I continue to be amazed at the accomplishments of the Thomas Merton Center - especially now at its 40th Anniversary year!
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.
Review from Guidestar
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.
Review from Guidestar
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.
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 [email protected]
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.
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 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!
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?
This organization is a scam and should be avoided at all costs, especially if you are serious about progressive social change.
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.
As a long time member, I have to whole-heartedly agree with JCadice. Those criticisms have all been created and supported by a single person (who I will not name) over the past few months who I also think wrote the review. That being said, I know the Thomas Merton Center has gone through some very tough times, but what nonprofit hasn't. In fact, every hard working person has had a tough time during this recession. And that's why the work that the TMC does is so important. It fights for those hard working people and for their rights. Their new focus on Economic Justice has been a powerful message for me and has strengthened my support for it. I do hope it continues to add projects because it's important to remember that the TMC can always improve.
I am a board member, volunteer and consultant at the Center. There is plenty to be critical of. We haven't figured everything out and we're human and it's hard to please everyone. This one star review is written by someone who has continually slammed us in the press, to various large groups of email recipients, unsolicited sent email and letters to our members and been red-baiting me (I am proud to be a socialist and won't take that as some kind out outdated, hysterical blanket condemnation of my work and who I am). Her story is full of misunderstandings about how things work, using little bits of information to prove evil intent and pulling various details that are of no consequence. Every single point is dripping in hypocrisy and lies. It's the ravings of a seriously upset woman and I can respect her outrage on a personal level, but it is not representative of most criticisms of the organization because it's only been experienced by a single person. No one else has demanded unfettered, free access for a project that currently takes up about 1/3 of our rented space. What is true of things ignored and not provided to Book'Em, ones that are true, is true of other projects and the Center. We did not keep up the building and we have had a rough transition to a Center run entirely by part-time staff and volunteers.
It's a great organization. Most cities don't have a peace and social justice center and we do. Pittsburgh is better for it, but we can certainly use it more effectively. Unfortunately, the Center suffers from what much of the left in the U.S. and globally does - fragmentation, demoralization, lack of practical training of new activists in basic organizational skills, lack of communication between groups and cow-towing to the Democrats. We are also a non-profit and those are hard to run. We currently run on very little paid staff labor and so there have been slip-ups, but we have assembled an amazing group of very dedicated volunteers (those who do not ask of the Center, such as this reviewer, that which would be insane and counter-productive to give up to merely a single project out of many) and a very committed membership. We have NOT lost 2/3 of our membership. Some mythical 1,000 number is floated from 2000, I'm not sure if we ever have that many and there was a time when people who were not members were counted as them (such as those who came to our award dinner, that routinely draws non-members). Our membership has grown quite a bit recently, considering how difficult it is for us to reach out and do the work necessary to do this because we are so strapped getting the bare necessities covered.
I wish we were able to be THE clearing house for progressive activism in the Pittsburgh area. But we are much too white, much too old and fail to convince others on the left in the city to join in with us, identify with us and work with us. We represent a rather tiny portion of the activism happening in Pittsburgh - we are better than not having a Center, but not up to the tasks ahead if we don't change things drastically and get seriously. We should engage with communities of color more and with young people, many of whom are just plain not involved in activism or only hooked into certain venues, not to the city as a whole and its activist community. We should also have more constructive relationship with our anarchist and anti-authoritarian brothers and sisters. There will be disagreements, but they are not worthy of keeping us from working together if it would benefit us both to do so and cultivate a more cohesive, organized, effective resistance to all the problems we are facing. We are on the same side and there is just too much to accomplish.
All the exploitation, oppression and injustice is out there and there are a lot of people resisting it, but we have to get together, get more people on our side, etc, if we will win and really change things. I believe it can and must and will happen, but it won't happen automatically.
I have to strongly disagree with the negative review by disillusioned. I as a member of the public, I have been following these "accusations" for a while now and have come to learn they are mostly fabricated and slanderous. And those accusations that are not fabricated are wildly skewed.
As for my experience with the TMC, I could not say enough good things about it. Over the past couple months, membership has grown, and the Center is now beginning to expand its work. This organization has surely passed the test of time and continues to strive for social justice and peace in the Pittsburgh area.