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FOSEK Dissolves, Liam Nation Takes Over Sports Programs

In the wake of resignations, FOSEK board members opt to dissolve organization and turn operations over to another Tewksbury non-profit.

Friends of Special Education Kids (FOSEK) is no more.

In the wake of an embezzlement scandal and the resignation of several board members over the way the non-profit was run, the remaining board members voted to dissolve the organization. They also voted to turn over operation of the groups sports programs, including TOPS Soccer, Little Reds Basketball and Titan Tee Ball, to Liam Nation, another Tewksbury non-profit.

In a letter sent to FOSEK membership dated March 4, the FOSEK Board announced the decision and spoke of the program's successes since its founding in 2009. While not addressing the specific difficulties the group has faced in recent months, the board wrote that it felt it was taking the right steps in the best interests of the families the programs serve.

The letter read, in part:

"It is with a heavy heart that we need to take these steps, but we feel that it is in the best interest for this organization to dissolve and seek out other avenues for the athletic programming to carry on.  Under the “Dissolution” section of our bylaws, if voted unanimously, by the FOSEK Board of Directors, to dissolve the FOSEK organization then the funding and programming will be reallocated to another organization whose mission is similar to the mission of the FOSEK organization."

(The complete letter is attached to this story as a PDF document.)

At the time of the decision, the three members left on the board were CEO and Executive Director Deb Brown and Secretary Ben Lambert.

Messina, who will stay on as a coach with the sports teams, said he is very comfortable with Liam Nation taking over the operation of the programs and said the two groups share values and goals.

"Deb Brown and I started FOSEK four years ago so the Special Abilities Athletes in the Merrimack Valley could participate in sports just like everyone else," said Messina. "Our mission is right in line with that of Liam Nation Inc. and we are all very excited about what the future holds in store as a result of our merger. The programs are going to run as they have and many improvements will be made."

For their part, running sports programs will be a first for Liam Nation. the oldest child of Board President Erin Knyff. Liam was born with Down Syndrome and has also been diagnosed with autism.

Liam Nation was founded as a fundraising organization to help out other non-profits that benefit children with cognitive and physical delays.

"We try to help out in a big way on a small scale," said Erin Knyff.

In the past, Liam Nation has distributed funds to such groups as:

  • Professional Center for Child Development
  • Tewksbury Challenger Baseball League
  • Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress
  • The Tewksbury Integrated Preschool PAC

Knyff said taking on a major task like running a sports program for special ability athletes poses new and unique challenges but that Liam Nation has the infrastructure needed to make it work.

"It is a challenge but I've got an amazing board," she said. Board members include Charlotte Gray, Lisa Macchi, Lisa Puccia, Adrian Knyff, Jeanne Doherty, June Souza and Rich Souza.

Puccia will be charged with the responsibility of being the first director of Liam Nation Athletics. According to Knyff, it was Puccia who first approached the board about the problems FOSEK was having and the possibility of taking over the programs. Knyff met with Messina on Feb. 9 and he appeared before the Liam Nation Board on Feb. 18 to discuss the idea.

Knyff said she feels Messina is a good person and a valuable asset but that one of stipulations to the deal was that the FOSEK name not be a part of it, given the recent negative publicity associated with it.

News of the dissolution of FOSEK and the deal with Liam Nation has not been met with universal approval. Some former FOSEK board members, who are still involved with group as members, called it a "back room deal" and say Messina and Brown should have stepped down following the embezzlement scandal and allowed a new board with new officers to be elected.

"Our main concern is that, as members of the organization, this was all done in a very hush-hush manner. In other words something seems rotten in Denmark," said Ed Connerty who, before resigning from the board, served as Outreach Coordinator for FOSEK and developed and ran the Starz Kickball and Titan tee-ball programs. "We have no problem whatsoever with Liam Nation. We feel that Vini Messina and Deb Brown need to come out of hiding and explain this situation. It's only fair. They have gone into hiding since the embezzlement issue and have not come out and explained anything."

"There were other options (to dissolution) and ... several former board members had offered to take it over from Vini," said Bob Gill, who had resigned, along with his wife, from the FOSEK board in November.

Knyff said she hopes that volunteers who had given so much of their time and energy to build the sports programs with FOSEK will consider volunteering as coaches, committee members, etc. with Liam Nation.

Minna Quinn March 06, 2013 at 01:57 AM
Well said Mr. Gill and Mr. Connerty, I would like to also applaud the efforts of Deb Brown and Vini Messina for being a part of these amazing programs since 2009 and well before then. I think that their commitment for maintaining these programs also needs to be noted. And just to clarify Mr. Connerty, I'm not throwing out insults, what I am doing is pointing out your childish remarks on calling people out for answers. It's over with, move on, my grandchild goes through enough in his daily life to have to cope with other childrens ridicule and to see grown adults act like this is appaulling. I am glad that the programming will be maintained and am hopeful that my grandson will continue to participate under this new organization which looks wonderful.
Bill. S March 06, 2013 at 04:01 AM
Minna, it is too bad that you only think you know so much about Mr. Gill and Mr. Connerty for that matter. I know them both and you are not even close. Their priority is the kids not their ego I can assure that. It is however very frustrating for people (who care) when things are not the way they should be. I dont blame either for wanting the full story known, they deserve for it to be known
Robert Gill March 06, 2013 at 02:01 PM
Ms Quinn, I have never said Deb and Vini are bad people. To the contrary I have told both I believe they are good people who got in over their heads. My issue was simply that they had resources and options they chose not to utilize. Options that would have been, in my humble opinion, better for the kids. Having worked with these kids for the last few years I know how change affects them. I have seen kids lose precious learning and play time because they didn't have their glove or basketball or soccer ball. When a replacement was offered it wasn't theirs and we worked with the parents to finally coax them out on the field with this strange object. Now with the FOSEK name and tee-shirts replaced, many will lose that sense of comfort and familiarity. This is why I feel a better option was to keep FOSEK whole and did everything I could to make that happen. Do I have regrets? Yes. But ultimately it was in Vini and Debs hands and they decided to end FOSEK, an organization that literally hundreds of people put their time and energy into to make what it was. Finally, I don't know any of the Liam Nation people but I wish them nothing but the best. I hope they are able to, not only maintain but grow the programs and make them what they should be for these amazing kids. I will offer my assistance and help in any way to make that happen.
Robert Gill March 06, 2013 at 08:49 PM
Thank you Ed! And thank you for inviting me and my family to participate in FOSEK. It has been a lot of fun!
Tammy M March 07, 2013 at 01:34 PM
I have had the pleasure of meeting Liam myself. He is truly an inspiration. I think the "merge" or "take over" with Liam Nation and FOSEK is a great. Liam Nation doesn't and has never had any scandals attached to it name (as FOSEK has) so people who have donated in the past will still feel comfortable doing so making it possible to fund the sports programs as well as other remarkable things like the Meghan McCarthy scholarship that we all care about so much. As far as it being "hush hush"~ sounds like someone got left out decision making and is being a sore sport. Its about the KIDS and their continuing to have sport privileges like average kids do. Not about adults acting childish. Hopefully all of the great things FOSEK has offered in the past that put smiles on so many beautiful children's faces will only continue to grow with Liam Nation. Best of luck to all involved

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