Five board members and one of three top executives of Lost N Found resigned on Tuesday as the non-profit that cares for homeless LGBT youth in Atlanta implodes in the wake of demoting a co-founder and executive director.
The 12-member board executed a “reorganization” plan on Thursday that included demoting Rick Westbrook – a co-founder, executive director and public face of the group since it was founded in 2011 – to outreach director. The plan also created two more director positions – naming Clayton Skinner as operations director and Brittany Garner as programs director.
But Westbrook's demotion ignited a storm of controversy on social media when it became public on Monday.
By Tuesday, the controversy engulfed Skinner, a gay attorney hired as Chief Operating Officer in January. He resigned citing “recent events” and hinted that more internal problems have yet to surface in the five-year-old organization.
“The issues surrounding homeless youth in Georgia and the Southeast, and in particular the incredible struggle of LGBTQ young people in our community, can and should be the focus of our attention,” Skinner said in a Facebook post.
“Recent events compounded with on-going issues, many of which the community may not be fully aware, have led me to believe that my personal efforts can be better spent towards this endeavor in other ways, outside my current role with Lost-n-Found. It is with this in mind, that I have respectfully offered my resignation as Chief Operating Officer to the Board of Lost-n-Found Youth, Inc.,” he added.
Skinner told the Georgia Voice, which first reported his resignation, that he never formally accepted his new role as operations director. He also declined to discuss Westbrook's demotion.
Also on Tuesday, board Chair Charlotte Cagle quit and four other board members followed her out the door – Chris Burgess, Michelle Groover, Edward Smith-Lewis and J. Harry Shannon. The Georgia Voice first reported the resignations Tuesday evening:
“Charlotte Cagle has tendered her resignation as Chair of The Board of Directors of Lost n Found Youth Inc. We extend our thanks to her for her work on behalf of the mission of Lost n Found Youth during her tenure with us,” read a statement issued to the Georgia Voice late Tuesday afternoon. “Like all nonprofit organizations, Lost n Found Youth has been experiencing ‘growing pains’ as part of the normal life cycle of similar organizations. We will be moving forward in our goals to provide the highest level of services possible to the homeless youth in our area, especially those who identify as LGBTQ, and are some of the most vulnerable of the homeless population in our city. The board will be meeting on Friday, August 26, 2016, to fill vacant officer positions and announce staffing plans for the immediate future. In the interim, Rick Westbrook will assume the responsibilities of the director of operations until those future staffing plans are announced.”
Lost and Found lists 12 board members on its website. Remaining board members include Keith Hollingsworth, Liliana Bakhtiari, David Little, Marci Alt, Maureen Kalmanson, Bruce Garner and Jesse Peel.
Cagle resigned in the middle of her trip to Palm Springs, Calif., for the International Business & Leadership Conference from the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. She attended to represent Lost N Found. The conference opened Tuesday and runs through Friday.
The implosion of the beloved non-profit comes as Lost N Found is among five non-profits nominated for the Guardian Angel Award from the Atlanta Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The award is decided by a vote of AGLCC members and will be announced at the LGBT business group's Community Awards Dinner on Sept. 23. Other nominees include Atlanta Pride, For the Kid In All of Us, Georgia Equality and THRIVE SS.
The Lost N Found board is expected to meet on Friday. Supporters of Westbrook's leadership are rallying to his side and promising to show their support at the board meeting.
Supporters include the gay-owned Plaza Theatre on Ponce. Owner Michael Furlinger posted this to the theater's marquee on Tuesday: “We Stand With Rick Westbrook LNF.” (photo above)
Paul Swicord, another Lost N Found co-founder, organized A Toast to the Next Chapter of Lost N Found Youth late Tuesday at Oscars.
UPDATE | Board member Keith Hollingsworth resigned on Wednesday. He becomes the sixth person to quit the 12-member board.
The full statement from Skinner on his resignation:
To the LNFY Board & Community,
I would like to start by saying a heartfelt “Thank You” to the many people who have worked tirelessly to help do the work and carry out the mission of Lost-n-Found Youth day-in and day-out, often with little of the recognition they so deserve. These countless staff and volunteers have carried forward the mission of helping LGBTQ youth, and it is the passion with which they apply themselves towards that goal with no thought or pursuit of personal glorification that gives me great pride in the hard work that has been done.
My own work with Lost-n-Found pales in comparison to what so many others have done. I began this journey with LNFY because growing up I saw people from my small home town in rural Georgia go through the trauma and heartbreak of losing their families and financial stability when they came out as gay. I’m fortunate to have a family that choose to love and support me, and felt it my duty to offer help in any way I could for those who did not have that support. I suspect many who have lent their time, energy and money to Lost-n-Found have similar stories.
Having provided pro-bono legal services to the organization in the past and more recently serving as COO for the last eight months, I have seen first hand both the growth of the need, and many of the trials and tribulations that the organization has undergone. I am proud of the work being done in the trenches and with the youth directly, and believe the organization has brought in more qualified people than ever in the last eight months to help make a difference in the community and lives of the young people it serves. These changes have not all been easy; and as with any change, they come with some growing pains.
The issues surrounding homeless youth in Georgia and the Southeast, and in particular the incredible struggle of LGBTQ young people in our community, can and should be the focus of our attention. Recent events compounded with on-going issues, many of which the community may not be fully aware, have led me to believe that my personal efforts can be better spent towards this endeavor in other ways, outside my current role with Lost-n-Found. It is with this in mind, that I have respectfully offered my resignation as Chief Operating Officer to the Board of Lost-n-Found Youth, Inc.
Clayton Skinner, Esq.