1.25.06 Just Released!
The Continuing Mystery
of the OCA 9/11 Special Appeal Fund
By Elizabeth Reiss and Mark Stokoe
On September 11th, 2001, New York City’s twin towers -- symbols of American power and prosperity -- slammed into the earth, brought down by terrorists. Thousands died. Tens of thousands more, their family members, were left in shock and sudden need.
An almost immediate Church-wide call for help for the victims from the OCA generated more than $285,000 in donations. Sources have now come forward with information on how these donations were to be distributed – but weren’t. And one witness is now willing to state how continuing attempts to gather facts about this charitable effort have been thwarted by OCA’s central administration through stonewalling, intimidation and run-arounds - in blatant disregard for the most basic rules of “Best Practices” for non-profits.
A 9 member committee, later enlarged to 11 members, was formed by Syosset to handle the distribution of the 9/11 Special Appeal Fund. These included, variously, Fr. Robert S Kondratick, OCA Chancellor, OCA Treasurer Fr. Paul Kucynda, former OCA Treasurer Fr. Dmitri Oselinksy, OCA Comptroller Fr. Stavros Strikis, OCA Administrative Council member Fr. Gregory Safchuk; Igumen Christopher (Calin) & Deacon Michael Suvak of the OCA Cathedral in Manhattan, Frs. Daniel Degyansky, Wiaczeslaw Krawczuk and Vladimir Alexeev from Woodside, Brooklyn and Queens respectively, Fr. Constantine White of the OCA Cathedral in Washington DC and Ms. Maureen Bezuhly-Galterio of New Jersey. The “Emergency Relief Appeal” Committee met in December, 2001 and again in February, 2002.
Since there were no “active” Orthodox Christian among the victims of 9/11, the February, 2002 meeting of the Committee decided to distribute $125,000 in the following manner:
• $25,000 for the benefit of Pentagon survivors, to be presented byMetropolitan Theodosius as Archbishop of Washington D.C. during Pascha 2002
• $35,000 to each of two NY firehouses which lost 11 men in the disaster;
• $20,000 to the survivors of six firefighters at a third firehouse;
• and $10,000 to the survivors of one victim at a fourth firehouse.
( These firehouses were chosen due to proximity to OCA parishes. )
Metropolitan Theodosius did indeed make a public presentation of $25,000 at the Pentagon as reported in The Orthodox Church newspaper. Contacts were initiated with the firehouses for media-friendly presentations of the funds at a future date. Plans were made for a third meeting of the Committee in May 2002 to discuss further disbursements.
And then it all came to a halt. There have been no public distributions of 9/11 Funds since Pascha 2002. And the Committee has never met again.
Persons close to 9/11 fund-raising and distribution efforts remain bewildered over the disbursements begun – but not completed more than four years later. Speaking on condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution, one said: “I saw those towers engulfed in smoke, and I saw them crash to the ground. I witnessed the thousands of commuters walking home in a horrified daze following the tragic attack. I smelled the acrid stench of burnt plastic, cement dust, asbestos and burnt flesh. I saw the flyers and appeals posted all over Saint Paul’s Chapel and Bellevue Hospital as desperate families searched for missing loved ones. So when it became apparent to me that these funds had disappeared, I took this personally.”
Trying to Get the Facts
Having written many stories for various Orthodox publications, all highlighting the positive strides the Church is making in America, Margaret Pysarchyk of Cleveland, Ohio is often affectionately referred to as the “Sunshine Girl” of Orthodox journalism. What better story than to write about Orthodox faithful working for the benefit of the survivors of 9/11?
Pysarchyk began her research in mid-2005 by contacting David Lucs, Special Appeals Coordinator for the OCA in Syosset. Pysarchyk wanted the inside story of the human side of 9/11 relief: who was helped, how they were helped, and how it affected those who were helping. What she got was a generic new release.
Pysarchyk then asked for names of those who were directly involved in the fund-raising and distribution of OCA funds in order to arrange interviews. Lucs directed her not to the OCA Emergency Relief Appeal Committee, but to International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC).
Having been a member of the Cleveland, OH IOCC Steering Committee, and having done research with them before, Pysarchyk thought her inquiries about 9/11 relief would be well received. But for the first time, the IOCC had no comment about any OCA donations.
So it was back to OCA headquarters in Syosset. This time Lucs asked Pysarchyk to speak with him directly. As Pysarchyk recalls her conversation with Lucs: “I expected polite conversation and, hopefully, some answers to my questions. I never anticipated being screamed at for approximately ten minutes. Lucs couldn’t understand why I was asking such questions. I kept trying to ask, as calmly as I could, ‘Why are you talking to me like this? Why am I being treated this way?’”
When Pysarchyk mentioned the $285,000 figure, the call was disconnected.
An email from Lucs arrived a few hours later: “We seem to have been disconnected from our phone conversation this morning. Subsequently, I was called into a meeting with Fr. Kondratick... Fr. Kondratick said that any specific questions or requests that you have concerning The Orthodox Church in America’s 9/11 Special Appeal can be presented to
him in writing for consideration... To clarify, the Orthodox Church in America did not present any of the 9/11 Special Appeal funds to IOCC.”
The reasons that Lucs, the Special Appeals Coordinator for the OCA, directed Pysarchyk to IOCC earlier, remained unexplained.
Pysarchyk continues: “ Now I was furious! In my conversation with Lucs, I remained calm, but that was intimidation and this was a run-around. I thought, what if I had been a Baba, a gentle soul just timidly calling, to ask a question? “
An angry Pysarchyk then sent a email to Fr. Kondratick which read: “This morning I called David Lucs at his request. I don’t understand why accusations are being made against me. It was shocking and hurtful to be spoken to in such an un-Christianlike manner and hung up on.” Fr.Kondratick replied that same day promising to speak with Lucs about
“this particular situation.”
Some time later friends began telling Pysarchyk that both the OCA and the IOCC were making inquisitive phone calls about her background.
Undeterred by the phone calls, and in yet another attempt to get information for her article, Pysarchyk emailed to Kondratick eight simple questions about the OCA’s 9/11 Special Appeal Fund:
“1) How many families/individuals received aid?;
2) Were all aid recipients members of the OCA?;
3) If not, what other jurisdictions were involved?;
4) Were there any orphans?
5) What criteria were used for choosing aid recipients?;
6) Who chose the aid recipients?;
7) How was the aid given?; and,
8) Are any graphics available to show the distribution of funds?”
An exasperated Pysarchyk ended her email with these words: “My interest in interviewing recipients was to present the human side of this tragedy and to show how people were assisted through the efforts of the OCA. It is regrettable that so much time was taken to check my credentials and motives for writing this article.”
The following day, Fr. Kondratick informed Pysarchyk that he was preparing to leave for Toronto for the forthcoming All American Council. “I will prepare the answer to your questions when staff and I are able to research your questions. Looking forward to seeing you at our church events.”
The Council came and went, but no answers appeared. On November 17, 2005, Lucs sent the following message: “I will speak with Fr. Paul Kucynda, Treasurer, and Fr. Stavros Strikis, Comptroller, about your questions.”
Despite multiple requests since November, Margaret Pysarchyk has still not received a single answer to any of her questions.
The World Trade Center is gone. More than $285,000 was raised; but the Committee charged with overseeing its distribution does not meet. Some $25,000 was distributed, and the rest - some $260,000 – remains unaccounted for. Margaret Pysarchyk is still waiting to do her article. On the 9/11 Funds, just as the discretionary accounts, Syosset remains silent.