Posted on 11 January 2015.
Elves on the Rock arose as a small group of people living on Bainbridge Island and/or connected with our community who gathered together to help raise funds to assist local residents in need during the holidays.
They solicited donation items from Bainbridge businesses and held an online auction to raise the funds, which they transferred into over $10,000 worth of gifts and gift cards and presented to 35 families on the Island before Christmas.
Since then the group of nine self-appointed “elves” has splintered. Those who track local Facebook groups may have read and/or heard about infighting among some of the group’s members, as well as others who by turns criticized and defended their actions and intentions. One faction, consisting of Sonny Oligario, is still using the name Elves on the Rock. The other faction, consisting of the other eight “elves” Jeff Adams, Karn Adams, Greg Beemer, Bonnie McBryan, Lisa Burns Schulze, Linda Keeney Thurrott, Joe Wettleson, and Sue Wilmot, is now calling itself Keep It on the Rock.
Jana Walker, lead administrator of the 3,700-member Facebook group Bainbridge Islanders, as well as Radio Free Bainbridge and Bainbridge Community Forum, said the forums’ administrators have suspended the members of both factions from participating on the forums because she is concerned about their legitimacy. “We are very wary of supporting these organizations that have split from disharmony and haven’t established with us that they are legitimate nonprofits,” she said. Walker added that she thought it was “odd” that during the holidays Elves on the Rock did not go through long-established Helpline House to choose charity recipients with vetted need.
According to an official statement on the Keep It on the Rock Facebook page, the eight members split from Oligario because he registered their campaign name of Elves on the Rock with the State of Washington without their knowledge and excluded them. They further stated that on December 20 Oligario redirected the collection of funds from the group’s PayPal account to another account under the registered name Elves on the Rock, which they do not have access to or knowledge of.
On Friday, January 9, the members of Keep It on the Rock delivered to Oligario a “cease and desist” letter requesting that he discontinue using the name “Elves on the Rock” to solicit donations and/or represent the group in any public capacity. The letter further asks Oligario, within 48 hours, to account for all contributions and donations he may have solicited under the name “Elves on the Rock.”
Oligario said he registered the domain name elvesontherock.com to collect the funds with the group’s knowledge. He said he did it because he “didn’t agree with how things were being done and didn’t know who was dealing with the money and how it [was] being divided. . . . When I presented to them that we need to do this right, Joe [Wettleson] wanted to have it go through the Paypal account. I’m a business man. Joe wants things his way,” said Oligario.
Jeff Adams said that when the original eight elves started their campaign they never dreamed they would raise the level of funds they did. He explained that none of them had done anything like it before and compared their initial vision to a school cookie drive to raise funds to take soup to families and give Christmas gifts to kids. Adams explained that he and his wife had an existing unused account at Kitsap Bank that they dedicated for collecting the funds. A retired CPA with extensive nonprofit experience, Adams said the group’s goals were so small that none of the members thought it was necessary to go through the paperwork of setting up a nonprofit organization.
The elves did a “flash drive” on Facebook among friends and ended up with nearly $13,000, “10 times what we expected,” said Adams.
“I’m upset that they’re saying I’m misappropriating funds,” said Oligario. “There were still a couple of thousand dollars left [after the campaign] that they gave to Linda at Best Western to use at her discretion. Why?”
I asked Adams about the extra money, and he said that it amounts to $2,500 and is sitting in the original account at Kitsap Bank until legal matters are settled with Oligario. He explained that as part of the disbursement of charitable funds, $200 went to Linda Thurrott, who often organizes charitable drives, to use for “emergent needs.”
Adams said, “We are very confident we vetted the families. We did what we intended to do with careful and fair accounting. Unfortunately we did not agree with one member and parted ways.” Adams emphasized that publicity and controversy were never any of the elves’ goals. “These are some of the kindest, most ethical, most thoughtful people I have ever had the pleasure to work with,” said Adams. About Oligario, he said, “It is clear to the eight remaining original founders that Mr. Oligario loves the community and is genuinely passionate about helping people. We wish him well in his pursuits.”
About the cease and desist letter, Oligario told me, “I’m not doing anything illegal, and that can be proven in a court of law. Go ahead and send a registered letter. Bring it all the way into court. Greg Beemer is stating on Facebook that since December 20th they have not had control of the website and that I may have been funneling the money into an account that they have no control over. I’m not soliciting any funds on the Internet. Any money that would come in I would return.”
Oligario explained that he has been quietly leaving food and gifts for people in need, particularly the elderly, for the last eight years, paying out of his own pocket and leaving things on their doorsteps anonymously. “I’m still going to do the same thing I’ve done. If people want to help, great. I’m not looking for recognition.”
Both groups said they are now pursuing nonprofit status. Beemer, of Keep It on the Rock, said that his group now realizes the need for greater transparency. He said the remaining eight members plan to pursue small charitable events throughout the year and hold another holiday campaign next winter. Currently they are organizing a Health and Hygiene Campaign to collect donations of toilet paper, diapers, and bath products for Helpline House.
Photo courtesy of Mark Baylor.