Opinion: Let’s Fix the Thrive Tribe

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following commentary is by three former board members of The Thrive Tribe, a group established in West Hollywood in 2012 to provide social and emotional support and connections to medical care for HIV positive people and their friends. The CEO of the Tribe was dismissed recently by the board of directors, a move that has provoked a wave of online rumors and theories about that move, which are addressed in this commentary.

Dear Community and Brothers:

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” – Martin Luther King

We care deeply about the community of gay men that have gravitated to the Thrive Tribe, which was founded in West Hollywood in 2012. The purpose of this letter, which was extremely difficult to write, is to shed light on the cancer that has almost consumed it. We are sad, disgusted and enraged. To prevent the damage from spreading, we feel we have no choice but to bring our knowledge into the public forum.

Thrive Tribe LogoWe are former members of the board of directors for the Thrive Tribe Foundation, serving on the board together until January 2016, when we each resigned within the same week. That difficult decision to leave came after we discovered the depth of the problems with the Thrive Tribe.

We have stayed silent publicly since the time we resigned, maintaining the smallest hope that the remaining members of the board would step up and hold Kevin Stalter, the CEO, accountable for those problems. Unfortunately, this did not come to pass until recently, and we applaud the board’s recent decision to finally terminate the CEO. However, the board has been largely impotent in effectively managing and dealing with Stalter.

The Thrive Tribe was a wonderful idea. It was to be a brotherhood of gay men embraced in the common goal of ending HIV transmission through peer-to-peer empowerment, building community and connecting members to care. Sadly, that powerful vision was never fully realized. The saddest part is that the beautiful vision of the organization—building community and connecting brothers to care—was damaged by Stalter.

The problems plaguing Stalter’s performance as CEO and leader are myriad: a refusal to take direction from the board, secrecy and a resistance to accountability and transparency, including dismal financial record keeping. Much of the spending remains unaccounted for.

Examples we experienced and witnessed first-hand are as follows:

• Failure to provide an accurate accounting of Thrive Tribe expenses made by him, including money used to pay for his rent, furniture, housekeeper, utilities, entertainment, as well as food and alcohol consumed at his private home;
• Ignoring board direction to find an office outside of his home;
• Refusal to produce budgets for events or provide uniform post-event accounting;
• Failure to create an annual budget until being threatened with the suspension of all Thrive Tribe spending until a draft was produced;
• Failure to create an annual report;
• Failure to create a strategic plan;
• Repeated failure to provide an open and transparent channel for members with concerns or complaints;
• Castigating volunteers and failure to recognize volunteers’ efforts, causing the organization to suffer an incredibly high attrition rate;
• Failure to follow the executive board’s direction to transparently post a job opening;
• Poor “Connection To Care” services that included excessively long response times to members and pleas for service that went unanswered.

The absolute truth was never uncovered about any of the financial problems because Stalter refused to provide a coherent expense report, as requested by the board. The board was finally provided a draft budget late winter of 2015; however, to our knowledge, an organizational budget has never been approved.

Since our resignations, the board continued to pay Stalter for rent and expenses for the use of his apartment as the Thrive Tribe offices, even though firm decisions were made to end this conflict of interest. Last week, when Stalter was terminated as CEO, he threatened the board, Aaron Alan and David Ferrante personally with legal action if we publicly criticized him. These tactics of fear, threats and intimidation to silence Stalter’s critics are not surprising.

But the truth is the truth and must be brought into the light. There have also have been reports of far greater transgressions, and we support the victims in coming forward. We will not be threatened into silence when bearing witness to harm being perpetrated against our brothers.

Days after Stalter was relieved of his position as CEO, a digital attack occurred against the Thrive Tribe, and personal and private data of the Thrive Tribe’s members was hacked and stolen. With the assistance of Google, the Thrive Tribe Board was able to ascertain the complete digital footprint of the perpetrator(s), and a police report was filed with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department (Police Report #916-03988-0977-116, Detective Hom (310) 358-4053). We implore the current board of directors to pursue the prosecution of the perpetrator(s) of any and all crimes against the Thrive Tribe and its members to the fullest extent of the law.

Interestingly, shortly after the cyber attack Stalter launched a new HIV organization and appears to be attempting to recruit members of the Thrive Tribe into following him. Naturally, he is entitled to create a charity organization, but he is not entitled to take advantage of our community, particularly its most vulnerable.

The three of us are devastated at the near destruction of the Thrive Tribe, which embodied an idea we strongly believed in. We, along with hundreds of others, invested vast amounts of our time, energy, money and even our love. But from this mess, our community can grow; we can learn.

We still believe in the mission of the Thrive Tribe, yet if it is to survive this mess, a full explanation and fearless inventory needs to be completed and made public.

Respectfully,

Mike Gerle
Aaron Alan
David Ferrante

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Bruno
Bruno
6 years ago

Empirical attitude, cold, uniformed and useless was my first and only meeting at Marie-Antoinette Salter’s petitTrianon. The set up was obvious. Men in need had no place in it, regardless how hot they are. My husband and I were assessed and judged. Oh yes, we were invited back to pay dues and justify the lavish apartment, outrageous rent and furnishing. We avoided them. I was made clear how illegal it is to process adap without a secure volt in a private home. All my instincts were on to the two cold employees. Then came along the countless parties of the… Read more »

Jack
Jack
6 years ago

Ken Howards comments and experiences mirror my own with the original Thrive Tribe. As a volunteer for an AIDS service provider, I had first hand experience with being offered “compensation” for referrals and witnessed the predatory behavior in both our organization as well as other places where vulnerable communities gather for support. The reorganization and installation of a new CEO for the TRIBE brought hopes of an inclusive and service oriented organization- sadly that has not happened. HIV positive men of all types are in need of support and to see an organization behave in both a predatory as well… Read more »

Duane Kip O'Connor
6 years ago

No organization is without its critics, supporters and specific personality, as a former executive director of a 501c3 Im well versed in organization role and function, I am/was a TT member and supporter, albeit with reservation. Not all the dots connected and I have no regrets about what I did and did not do for this group. In the same manner I do not need to publicize Stalters controversion towards me, The TTB are great guys, groups come and they go ……….we will never really know the full story about what happened here. Kip O’Connor

Marc
Marc
6 years ago

The Thrive Tribe’s problems and conflicts of interest start at the top, and I think that since The Thrive Tribe / Thrive Tribe Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) there should be more transparency. It is unfortunate, but an oversight committee made up of Tribe members should be formed to keep an eye on the board and to advise them when they may be treading in questionable waters. As for the board and its founder not taking one red cent, I can think of a few things to list here that prove otherwise….like how Julian would lure HIV positive guys to… Read more »

Ed
Ed
6 years ago

I got an email yesterday about a pool party today with proceeds benefitting TTT. I was considering going, but now I am glad I did not.

Jasonorionhair@gmail.com
Jasonorionhair@gmail.com
6 years ago

Thomas you know nothing. There has only been one thing taken down from the Tribe page and it was due to vile messages. We have been as open as we can be. I suggest you volunteer some time to come and make TTT a success.

Thomas
Thomas
6 years ago

How dare us? The public – really? Former Board Members, and by your own admission “friends we care about and with whom we socialize”, posted a public castigating of Kevin. Thrive Tribe also commented on it and now you don’t like the backlash? TOO BAD! Ken, Nir, Tan and others on here are simply pointing out as Board Members you completely failed in your duties of oversight and should face AG charges yourselves – if any of this is true. Just cause you can volunteer and donate money doesn’t mean you have no culpability here. It took me a few… Read more »

Jasonorionhair@gmail.com
Jasonorionhair@gmail.com
6 years ago

None of you know what you are talking about. None of the board members has ever taken a cent from this organization. We have all donated large amounts of money and time to this organization. Perhaps you should do a little research before you attack us. Remember this is a small organization. Everyone does multiple jobs. We all have. How dare you be so rude and disputable to the very people in this community trying to make a difference. I wonder how many of the naysayers on here are donating time and money to anyone? I have been doing volunteer… Read more »

nir zilberman
nir zilberman
6 years ago

2016, after over 30+ years of HIV/AIDS… We are dealing with this? so sad, even AIDS is a business like any other business. maybe you should all stop and remember our amazing gay men they lost they lives fighting for us. those who die with shame, no meds, those who no one wanted to help them. what’s happening to us, is so sad. all money, sex, meth, heroin, steroids, “looking good” and lot of “trash” shame on us. our friends (angels) are looking at us from the sky, how dare we even got to this? AIDS is NOT OVER until… Read more »

Thomas
Thomas
6 years ago

Yes, David, I know who you are. You are the guy who never would say hi to anyone who wasn’t hot. I never said the “pie chart” wasn’t compliant with AG. You file taxes for that. Your article claimed “failure to create an Annual Report” so I guess one of your points is not “provable in a court of law” as it took me 5 minutes to find it once I remembered seeing it in an email. You can also lay out your evidence publicly. No need to wait for a lawsuit for that.

Rob
Rob
6 years ago

I served on the TTF Board for part of 2015 and I looked back at my minutes to clarify. In March 2015 the Board voted to pay Kevin $500 a month and some basic utilities since he had been and continued to donate his home free of charge. I don’t know if he ever took the $500 because the financials from future meetings show he deferred due to lack of funds. It is a shame these guys, and it seems the current Board, has made him a scapegoat for the failures of the organization. My recollection is he worked night… Read more »

Thomas
Thomas
6 years ago

I know this organization and used to volunteer with them. I know Kevin worked his tail off trying to run this be himself for a long time. This whole thing probably has more to do with the for profit beginning of this organization. Getting HIV positive guys to switch pharmacies to get money. Shame on the Board for not realizing Kevin’s worth and allowing themselves to be manipulated by pharmaceutical greed. The wrong guy is implicated in this true “opinion” piece.

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