Lack of accountability killed One Vision One Life
Richard Garland pushes back his long dreadlocks and pauses before recalling the work of One Vision One Life, an anti-violence group he headed.
He's proud of what its members did and says, in hindsight, more documentation of their efforts to reach youths on Pittsburgh streets might have convinced funders to keep One Vision afloat.
“We were most known for stopping retaliation violence. I had guys that were formerly incarcerated, former gang members, former drug dealers. We trained them, and they did a lot of different things, as far as outreach,” said Garland, 59, of Bridgeville.
“They would find a way to stop a situation or get in front of it.”
Garland started One Vision in 2004. It had as many as 75 workers, but folded in August because of lack of money. The Allegheny County Sheriff's Office auctioned the organization's assets on Nov. 26 when the group defaulted on its lease in the Manor Building, Downtown.
Garland has moved on to the University of Pittsburgh as a teacher and researcher and has an office in the school's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Among stacks of paper with data on homicides and newspaper clippings, Garland keeps a stuffed bear inscribed with “No. 1 Dad” reminding him of his four children, including three at home — ages 11, 9, and 6.
Garland gained a reputation as someone who could relate to black teenagers involved with gangs and had a penchant for calming volatile neighborhoods. A former Philadelphia gang member, he served more than a decade in prison, including from 1985 to 1991 at Western Penitentiary, now SCI-Pittsburgh at Woods Run. It was there Garland began working on his bachelor's degree in communications through a Pitt program. He left prison in 1991, graduated in 1992 and earned his master's degree in social work from Pitt in 1996. He worked as an intervention specialist for a drug and alcohol agency before starting One Vision.
Garland said One Vision succeeded in stopping retaliation violence in Homewood, Garfield, the North Side and Beltzhoover. It hosted an annual four-week summer basketball academy in the North Side to keep kids off the streets.
“If I failed at anything, it's that I didn't turn over the organization to a new, younger guy. It's more about succession — guys closer in age to things we're dealing with,” Garland said. “I'm old. Younger guys might have a better connection.”
A study by RAND Corp. in 2010 suggested the organization had little impact on crime from its inception through 2007.
“That RAND evaluation is probably one of the things that killed us,” said Garland, who described his workers as “raw.”
“All they knew is the streets, and now, they were doing paperwork. They got in front of so much stuff — different cases where we were able to stop retaliation. How do you measure that? The public only concentrates on the stuff that does happen.”
One Vision's tax returns show the group raised more than $1 million a year from 2007 to 2009, but the past few years its income dropped to around $500,000, Garland said. Government and foundation grants accounted for most of the group's money, and Garland earned $105,000 annually.
Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing for Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities, said One Vision's overhead costs were above average. Tax data for 2011 show it raised $600,000 in government grants and $425,000 from foundations and other contributors. It put about 53 percent toward program expenses, 46 percent toward administration and spent 1 percent on fundraising, she said.
“Fifty-three percent to programs is not very ideal. They do have high administrative expenses,” Miniutti said. “Of the 6,000 charities we rate, they typically hit 75 percent on their program expenses. So this organization is definitely not operating at the optimum efficiency.”
Still, One Vision had high-profile backers. Former U.S. Attorney Fred Thieman, president of The Buhl Foundation, said the foundation gave $100,000 to $200,000 over the past five years and called Garland “a dedicated, hardworking, sincere, passionate individual” in whom he had confidence. He said One Vision will be missed because not many other groups do intervention work.
“When funding is tight, intervention programs are often the first to go,” Thieman said. “And it's easier for (younger people), and Richard's been doing it a long time. It becomes harder to relate.”
John Ellis, spokesman for The Pittsburgh Foundation, said it gave One Vision $50,000 in 2011 and $150,000 in 2007 but tends to award money to specific programs rather than make ongoing contributions to keep organizations operating.
“But we do think (One Vision) did good work,” Ellis said. “It's very difficult to measure something that doesn't happen.”
Pittsburgh police spokeswoman Diane Richard, who was on the board of directors, said the group could have improved its record-keeping.
“I don't believe things were as well-documented as they could have been — people that went out into the community, what groups they spoke with, how much time they spent, what they accomplished — so when it comes time to get funding you can say, ‘This is what we did, these are their tasks, and here's the backup documentation,'” Richard said.
Garland said he should have demanded more accountability from outreach workers, but insisted it improved during the past five years. He produced spreadsheets of times, dates and descriptions of what workers did.
“I still get calls from people,” he said. “I got guys calling us from inside jail about different things going on in the street that we need to get in front of.”
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.