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Project BEE seeks community support

Nonprofit focuses on fiscal policies, longevity

Jill Schramm/MDN Tarina Crook, board president and interim director at Project BEE, stands Friday in the community area in the warming shelter, where guests can relax and socialize. In the background is the men’s sleeping area. The shelter also houses women.

Its warming house and diaper pantry are in full operation, but Project BEE is looking to the community for help to restore family shelter services and ensure its longevity.

A law enforcement investigation into Project BEE’s finances ensued in December following the resignation of the organization’s executive director, closing the shelter for a couple of weeks. The review by the Bureau of Criminal Investigations is continuing.

The City of Minot and Project BEE recently reached an agreement for the city to take over Broadway Circle from Project BEE and complete construction. Still under construction are a family homeless shelter and low-income apartments. The agreement leaves Project BEE to focus on its current shelter and services.

“Financially, we could be better. There’s still work to do, and I still wish we had a little bit more cushion. Longevity is the key here,” said Project BEE’s interim director and board president, Tarina Crook, who was helping host an open house at the shelter Friday. The open house continues today from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Crook said Project BEE is in position to accommodate individuals in its warming center until it closes for the season in April.

“We’ll make it, but barely, and so I need our community to help us,” she said. There are volunteer opportunities, including providing meals, but financial donations are the most critical. Crook said the shelter has not reopened its family units because of lack of stable funds to ensure ongoing operations. The family units would be available year-round.

“The night that we had to make that decision to close the center, the hardest part was probably with the families,” Crook said. “The mental, emotional unraveling that happens when you tell a mother with a newborn child, we can no longer support you here – we cannot inflict that kind of pain, ever again.

“So with that, we have to have the responsibility that it never happens again. Financially, we have to be at a place where we can support a family and say we will have the center open long term,” she said.

Crook said a number of safeguards have been added to its financial functions, from dual signers on checks to granting all board members online access to banking information. Project BEE also has adopted fiscal policies and is looking at adopting additional policies in the next few weeks. In the future, donors will receive a donation form and can choose to designate where they want their money to go.

Project BEE’s staff was downsized after the board discovered the previous director’s staffing level and benefits package were more than it knew about, Crook said. The organization now has seven employees and is seeking an executive director.

County pursues audit of ARPA funds

An audit will be undertaken of Ward County’s allocation of federal funds to the Broadway Circle project in Minot.

Following an executive session Tuesday, the Ward County Commission approved contacting its auditing firm, Widmer Roel, about a forensic audit of the American Recovery Plan Act funds given to Project BEE for Broadway Circle and to purchase a truck to pull a mobile shower and laundry trailer to serve homeless individuals across the region. The commission also voted to notify the county’s insurance provider.

The county had awarded $1.38 million for Broadway Circle and up to $27,675 or 30% of the cost of a truck.

Commission Chairman John Fjeldahl said Wednesday that a preliminary report from Project BEE raised concern about whether the money was spent as allocated, prompting the decision to have a more detailed, independent audit conducted.

The money was paid to Project BEE as reimbursement for submitted costs, but Fjeldahl said those expenditure statements now are questioned.

“There’s a few dollars left of the grant we awarded them, and we want to know before we award any more money how it was handled already,” Fjeldahl said.

Project BEE interim director and Board President Tarina Crook said the nonprofit has cooperated with the state Bureau of Investigations and City of Minot in their investigations and will continue that cooperation with Ward County.

– Jill Schramm

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