- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 13, 2004

The executive who takes the helm of an organization in crisis has only a short time to set things right. That was the situation facing Lawrence F. Davenport, a former high-ranking official under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, when he accepted the post of executive director and chief executive officer of Hale House in June 2002.

Mother Clara Hale had been, and remains, a legend. In his 1985 State of the Union address, Mr. Reagan called her “an American hero” for her tireless work caring for babies affected by drugs and illness, including HIV and AIDS, or those whose mothers or families were unable to rear them.

For three decades Hale House had been famous nationwide — not just in Harlem community it served. Then, scandal hit in 2001. Mother Hale’s daughter, who had become president and CEO upon her mother’s death in 1992, was found to have misappropriated funds from the charity.

With the center’s reputation in tatters, fund-raising collapsed. The usual celebrity support vanished, direct-mail solicitations for donations ceased, and the frequent donor contribution list fell from 200,000 individuals to 12,000.

Of course, the public assumes a charity buffeted by such bad publicity — unlike a government agency or a corporation so beset — has been forced to shut its doors.

Mr. Davenport (“Dr. D,” as Hale House staff affectionately refer to him) confronted the challenge head-on when he took charge. His move was overhauling the financial system. A hodge-podge of manual ledgers was replaced with high-quality fund accounting software.

Hale House now has a finance department with a finance director, controller and bookkeeper and strict internal controls.

Mr. Davenport knew the importance of a shakeup, having served in the early 1980s as associate director of the federal agency, ACTION. “Thomas Pauken was the head of the agency at that time. Tom had a mandate from President Reagan to restore the focus of ACTION to be one of assisting causes whose leaders were engaged in improving people’s lives on a daily basis. We demanded accountability from the organizations that we funded, and accountability from ourselves.”

Accountability is increasingly a watchword in philanthropy. Mr. Davenport believes agencies must be good stewards of and accountable for funds donated to them.

Hale House now is fully accountable and back on track. The organization is working to build its nearly ruined donor list back to 100,000 by midyear. To help, Davenport has begun the Hale House Business Partnership program. Further, Hale House in January was the Harlem Chamber of Commerce’s 2004 Community Service Award Winner.

With the foundational base stabilized, programs are expanding. Hale House has made a proposal to the New York City Department of Homeless Services to utilize apartment units, previously obtained from the city government, for transitional housing and supportive services.

Mr. Davenport emphasizes that, in addition to temporary shelter, the formerly homeless tenants will be given training in good tenancy and working cooperatively with property owners.

These properties also will house two new programs: the Mother Hale Learning Center, accommodating 40 children from the ages of 6 weeks to 4 years, and the Hale House TLC, a therapeutic learning center for 40 to 44 children with development delays.

Mr. Davenport is well-suited to starting early learning centers. In the late 1980s, he was assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education under President Reagan. Yet high appointed office in the federal government, whatever the opportunity to change policy, was not his first aspiration.

“I always wanted to be a social worker, and I definitely wish that more people set out on that path,” he says.

Mr. Davenport does not see that as a contradiction of his philosophical conservatism. “On the contrary, it’s complementary. After all, hasn’t the country been governed by Republican presidents who spoke of ‘compassionate conservatism’ and a ‘safety net for our citizenry?’ Because you are fiscally and socially conservative doesn’t negate your willingness, ability and responsibility to be liberal in your feelings and acts of compassion. Reagan once asked in a speech given to the British Parliament in 1982 ‘What kind of people do we think we are?’ And let us answer, ‘Free people, worthy of freedom and determined not only to remain so but to help others gain their freedom as well.’ ” Helping others gain their freedom is the mission of Hale House.

Mr. Davenport emphasizes Hale House is “all about the children.” In recognition of countless contributions, Mr. Davenport says: “Without the individual support of the people, we would see a lot more children fall through the cracks.”

Thanks in large measure to Lawrence Davenport, Hale House has once again become one of the truly bright points of light in service to the neediest.


Mr. Moses is a writer in New York City.

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