Thomas Merton Center, Inc.

Rating: 3.65 stars   17 reviews

Issues: International

Location: 5125 Penn Ave Pittsburgh PA 15224 USA

Mission: We are people from diverse philosophies and faiths who find common ground in the nonviolent struggle to bring about a more peaceful and just world. We work to raise the moral questions involved in the issues of war, poverty, racism, and oppression.
Programs: Over thirty projects and campaigns. See www.thomasmertoncenter.org/what_we_do.htm for more information.

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Community Reviews

Rating: 5 stars  

I continue to be amazed at the accomplishments of the Thomas Merton Center - especially now at its 40th Anniversary year!

Would you volunteer for this group again?

Definitely

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

Life-changing

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Very Well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2011

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Rating: 5 stars  

I donate to the Thomas Merton Center because I know that they are well positioned to bring together diverse groups working on systemic change and long term goals related to peace and justice.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

Organizing for Anti-War Campaigns Working for Economic Justice Addressing the Environmental Crises and Working to Ensure Prisoner Rights

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

Get the word out better related to what is going on there

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Review from Guidestar
Rating: 5 stars  

Diane McMahon

The Thomas Merton Center is dedicated to bringing about a more peaceful and just world. In 2011 we are focusing on four important areas - environmental justice, economic justice, prisoner's rights and ending the war.

This requires a willingness to speak the truth, at the most difficult times, and to do it for the good of all humanity, and not for individual advancement.

Members of the Thomas Merton Center take on this challenge on a daily basis. They are supported by a community of committed activists who have willingly joined together to find support and strength in these difficult times.

We invite you to join with us in the struggle.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

Actions, critical discourse and within planful strategies that look to create deep and sustaining impact in the greater Pittsburgh area.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

Ask more people to join with us in this important work that strives for advocacy and justice for all.

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Review from Guidestar
Rating: 1 stars  

Absolutely nothing positive going on there. GLBT folks are being gay bashed right in their neighborhood and the Thomas Merton Center remains silent. Don`t waste your money on this organization.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

its animosity toward most activists who are not associated with them

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

abolish it and start over with a new group

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Rating: 5 stars  

As a co-founder and 30+ years on staff of the Thomas Merton Center, I welcome fair-minded and accurate criticisms of the Center, a grassroots organization funded mostly by our members.

This coming year marks our 40th anniversary as a peace and justice center. I suggest you go to our website for more information, www.thomasmertoncenter.org. Our newspaper, the New People, covers the many peace, justice and ecology movements active in the region and beyond.

On Nov. 3d we are honoring Vandana Shiva, internationally known leader in the struggle for food security, economic and environmental justice and women.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

its role as supporter and promoter of a wide range of peace and justice campaigns.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

help to build membership and financial support to allow the Center to hire more organizers to work with and build stronger coalitions to fight the politics of greed, environmental destruction and economic and racial disparities..

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1 previous review
Rating: 5 stars  

As a member of the Board, former staff member of 30+ years and co-founder of the Thomas Merton Center, I am very sorry that this person has chosen to make unfounded attacks on the Center and individual board members.



Members have received five-page single-spaced letters from the same person.



As with most non-profits, the Center has to struggle economically in these hard times. This has required cutbacks in administrative expenses. Despite this, due to the work of an amazing group of volunteers and board members, the Center has increased its membership by 30% over the past year.



Hundreds came together in the spring for our Annual New Person Award honoring the three attorneys who are strong advocates for civil liberties for many years and who served as the legal team for peace and justice groups during and after the G-20 meeting.



In November over 700 attended the annual Thomas Merton Award dinner honoring Noam Chomsky, which was a sellout.



I suggest that people check our website, www.thomasmertoncenter.org and read our publication, The New People for a fuller understanding of the work of the Center.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

its work as organizer for peace and justice programs and activities and as a clearing house for dozens of groups working for a more humane and just community and world.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

make its work better known to the hundreds of thousands in Western PA who support at least one of our four key goals of economic and environmental justice, an end to war and militarism, and reform of the justice system.

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Rating: 1 stars  

When I innocently came onto the Board in January 2010, after several years of volunteering with one of their fiscal projects, I never expected that four members of the Thomas Merton Center Board including the communist president would steal mail and donation checks from two of their projects including my project, let alone attack me and my project in various ways for more than a year. Merton Center did so much harm to the books-to-prisoners project that it was robbed of its primary worker (me) and split up, to where Book'Em could no longer serve all 50 states as we had for ten years.

Two Merton Center members grabbed power in Book'Em exactly the way the Board had stated they wanted, and proceeded to sell off and throw away half of our inventory of books that had been specifically donated for the use of prisoners; they then cut off 47 states' worth of prisoners, many of whom we had served for ten years. They kept all the money and the remaining books and can't even keep up with our own state, while I rescued thousands of prisoners' letter-orders which I am serving from a lady's basement with my own money; I am attempting to start a new prison books program and to find a public location and to get funding. This NEEDLESS and totally uncaring and disrespectful disruption of our services has meant that thousands of people behind bars, especially those in solitary, did NOT get books at all or in a timely manner.

The vice-president Carole Wiedman had said at a meeting, "We could all go to prison except for Rose (me) and Jonah," then they got busy purging the files; they had taken in $25 million dollars in 25 years but hadn't paid off the little $50,000 mortgage on the fine, stable old building which they called as unsaleable. Besides the Unemployment Insurance fraud they'd committed regularly, members were asking us, "Where did all the money go and why should we donate more?" Due to their sudden preoccupation with knowing who was in the building at all times plus the fact that TMC was nearly out of money, I believe that they may have been going to set fire to the building for the insurance money. They turned down an offer from a community coalition for $104,000 because the building was valued at over $150,000, then they sold it for $90,000 to a group which gentrified the neighborhood further but the building was renovated for a fraction of what TMC claimed was needed.

This was one of the most horrible experiences of my life, particularly since those completely immoral lying troublemaking thieves on the Board were joined by two more Board members in attempting to FRAME me for alleged Harassment. With NO EVIDENCE for that and despite evidence to the contrary, these creeps proceeded to drag me into court FOUR times and even manufactured a foot-tall stack of paper claiming that I had sent many harassing emails in the previous few months--something that I would never do under any circumstances. They assassinated my reputation to my fellow TMC members and to the community at large. This cost me two thousand dollars including $400 for a lawyer to come to court with me the last time, which was wasted money since the Merton Center liars finally chickened out and didn't show up, at which point the DA withdrew the charge against me and he and I shook hands.

Merton Center which is supposed to stand for peace and social justice, actually spent a great deal of time and energy MAKING WAR on me and on one of the two most valuable social justice projects they have. Who knows how many checks they stole from how many projects? Under no circumstances would I EVER give time or money to this place again.

Furthermore, they discriminate against poor and minorities by refusing to answer letters from prisoner-members and by withholding Board election ballots from them this last time. The communist president has been quietly replaced but remains on the Board and wrote alot of the articles for their newsletter, and it seems to report on the activities of other groups for the most part...since Merton Center does virtually nothing.

At no point have any of them ever apologized to me or cared enough to ask how I am. Those seemingly normal people nearly gave an innocent person a criminal record, after driving another volunteer to attempt suicide over their game-playing with our mail and donation checks. If you want to donate to a prison book program, please donate to Spring Grass Book'Em, 1401 Hodgkiss Street, Pittsburgh PA 15212. Thank you for your time, Rosemary C. Anderson, Executive Director rcat32@gmail.com

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

damaged reputation, tremendous loss of time, and wasted money.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

Get rid of all the old Board members who either actively attacked me and Book'Em, or who passively turned their back and went along with the evil and the coverups of the others. Not once did I see any sincere evidence of caring or respect for the poor and minorities and seniors such as myself, and that makes them the worst people I have ever known. The sad thing is, they seem to have gotten away with it.

Will you volunteer or donate to this organization beyond what is required of board members?

No

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

A little

Will you tell others about this organization?

No

How did you learn about this organization?

saw their newsletter around town

What is this organization's top short-term priority?

coverups

What is its top priority in the long run?

make money

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2011

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1 previous review
Rating: 1 stars  

5 people found this review helpful

Thomas Merton Center (TMC) has lost two-thirds of its membership locally including many young people, and is famous for its incompetence and lack of caring for many community groups it could be supportive of or working with. They have been almost all white along with most of the staff despite their location in a black neighborhood. As a former Board member, I know that they failed to insulate their huge old building or to even plug up a 10-inch hole in the foundation with a clear shot to the outside air FOR YEARS & it still has a large gap of an inch or so under one back door. While lamenting huge utility bills & expenses, they heated all rooms and floors including vacant ones to 70 degrees--and refused to rent them out although small community groups had no place to start up an office. While being unable to get grants because they did nothing, this year a group of B.members seized power and attacked and harmed and nearly destroyed their largest project in residence. They broke their own rule when they refused to deal with the project head who was handicapped/Native American Indian/poor/senior in order to deal first with one unwilling parttime volunteer then another one who were coincidentally both white/middleclass/ablebodied and young. They fail to post all their monthly meeting minutes, and were heard saying that they don't want the black staff person to represent TMC because she's on psychiatric medication--but they say nothing about at least one of their white members who is/are also on psychiatric medication. One B.member communist Courtney Smith loudly announced twice that she was taking a bunch of stuff (books, CDs,?) as payment for all the free time she volunteered here--then I noticed office supplies kept going missing too even when I donated more. The Board laid off all the staff in April and added to their financial crisis by renting next door to an almost paid off solid building, without looking at more than one rental, then refused to sell the old building to a community coalition while being willing to sell to anyone who comes along although it will gentrify the neighborhood further. I would never ever give them money nor any of my time again, unless the entire Board were removed and there were major changes in attitude. One old woman who came in to volunteer was treated rudely by the young staff who spent most of their time yakking and partying, and she went elsewhere. As one fine intern told me, "It's a joke."

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

the harm the current Board especially its president have done to my project, Book'Em, and to my reputation, and to many members and people in the community who have given up on Merton Center and are starting a new organization that will be responsive.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

Remove ALL the Board members except possibly for the two or three that were just brought on to replace three good Board members, two of whom resigned in protest at the negativity going on and one minority who was kicked off.

What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...

volunteering in their project Book'Em.

The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...

doing nothing most of the time, including one intern who was unhappy about that, and they ridiculed old & poor people & the Board several times I know of, left dirty dishes and molding food they blamed on others, lied to the Board about how hardtheyworkd.

If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...

continue to mismanage and waste even more.

Ways to make it better...

they had not repeatedly disrespected me and discrimated against me, taken/opened/destroyed mail with checks addressed to my Project, tried to close down and cripple my Project, and if entirely different people were on the Board.

In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...

being honest about their lies and the harm they've done to people, community groups, and to two project volunteers, one of whom went out a 9th story window (now crippled) when the other one was banned after discovering some Board memberstakingopening mail

One thing I'd also say is that...

I'm sorry I ever got involved with the current Board, which I regret to say IS as hopeless as some people told me it would be.

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2010-8-01

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Review from Guidestar
Rating: 5 stars  

The Merton Center has accomplished many things in the past two years. With the help of dedicated board members we have improved our financial standing by moving to a new location that has significantly lowered our expenses so the board and its members can focus on peace and justice work in the community. We have also begun working on improving our organizational capacity through a strategic planning process that involves the community in our efforts to create a more peaceful and just world.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

I've seen how the Thomas Merton Center's focus on peace and justice by building networks of supporters around key issues can strengthen community organizing efforts.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

I would ask more people to get involved in creating a better world. There are many issues that affect all of us (war, economic justice, environmental sustainability, oppression and racism) that can be addressed successfully if we unite our efforts in a strategic, nonviolent and organized way.

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Rating: 1 stars  

there wasn't anything to do as a volunteer and it was boring and a waste of time. Merton Center is a zombie compared to what it used to be, and it should move over or quit so that young people can use its resources to actually DO things.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

wasting my time.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

bring back the young activists the board drove away.

Would you volunteer for this group again?

No

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

None

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Badly

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

No

What one change could this group make that would improve your volunteer experience?

have something going on there at all times instead of nothing

Did your volunteer experience have an effect on you? (teaching you a new skill, or introducing new friends, etc.)

no

How did this volunteer experience make you feel?

bored, angry

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2009

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Rating: 5 stars  

I have been a board member for 6 years and had two projects at the Thomas Merton Center. In fact, I am one of the 2 members Rosemary has alluded to in her definition of the corruption at the Center. I joined the Center awhile after moving to Pittsburgh from California where I was active in the peace movement and grape boycott of the '70's in my hometown--Pittsburg, CA (also known as Pittas Califas). Countering the charges made are very hard and I believe there are only two things to be said. 1st: We have been living through hard times (the perfect storm) as an organization and all board members had to make really difficult financial decisions (our bookkeeper retired) for the good of our members and all projects, without a staff. 2nd: *None of us* are indispensable (including Rosemary) and Book 'Em continues to thrive.
The TMC has continued to exist because it is the one place everyone can come to where peace and social justice is not just a side issue. We welcome anarchists, socialists, the spiritual, the religious, atheists -- everyone who is willing to recognize the need for a nonviolent movement for social change and peace. It is not an easy task and we are all *far* from perfect. What we share is a longing to recognize and raise up those who have a love for constructive engagement with strangers offering a home for those who point in new directions to insure a safe and equitable future.

All that being said, I miss the former staff and think Melissa's criticism is justified. As justified as it is, I will continue to work to encourage what is very good about the TMC, encouraged by a Trappist who knew anger and humility in equal doses. I still believe that when we all work together for the good, when we all encourage one another, members, volunteers, and Board, our presence will make a difference. We have a good track record!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

The TMC has been able to link economics, race, environment, and war together in ways that have encouraged me to continue encouraging others.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

Ask that train more organizers.

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Role: Professional with expertise in this field
Rating: 2 stars  

2 people found this review helpful

The Thomas Merton Center has pulled off some impressive endeavors, and I believe that with a lot of work, it could be a great resource for the city of Pittsburgh. However, this organization's current internal issues handicap it to the point that they make true movement work impossible and many who try to get more closely involved are so disillusioned with their experience, they do not want anything to do with the Center or its projects afterwards.

My first experience with the Thomas Merton Center was volunteering through Book 'Em, the books-to-prisoners project under its nonprofit status. This was a great experience and over the next two years, I volunteered with a number of the Center's projects and made friends with many individuals in Pittsburgh's social justice community. In July of 2008, I was hired as the full-time Communications Director at the Center; in this role, I recruited volunteers and interns for the Center and its twenty-six projects, wrote press releases and served as the press contact for all public communication, designed promotional materials, and organized outreach events (May Day Festival, Artist Tree Party, G-20 Film & Forum series, "Gentrification 101" series) within the local community, among other responsibilities. In May of 2009, it was announced that the G-20 Summit would be held in Pittsburgh in September of 2009, and my time that summer was spent organizing the march and protests as well as speaking to countless local, national, and international media outlets.

During all of this, the Center had been housed in a leaky old building (that they owned) that needed more repairs than the organization could afford; the three-story building was also larger than they needed. When the opportunity to rent the adjoining first-floor storefront came up, the Board jumped at the chance to move with the supposed intention of avoiding high heating bills for the '09-'10 winter, despite concerns raised by the staff about the Center's new landlord, an organization which is viewed with mixed feelings and by many as a gentrifying force in the low-income, largely Black neighborhood (as evidenced by multiple affiliates disaffiliating from the Center when they did move). When voicing our concerns, most Board members dismissed them as being completely unfounded, saying such things as "What is gentrification anyhow?" or "If you really want to see gentrification, look at the North Side," as though it could only exist in one neighborhood in a city like Pittsburgh. The Board did not consult the Center's members about this decision, nor did they plan how they would manage to move in time to avoid paying winter heating bills - they just did what was immediately cheapest, which has been their modus operandi for some time (i.e. holding the 2009 Thomas Merton Award Dinner at the Churchill Valley Country Club, which was inaccessible by public transit and has a long history of discrimination and exclusion).

The Center signed the lease but didn't actually move until at least February (they were simultaneously paying rent and high heating bills). Meanwhile, I had been encouraged by one Board member to respond to strong interest among young people in the city around the topic of urban redevelopment in Pittsburgh, and so I organized a weekly "Gentrification 101" series that was held in January. It was well-attended by a fairly diverse audience, and attendees seemed to enjoy the discussion and wide diversity of opinion on the subject. However, when the rest of the Board learned about the series, I was criticized for personally attacking the Board and their decision to move, then formally reprimanded (I wonder if they still have that letter that I had to sign...).

In March of 2010, I left for a two-week vacation in California. My second day in California, I woke up to a voicemail telling me that I (along with the other two staffpeople) was being laid off in thirty days. No warning, just a voicemail. After finally connecting with Board members in Pittsburgh, I was told that Board and staff were meeting immediately to talk about what to do, etc. I bought the cheapest plane ticket possible to fly back a week early, and guess what? No one had met. At the first meeting that did occur, the main concern was not finances or communication to the Center's members, but whether or not to publish one affiliate's letter to the Center in the next edition of their monthly newspaper. It was also suggested that someone from the staff could write a "staff appreciation article" about ourselves as a last good-bye.

Since then, the Center has received funds from a grant that I applied for while employed there and hired two staffpeople. Additionally, they are paying a Board member as a "consultant" (something that I always understood to be a direct conflict of interest). Staff positions were not publicly advertised, and no staffperson employed during my time was offered a position at the Center. This felt like a direct insult and confirmation that I had been fired, not laid off. When I've asked current Board members the reasons for this, I've been told that they were/are not looking to hire a Communications Director, etc., but are looking to hire an organizer.

And then I gotta' wonder...what the hell was I doing for two years that wasn't even in my hand-scrawled job description?

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

Something that stood out to me repeatedly during my time at the Thomas Merton Center was how much of a white, middle-class world it is and how little effort is made to connect with those of different demographics, particularly those within their own neighborhood. I'm now applying for graduate school with the intention of exploring the lack of communication that exists between movement organizations and direct-action social service providers and how this is indicative of internalized racism/classism.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

I would establish two-term limits (for a total of four years) within the Board of Directors, so that there is the opportunity for new faces and fresh ideas. With the same people constantly being re-elected because they're "a familiar name" or having the current Board members selecting new Board members to replace those who quit mid-year in frustration (as has happened for at least the last two years), there is no possibility for real change.

How does this organization compare with others in the same sector?

Somewhat badly

How much of an impact do you think this organization has?

Some

Will you recommend this organization to others?

Unsure

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2010

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