shuttered later this month.

The announcement came just two days after the organization submitted to the Beaufort County School District a report of its financial condition and program activities.

The report -- deemed satisfactory by district official Sean Alford -- was a condition of Strive's continued conduct of its mentoring programs at Hilton Head Island High School.

Gardo called the timing of the report and decision to fold coincidental.

"We were obligated to the School District to put out that report (by Thursday), and we just had our monthly board meeting (Friday), and that's when it was decided," Gardo said.

The district had long provided Strive with free office space at the school and provided payroll and benefits service for Singleton. However, as scrutiny of the organization mounted, the district ended both arrangements, and Strive was told it would have to vacate its office space by Dec. 31.

Organizers had hoped to move to an off-campus office while continuing Strive's programs after school.

Strive came under fire late this past summer after it was discovered Singleton had raised his own compensation by more than $41,000 in 2009-10, a fiscal year in which the group's revenue declined 20 percent, according to its federal tax filings.

Singleton's 42-percent increase was in apparent violation of the organization's bylaws, which require the board to conduct annual reviews of the president and approve any changes in his compensation. The board met infrequently in recent years and struggled to assemble a quorum when it did. According to Strive records, the board had not held a formal meeting since April 2008 until it reconstituted this September.

The decision means Singleton, a former Seahawk quarterback and longtime assistant and head coach, no longer works at Hilton Head High in any official capacity. Singleton was fired as head football coach last month, after a season in which he was suspended and the Seahawks racked up fines and penalties from the S.C. High School League for eligibility infractions.

In Strive's news release, Singleton said that since losing his football job, "his passion to continue at past levels has declined, and without it, the time has come to step aside."

Reached for comment Saturday, Singleton blamed articles in The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette for the organization's demise.

"You guys have made it very difficult to do business," Singleton said. "It's like we're swimming upstream against your one-sided stories ... so we're going to move on."

Gardo said Strive board members have no plans to reorganize the organization.

"This Strive, as we know it now, is complete," Gardo said.

Gardo said the board, reconstituted in September after it was discovered he was the lone active member, had been reviewing its operations, governance, finances and fundraising. It's unclear whether regulatory agencies were, as well.

Nonprofit groups in South Carolina are required to register annually with the S.C. Secretary of State's Office, which said in September it had put Strive on a list of organizations it intended to examine. Shortly afterward, a spokeswoman said the office does not comment on or confirm ongoing investigations.

Gardo said Saturday that Strive has not been contacted by the S.C. Secretary of State's Office and does not believe the organization would have been penalized or have its nonprofit status revoked had its operations continued.

"We haven't heard that," Gardo said. "I'm not sure why that would happen."

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.