Hearts With A Mission rejects funds from Gay Men's Chorus concert

Hearts With A Mission, which operates the only youth shelters in Jackson and Josephine counties, stands by its decision to turn down a donation of nearly $3,000 raised during a charity concert in Grants Pass by the Portland Gay Men's Chorus.

In a letter to the Grants Pass City Council, and in comments to the Grants Pass Daily Courier, officials from the faith-based group that runs the shelter said the decision to turn down the money was made with thoughts to the welfare of the at-risk youths the shelter serves, not to discriminate against the gay men's group.

The issue was originally raised at the City Council meeting by a member of the public, who expressed concern that the shelter denied the check from the concert, which was sold out on March 25 at Newman United Methodist Church in downtown Grants Pass.

At that meeting, the City Council was deliberating on whether to approve extra funding for the Grants Pass shelter, and some councilors voiced concern that the board of Hearts With A Mission would turn down a check if they needed more money from the city.

"The idea that they would turn down any sort of philanthropic donation if they need more funding is not right," City Councilor Tyler Flaming told the Daily Courier.

Hearts With A Mission receives $50,000 a year from the Grants Pass Department of Public Safety. Due to unforseen problems with its shelter on Ninth Street in Grants Pass, Hearts With A Mission requested an additional $26,000 to get through the fiscal year.

Executive Director Kevin Lamson defended the board's decision, saying it had nothing to do with not wanting the money raised by a gay men's group, but rather the nuance of what some may think when they accept money.

"By branding something with our logo, what we are essentially doing is endorsing it," Lamson said. "It's a shame that that factors into how somebody else perceives our organization."

The Boys & Girls Club, for example, was peppered with threats of withheld funding and canceled memberships after it allowed a rally by Rogue Indivisible, an anti-Trump group, in February.

In the letter to the City Council, Hearts With A Mission board member and Grants Pass School District Superintendent Kirk Kolb said that the shelter's decision factored in the "challenges that come with living in a considerably conservative climate."

Kolb did not return calls seeking comment, but Lamson clarified that public criticism about accepting the money could pose a risk to the services Hearts With A Mission provides to at-risk youths.

"Many of the kids that we've worked with have been abused or they are struggling with their own sexual identity," Lamson said. "If they see in the paper or hear their parents saying that they don't support our organization anymore, that's going to have an effect on them and whether they come to us."

Officials also said there are no practices at their shelter that would discriminate against a child based on sexual identity.

"As an organization that receives state funding, we cannot and do not discriminate," Lamson said.

The Gay Men's Chorus did not return calls seeking comment.

The proceeds from the concert were slated to go to Hearts With A Mission a month prior to the show, according to the Rev. Richard Fuss of Newman United Methodist Church. He said the shelter board initially was receptive, but decided a couple weeks before the show that it was best to turn down the money.

"It sounded like they took a lot of things into consideration and looked at it from a lot of different angles," said Fuss. "We were saddened by this, but we understood."

Fuss said the church and the shelter still have a good working relationship.

"If we have another concert that they're more comfortable with the musicians or core performers, we would be happy to give them the proceeds," he said.

When the shelter turned down the funds, staff recommended the church donate the proceeds to the Maslow Project, a Jackson County-based charity that works with youths.

Maslow officials said that they are grateful for being considered.

"The bottom line is that we are super happy to receive the donation," said Mary Ferrell with Maslow. "And it's not our position to argue for or against another organization's decision."

She did state that her organization has not received any public backlash over accepting the donation.

Lamson said Hearts With A Mission's standing as a faith-based organization, however, puts them in a tougher spot than other programs.

"You're either too religious or not religious enough," Lamson said. "Every decision you make can be scrutinized."

Flaming, of the City Council, is a self-described fiscal conservative. He said he continues to have reservations that the city was asked to foot the bill for additional funding.

"I feel an obligation to make sure that this organization is maximizing their philanthropic potential for raising money before the city is asked to provide money," Flaming said. "When money is tight and we have a magnifying glass on how the city is spending its money … I take that very seriously."

But Lamson said that the safety of the shelter's occupants comes first.

"It had nothing to do with not accepting donations," Lamson said. "We exist on donations … But when you work with kids, it's best to just not take the gamble."

Reach reporter Troy Shinn at 541-474-3806 or tshinn@thedailycourier.com.

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