Hundreds rally in support of 'Ready to Learn' after embezzlement scandal
By Bianca Buono
Well over a hundred Rhode Islanders rallied in Providence Saturday afternoon in an effort to keep funding for a local non-profit. It’s parent company is The Providence Plan whose finance director was fired for allegedly embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars. Since then, the non-profit has been struggling.
Ready to Learn operates under The Providence Plan. Back in July, officials learned that the non-profit's finance director, Charles Denno, was accused of stealing and gambling away hundreds of thousands of donated dollars. Denno was fired, but many of the funders are now freezing or pulling their money.
"It happened at The Providence Plan and we are a part of The Providence Plan but it really had nothing to do with the staff at Ready to Learn Providence,” said Ready to Learn’s director Leslie Gell.
Ready to Learn is a non-profit that works with low-income families, helping teach young kids and even adults. The organization has had dozens of funders and has been up and running since 2003.
"We started from being nothing with no education from just our high school education to our CDA certification, to getting an associate's in early childhood,” said Hilda Serrano, who trained at Ready to Learn.
Now, several employees have been notified of potential lay-offs and two of Ready to Learn's programs have already been suspended.
"I was more disappointed because everything affects Ready to Learn directly. And I was asking myself oh my god the agency that represents low-income families is the one losing the most,” said State Representative Grace Diaz.
Leaders of the non-profit are hopeful that this financial crisis is just temporary and once the investigation into the alleged embezzlement is finished, funding will continue.
"We are just working as aggressively as we can to make sure that we can be the appropriate stewards of the dollars and regain the confidence of those funding sources that have put us on hold,” Gell said.
Major Joseph Philbin of Rhode Island State Police tells ABC6 at least 75% of the alleged stolen money was from federal funds so the FBI is conducting an audit of the non-profit. Once that's complete, state police will continue to investigate.