August 9, 2017; San Francisco Chronicle
Back in March, NPQ covered the bizarre case of Joy Venturini Bianchi, another out-of-control socialite at the helm of a nonprofit, Helpers Community Inc. Bianchi held the dual positions of board member and executive director, which is a terrible practice to begin with. And, coming as she did from San Francisco, her image and trappings looked familiar, and very much like the case of DeDe Wilson and the Fine Arts Museums.
As of yesterday, however, according to board president Peggy Bachecki, “Joy is no longer an employee at Helpers.”
The 78-year-old Bianchi managed to turn a program for people with developmental disabilities into a high fashion resale operation. Originally established as a supportive social enterprise, high couture retail took over the building that once served as residences for the intended beneficiaries of the organization. The plan was to give grants from the proceeds to other organizations serving people with developmentally disabilities, but that soon slowed to a halt, with Bianchi declaring she could not locate worthy recipients in the San Francisco area. This led her to fly off to locate some elsewhere, but to no avail.
After the San Francisco Chronicle took Helpers to public task with an investigation this spring, however, appropriate recipients were located and $1 million was disbursed in grants to Bay Area nonprofits serving the elderly and disabled—roughly six times what the group reported giving in 2015, which was in turn less than Bianchi’s salary even before counting the maintenance on her Jaguar; her symphony, orchestra, and ballet tickets; and out-of-state jaunts to social events. That’s not to mention the shopping trips for the retail boutiques and the reported use of Helpers staff as personal assistants.
Bachecki said the group intends to “rise from the ashes” and that the group “is moving in a completely different direction.” But what that direction may be is still coyly obfuscated. “We’re going to get Helpers moving forward, and it’s not going to resemble what it has been in the last few years,” she said. “My intention is new blood, new ideas, new people.”
For what it’s worth, Bachecki does praise the retail operation as a successful money generator. “If not for the work that Joy did over the last 60 years, we would not have the assets available to even begin exploring programs, services and partnerships that we may undertake to help fulfill some of the needs of those who are developmentally disabled in our community.”—Ruth McCambridge