A nonprofit entity that operates the Hero Program spun one of its most successful initiatives into a for-profit corporation run by some of the same people, an investigation by the Beaver Countian has revealed.
Frontline Initiative Inc. operates the “Hero Program,” which utilized first responders, high school students, public officials, and local companies to purportedly raise money for children suffering from terminal illnesses. As the Beaver Countian first reported last week, the IRS revoked Frontline’s nonprofit status (and the Hero Program’s along with it) after the organization failed to file returns for 3 consecutive years. Many questions related to the organization’s finances remain unanswered, and Frontline has still not made its returns public. Following the Beaver Countian’s report, the organization issued a statement promising those records will be made available on its website sometime “in Q1 2014.”
Along with the “Hero Program,” Frontline also ran an initiative dubbed “Poison Free.” That effort sought to motivate and inspire at-risk-youth in Beaver County though a work-study program which taught web design, marketing principals, and business practices. As part of that effort, Frontline approached local companies to sell development services, giving students real-world experiences and training, providing a funding vehicle for the nonprofit organization, and at the same time offering a way for companies to meet their marketing objects by directly supporting their community.
The group also held instructional camps during the summer for the Community College of Beaver County (CCBC) and the nonprofit Prevention Network.
The innovative initiatives operated by Frontline through “Poison Free” won the organization a Not-For-Profit Corporation of the Year Award in 2009 from the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce (View a promotional brochure the nonprofit Poison Free distributed to potential clients).
But their efforts wouldn’t remain not-for-profit for long.
The web design and marketing services offered by Poison Free became increasingly successful, seeing a broad client base built from corporations and other nonprofits in Beaver County and beyond. Companies ranging from Allen Jewlers to Agway of Pittsburgh joined nonprofits like Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Beaver County and the Uncommon Grounds Cafe to have trendy websites created by the Poison Free initiative. Poison Free also provided web hosting services which generated regular recurring income for the nonprofit organization.
The money generated by Poison Free, run by Brooks Canavasi, was then combined with the considerable donations being raised by the Hero Program, run by Steven Wetzel — all under the umbrella of the Frontline Initiative Inc. nonprofit, which both men operated together as paid officers.
Poison Free used those funds in part to help market itself and grow its client base. The nonprofit would in effect become a de facto corporate incubator for a for-profit entity to come.
Research by the Beaver Countian shows that on May 26, 2010, Poison Free and Frontline Initiative founder Brooks Canavasi established “On Deck Systems LLC,” a for-profit corporation.
The Prevention Network, which had been a partner of Poison Free and Frontline Initiative, signed on as a client of the new On Deck Systems. Websites for client companies which once said “Site by Poison Free” were soon updated to read “Site By On Deck Systems,” as Poison Free’s list of clients were migrated in bulk from the nonprofit to Canavasi’s new for-profit corporation. On Deck Systems moved into the same building as the Hero Program on Third Street in Beaver.
As the Beaver Countian was finishing its investigation of the ties between Poison Free and On Deck Systems over the past week, the Frontline Initiative posted a stunning statement on its website last Wednesday acknowledging the nonprofit-to-for-profit transformation. “Poison Free program became dormant in 2011 as a for-profit entity was created due to the business demand from the community was so large. The for-profit entity created jobs in Beaver County and continues to be a valuable resource to nationwide customers.”
The Hero Program’s website was updated with a statement of its own, admitting to the co-mingling of funds with Poison Free, “Note: 2012 and 2013 are the first two years that Hero Program has operated by itself under the Frontline Initiative. In previous years the Hero Program operated in conjunction with Poison Free which had employees and operated as a training and community development organization.”
According to records maintained by the IRS, the nonprofit Frontline Initiative stopped filing federal returns after the for-profit On Deck Systems LLC was established in 2010; although the nonprofit organization (whose status has been revoked by the IRS) continues to host large fundraisers, accept charitable contributions, and administer the Hero Program.
Brooks Canavesi now works as the Director of Sales for a company called OpenArc, an IT consulting firm based out of Wexford. That corporation, which lists 26 employees on its website, has a satellite office at 1307 3rd Street in Beaver – the same address as On Deck Systems and the Hero Program. OpenArc is now listed as the development company responsible for the Hero Program’s websites.
Steven Wetzel has failed to answer specific questions about the finances of the Frontline Initiative or the Hero Program, and Brook Canavasi has failed to return messages left for him by the Beaver Countian at several different phone numbers.
Wetzel did leave comments on the Beaver Countian’s first investigative report about his organization, saying “We help kids and this online paper tries to prevent us from doing it with assumptions [...] Financial reports will be on site soon. The facts are so far off.”
But in lieu of the missing returns or detailed financial records from the past four years, the Hero Program published just a 1 page summary Profit & Loss statement from 2013 instead. Along with adding the P&L statement, the organization removed information about upcoming fundraisers from its website following the Beaver Countian’s first report.