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New Horizons' troubles bared

Nonprofit's financial collapse was full of warning signs, but grant funds kept coming.

October 29, 2010|By Melanie Hicken, melanie.hicken@latimes.com
  • CAPTION: An empty lot stands at the site where the New Horizon's daycare center planned to build on Monday, September 13, 2010.
CAPTION: An empty lot stands at the site where the New Horizon's… (Tim Berger/News-Press )

CITY HALL — At the same time New Horizons Family Center was facing mounting financial problems with little money for a new building, city officials continued to dole out hundreds of thousands in limited federal funding to the project, records and interviews show.

Founded in 1994 to serve low-income families in south Glendale, New Horizons has long been a nonprofit darling at City Hall — receiving more than $1 million in federal community block grants and stimulus funding for social services and capital improvements in the past decade.

Facing significant cash-flow issues, New Horizons founder Maria Rochart last month scrapped plans for the "Children's Village" project and announced she had placed the vacant property and the nonprofit's adjacent mental health facility on the market.

Proceeds from the sale, she said, would help a significantly downsized center keep its doors open and allow her to repay $300,000 in federal funding that was appropriated to the now-abandoned project by the City Council.

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Rochart has said the construction project was a victim of the economic recession, but financial records show she had never secured much funding for the multimillion-dollar project outside of grants through the city.

City officials say they were unaware of the issues, but some at City Hall said the warning signs should have been caught.

"The news just keeps getting worse and worse," said Mayor Ara Najarian. "Where is our oversight on this? We always need to be responsible. And even though it wasn't our money directly, we still have that duty to provide the oversight on these projects."

Missing grants

In May 2009, Rochart told city commissioners that she needed only minor financial help to make her long-awaited "Children's Village" project a reality.

"What is holding up the parade is the $131,000 so we can break ground," Rochart told the Community Development Block Grant Advisory Committee. "I just want to speed up and break ground because the [number of] children keep growing, and I don't know where to put them."

In a June 2009 letter to Glendale officials, Rochart listed $4.7 million in foundation grants as "earmarked" for the project, in addition to a "significant contribution" from an anonymous donor.

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