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Benefit for Moorhead boy results in hard feelings against foundation

Kristin Frank holds Logan, 3, who has severe autistic and sensory disorders. (Forum file photo)

MOORHEAD -- What was meant to be a heartfelt benefit for a Moorhead family and for the local nonprofit group that organized it has turned into a bitter dispute, with hurt feelings and unanswered questions on both sides.

At the center is Logan Frank, a 3-year-old with severe autistic and sensory disorders.

DreamGivers Foundation, a new Fargo nonprofit organization, sponsored a benefit carnival for Logan in September to raise money so his family could purchase a service dog named Tango. The dog would help Logan develop better bonds with his family and help him adapt to social situations.

But more than two months later, the Frank family said they still question the benefit's financial outcome and donations made to Compassionate Paws Inc., the Wisconsin-based organization providing and training Tango. The family also is concerned about how other families might be treated in the future by the foundation.

Meanwhile, DreamGivers' three co-founders acknowledge the benefit did not raise as much money as hoped, but still gave $4,000 to Compassionate Paws to help pay for the dog.

They said they believed the Franks were satisfied with answers DreamGivers provided in response to their questions but feel "harassment" by the Frank family.

As for Tango, the Franks still don't have enough money to pay the $15,000 needed to train and buy the dog, but family members and Compassionate Paws representatives said Logan will get his dog, one way or another.

"Compassionate Paws will work with us," Logan's mother Kristin Frank said, adding "We've had some really wonderful people come back from the community and offer to help us, but we've still got a long way to go."

Coming together

Logan inspired the formation of DreamGivers Foundation this summer after Kristin Frank sought help from GivingPoint, a for-profit fundraising consulting firm in Fargo.

GivingPoint doesn't put on benefits, but its principals, Shannon Schweigert and Lisa Jackson, were inspired by Logan's story and his need for the dog, so they formed the nonprofit DreamGivers, Jackson said.

"We were compelled by their situation, by Logan and everything he was going through, and we knew we could help," Jackson said.

In August, Schweigert and Jackson teamed with Tamara Knapper to form DreamGivers as a way to provide fiscal accountability for Logan's benefit and help other families in the future.

DreamGivers orchestrated the benefit carnival in September with the goal of raising enough money to purchase Tango, Knapper said, adding that she has previous experience putting on benefit events.

Time squeeze

DreamGivers had six weeks to pull off Logan's benefit carnival since the Franks needed to provide a down payment on Tango, Knapper and Jackson said.

Because of the limited time, not everything was free to put on the benefit - although Urban Plains Center donated its space and Games to Go donated some of the activities it had at the carnival, Jackson said.

But DreamGivers' founders still hoped the proceeds would meet their goal of paying for the dog, due to the attractive location at the Urban Plains Center and the scope of the carnival, Jackson and Schweigert said.

When attendance at the carnival fell short of expectations, DreamGivers did not meet its goal to pay entirely for Tango.

Since the benefit, Kristin Frank said she has inquired about the specific financial outcome of the event. But, after questions through three e-mails, a phone call and an Oct. 28 meeting with DreamGivers, Frank said she was never told how much money was raised at the benefit.

According to an e-mail sent Friday by Jackson to The Forum, about $5,600 was spent on Logan's benefit and profits were about $9,600. The $4,000 difference was sent to Compassionate Paws.

'Red flags'

Frank said she noticed "red flags" even before the Sept. 12 benefit.

"Just little oddities, things that they'd say ... the way we were treated," she said. "Then the day of the benefit, it sort of all trickled down from there and fell apart."

For example, Logan's godfather Jonathan Brunner, who volunteered at the benefit and assisted with gathering silent auction items, said he's concerned some auction items are unaccounted for, including three donated Bluetooth headsets.

Brunner also said he was offended by some profanity used by Knapper at the children's benefit.

"There was things throughout the process that I didn't think were very professional," Brunner said.

Knapper said the complaints of rudeness and profanity were "misconstrued, taken out of context" and claims about missing silent auction items are "completely untrue."

Compassionate Paws training director Vicki Pingel said she, too, had a negative experience with DreamGivers at the carnival. Pingel drove from Wisconsin with her family so Tango could be at the benefit to meet the Franks.

"(DreamGivers) had us placed at the far end of the building where nobody saw us," Pingel said. "I was confused with that."

"The placement we had for the event was atrocious," she added, calling the event a wasted training opportunity for Tango, who could have learned how to better deal with crowds.

However, Knapper said Pingel requested the spot where Compassionate Paws' booth was placed at the carnival.

Meanwhile, Schweigert said DreamGivers has issues with the way the Franks have handled the situation.

The day after the benefit, Logan's father, Christopher Frank, called Jackson to vent his frustrations about how the benefit was handled.

Kristin Frank described her husband's message as being to the effect of: "I've heard some things from some very close sources of mine that you were stealing from my son. If I find out that is true, I will go to the media, and I will take down DreamGivers."

DreamGivers' founders said they were disturbed by the message and took it as a serious threat.

The founders said they no longer trust the Franks and hired Fargo attorney Timothy O'Keeffe to represent DreamGivers. A representative from his office was present at the Oct. 28 meeting between the Frank family and DreamGivers' founders.

On Monday, O'Keeffe issued a cease and desist letter to the Franks, demanding an apology and asking them to stop spreading false information about DreamGivers.

Frank said she's nervous about what will happen but doesn't feel she should be silent, because she doesn't want other families to have a similar experience with the foundation.

A mixed ending

Frank said several community groups, including the FM Derby Girls, have offered to help Logan since the benefit.

Tango's training should be finished by April, but if the family doesn't have all the money by then, Compassionate Paws will make an arrangement with the Franks, Pingel said.

Meanwhile, the DreamGivers founders plan to continue their mission and are now looking toward events planned for 2010, Knapper said.

"We cannot allow the Frank family to stop us from the mission that we have for other families," Knapper said.

In a Nov. 18 written statement, the DreamGivers founders said they are "deeply saddened" by how events unraveled with the Franks and "believe that it is now in our best interest to discontinue all contact with them."

Jackson said DreamGivers will work with families differently from now on, by requiring an application process to verify the need and purpose for fundraising.

Frank said she's thankful for all DreamGivers did for her son, but "they still need to be accountable for their behavior and lack of honesty."

"I was very naïve in the beginning, thinking that these wonderful people flew in from heaven or something to help us, and it's truly turned into a nightmare," she said. "It's exhausting to feel this horrible knot in your stomach, and it just needs to go away."