Kiwanis Vocational Home: While Abuse Claims Were Muted, Financial Problems at the Home Were Well-Known

By Natalie Johnson /

In addition to accusations of abuse, the Kiwanis Vocational Home also faced scrutiny during its 15-year life over its record-keeping and finances, including a 1991 investigation that showed the home could not account for more than $200,000 in state funding. 

Board members were also aware of the problem, as shown in documents obtained by The Chronicle.

“Gentlemen, to this point we have been negligent,” wrote KVH board member Henry Meister in May 1989 to other members of the board. “We have allowed our corporation to get out of control. Events that are taking place are our own fault. We must act together to retain control. For the good of the corporation. For the good of Kiwanis.”

However, in a recent interview with The Chronicle, Meister backtracked from his admission of negligence.

“We may be all guilty of gross naivety, gross ignorance … but there was no negligence,” he said, adding “Kiwanis got suckered into this along with everybody else.”

In September 1984, a DSHS audit of the home found that “the agency was not in compliance with several material contract requirements,” but was cooperative about making changes. 

In that report, DSHS staff noted KVH had more residents than its license allowed, said job descriptions of staff at the home didn’t meet the expectations of DSHS and counseling services couldn’t be verified.

A year later, another audit found the home to be “minimally compliant,” noting that staff was not qualified, the facility was not adequate, that the state overpaid the home by $37,644 and that it was not possible to verify that residents were receiving treatment the state was paying for. The facility again had more residents that its license allowed, even with an increase in the number of beds allowed by the state the previous year. 

The home briefly lost its license but stayed open. 

“I saw my caseworker once in four years,” former resident Bob Wallace said. 

Complaints of financial mismanagement continued through the late 1980s, including a May 1989 letter from Dr. Isaac Pope, who was at one point KVH’s designated doctor, saying he was unable to get financial documents needed to apply for grants and was met with hostility by staff at KVH. He resigned his position with KVH that month. 

Meister told The Chronicle cash donations to KVH were not properly accounted for and said food and school supply budgets were grossly inflated. 

Meister’s concerns were dismissed by KVH leadership and he was voted off the board soon after his letter. 

In March 1990, the Chehalis Kiwanis club withdrew its support of KVH. 

In June 1990, the state Office of Special Investigations began looking into the Kiwanis home after the Governor’s Office received a report of sexual and physical abuse. Meanwhile, a Kiwanis Pacific Northwest District investigation found the board was negligent and that KVH-owned building materials were used to enlarge then-director Charles McCarthy’s home. 

When the OSI investigation was complete in February 1991, it concluded that the facility misappropriated $48,530 in billed services not provided and reported the facility could not properly account for another $193,358 in funding for care to residents.

In addition, the investigation found “only 33 percent of the child care staff meet minimum education and experience requirements.”

It also found KVH was “defrauding” the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding food provided to the facility. 

“USDA paid KVH $59,000 in 1989. Those monies go into the (Lewis County Youth Enterprises) checking account and that account shows less than $4,000 spent on food,” according to the investigation. 

The investigation also found the facility’s sewer system was inadequate.

The next month, KVH was downsized to less than a dozen students. It was closed in June 1994.

Meister told The Chronicle he believed it was KVH’s money troubles that ultimately destroyed the program.