The Crisis -- by Michael Wein -- written 7/18/04
The year 2004 was a year where almost everything went wrong for this Foundation. Much (maybe even most) of it was not our fault, but we share in the blame for the problem, too.
It seemed to me that community service was a reward in itself. And I overextended myself by creating a free and non-profit, online, community news magazine that attempted to fill in gaps in the information that Atencion would not or could not provide.
That consisted of presenting breaking news in San Miguel within 24 hours or less of hearing about it, and listing local events as much as six months in advance to aid in residents' planning, and to offer a free community bulletin board, all in addition to normal unedited (and unaffected by advertising) stories, articles, tips, columnists, poems, humor, and so many other departments in our 97-web-page news magazine (that was always online, always available, always free - even still available today, although no longer up to date - and available at http://www.angelfire.com/jazz/smaonline/
My fatal error was in mistaking the many compliments regarding how useful, needed, and marvelous this news magazine was from the many web-site readers (we had over 7,700 visits by the time I gave up on it) as consisting of an implied promise that they would do a little volunteer work for the paper themselves (something like sending in news and other publishable material). When I ended up spending 20 hours (no, that is not a typo) a day on it, 7 days a week, for about 3 months, and my health started to suffer, I realized that everything must come to an end.
Why did I get involved in starting the online news magazine? Well, in addition to it supplying a needed resource specifically directed at the resident gringo community, I saw the synergy in having a news magazine that would give publicity to this foundation's need for obtaining new grantees, promoting our lifetime achievement award, and our goals and mission, and our beliefs. On the other hand, the Foundation helped the news magazine prosper by awarding grants to charitable organizations chosen by the winners of writing and other contests for the news magazine. Good for all. Or so I thought.
It turned out that a winner of one contest repeatedly broke the rules of that contest and then had the nerve to write an email admitting that she kept the prize for herself by changing the name on the check rather than turning it over to a scholarship fund as she promised to do. Whether or not she actually did that (she later recanted and said it was a joke, but the recanting may or may not be honest - documentation has yet to be presented to prove her later statement), her timing was horrendous. This occurred during the time when (as I said above) time was no longer available for anything that was normally necessary, not just investigating this possible theft.
In addition to not getting help with the news magazine, the Prodigy Internet Service Provider system broke down (as it did periodically), the Foundation's grantees were ALL late in their input of information for their 2004 grants, and this all seemed to come at the wrong time (and all at once).
As a result of all of the above, and truly distraught at the possible contest robbery, I began to feel very depressed and totally defeated. I was no longer available for the long hours needed and the news magazine was forced to close down.
This Foundation ALMOST terminated with my thought of "where are the OTHER volunteers in this town?" If it was not for the emotional support of some really good friends, this Foundation, too, would have been closed down. But, guilt at possibly breaking promises regarding the future (both current grants and the overall endowment) overcame my feelings and I agreed to go on from there.
However, I vowed then, and I vow at any future time this is read, that as much as I want to fulfill the commitments made when the foundation was first conceived early in 2000, my reasons for forming the foundation (formulated back in 1997 - see I believe) are still important to me and still appropriate. Therefore, there MUST be a quid pro quo. The grantees MUST do their part (see Eligibility and 1st year requirements, and later year requirements) and I will do my part. But, if the foundation itself does not get some volunteer help (see help us) well before I leave this earth, there is no way that I can be insane enough to leave more than us$2,500,000 in the hands of "just anybody".
Luckily, knowing that things don't always go according to plan, our IRS application left room for alternative grantees in the USA. While I would hope to continue to aid San Miguel children, it does not need to happen that way. Provisions have been made in our IRS application and in the by-laws to give any otherwise unaccounted for grant money to USA charities that I also believe in.
Note added in 2008: As
of Oct 10 2008, we have ceased accepting NEW grantees (we are not
sure at this time as to whether or not this is permanent or temporary). We
have decided to "sink or swim" with our current grantees, The
continuing amounts available for both our current grants and our future grants
(the latter to be given via our still expected endowment) will merely be
distributed in larger amounts than if we accepted new grantees.