Comprehensive resource centers for children with special needs and their families sometimes come and go in Central Texas. One Austin staple, a center currently known as Family Connections, has been a source of support for families, educators, community members, and caregivers for over 15 years.
Family Connections may have to close the doors to the free community toy and book library, resource center, community classes, and countless community programs after a former Executive Director has allegedly stolen funds from the non-profit organization.
As reported by local news, a routine audit discovered discrepancies in the Family Connections financial records. The agency’s Executive Director, Louann Aponte was put on unpaid leave while the discrepancies were investigated. She turned in her formal resignation on March 11th (The Austin Chronicle reports that this resignation was presented as a “retirement”).
Aponte had been the Executive Director since a 2004 merger that brought Connections Resource Center and Austin Families together to form Family Connections. Aponte had previously been involved with Austin Families for over twenty years.
Aponte has been charged with criminal activity related to the missing funds and suspicion mounts as she has not been located at this time. Authorities believe she may have left the country and are currently seeking to find and arrest her on “charges of tampering with government records” (source).
The unique mission of Family Connections is under threat if funds do not become available to support the yearly 2.5 million dollar operating budget required to keep programs running, ensure that library doors are open, and employ over 30 Central Texas residents.
The list of services provided by Family Connections is extensive but below are just a sampling of the projects parents of children with disabilities have benefited from:
Free Toy Library: developmentally appropriate toys, books, manipulatives, and sensory materials are available for free in a check-out/check-in system identical to the Austin Public Library; parents and teachers can check-out theme based toys for teaching units or toys geared toward acquiring a certain skill. Family Connections toys are clean, well-cared for, and culturally diverse/sensitive.
Parenting Classes and support: Parent Education is a huge part of the mission at Family Connections and the April 2010 calendar includes infant massage classes, breastfeeding support, bilingual babies resources, a child development series (focus on physical, cognitive, social/emotional, and language development in children), a weekly story-time and dozens of other topics appropriate for growing families.
Advocacy Training: Family Connections seeks “to assist in understanding advocacy, the legislative process, and tracking upcoming legislation that affects children” (source). Tips and advocacy resources are provided on the website.
Many other programs and resources essential to Central Texas families will have to be put on hold while Family Connections attempts to recover from the theft and/or obtain alternate funding.
Lee Nichols of The Austin Chronicle also reports that “Family Connections receives funding from a variety of private and public sources, including city, state, and federal grants,” and that in addition to criminal charges filed, “Family Connections has also filed a civil suit against Aponte”.
Former non-profit executive director under investigation, SHELTON GREEN / KVUE News, April 12, 2010
Family Connections Nonprofit to Close Doors Amid Scandal, Lee Nichols / The Austin Chronicle, April 12,2010
Family Connections: Resources for Early Childhood Education and Positive Parenting
more photo credit: Daniel St.Pierre
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