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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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."
Review from Guidestar
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 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 am one of the newest board members for the Thomas Merton Center. I would first like to thank the reviews from our members and donors because those carry so much weight. And I think cleighs has hit the rest of the points pertaining to the 1 star rating, so I'm not even going to address it.
As one of the newest members (and the youngest), the learning curve for me has been challenging considering the long history the Thomas Merton Center. The more I learn, the more I not only realize the important work it has done and continues to do, but also the effort the members put improving it every year. In no way is it a perfect organization, but I believe it is definitely an important one. And for this reason I continue to support it and will do so for the foreseeable future.