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New group to handle Asian center's funding

By PATRICK COOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Although there will be no interruption of services, Pinellas County's Juvenile Welfare Board has stopped its funding for the Asian Family and Community Empowerment Center and has switched control of the center's contract to another local organization.

During a Thursday morning meeting, the Juvenile Welfare Board voted unanimously for the action, citing six years of accounting problems and violations of fiscal policy by Asian FACE.

The center helps about 4,000 people of Asian descent in the area, offering social services and a youth program.

Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services soon will take temporary control of the contract, which makes up most of the Asian FACE Center's funding. Gulf Coast, which currently works with Asian FACE on several projects, will handle the contract indefinitely and will report back to the board on the status of the center in 90 days.

"It's our hope to help them as much as we can," said Miriam Williams, Gulf Coast's clinical director.

"We're already working with the center, with this community," Williams said. "If we can help them through this little bump in the road, we're more than happy to do that."

The board's move will take away $135,148 from its current controllers at Asian FACE. The group annually receives $175,314 from the county, which goes to the Neighborhood Family Center at 2201 First Ave. N, the Pinellas Asian Heritage Festival and the organization management itself.

"The services will continue no matter what," Asian FACE executive director Bun Hap Prak said Friday. "People are coming to us constantly."

He said Asian FACE leaders did not want to disappoint their community or the Juvenile Welfare Board.

Prak and Asian FACE's program director, Muking Tasi, faced sometimes sharp questioning from board members during Thursday's meeting. Board members repeatedly questioned Prak about more than $35,000 that Asian FACE owes the board, as well as about copies of Asian FACE board meeting minutes that Juvenile Welfare officials said they had not received.

"We have a responsibility as representatives of the public and their tax dollars," board member Jeanne Malchon said.

At the meeting, Prak proposed Asian FACE be put on probation as well as have the board bring in an outside representative to help with the center's accounting.

Despite changing the contract, board members told Prak they wanted the center to continue and grow under Gulf Coast.

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