On Sunday, Jan. 29, we received a press release indicating an organization based in Temple, Texas, called The Uvalde Foundation for Kids had launched an investigation into violence and safety concerns at East Lansing High School.
The press release seemed newsworthy – the scene has gotten so intense here, people in Uvalde are taking note of events in East Lansing – although it also seemed a little odd, chiefly because it capitalized every word. But after consultation with our Managing Editor Julie Seraphinoff, I contacted the foundation and interviewed its founder and national director, Daniel “Bodhi” Chapin.
I immediately checked to make sure the organization was in fact registered with the IRS as a 501c3 nonprofit, which it was; it was new (less than a year old) but approved. We found some other news reports around the country about investigations Chapin is supposedly conducting at other schools with safety concerns and problems.
Seemed real. Seemed like it would interest our readers. Shortly thereafter, we published an article drawing from the interview I did with Chapin.
Then, Julie and I started to get concerned. Why? Well, this was an organization that was looking primarily for two things: people’s money and kids in crisis who wanted someone to talk to. We didn’t want ELi to lead people into trouble. Especially vulnerable youth.
Additionally, Chapin’s claim that he had been a “first responder” at the Columbine massacre in Colorado felt a little hard to believe, especially given that he’d apparently been in California at the time of the tragedy. Then there’s the fact that Temple (where the foundation is based) is about four hours from Uvalde.
Since then, ELi readers have been asking what we’ve learned. Here’s one reader question that came in yesterday:
“Thanks for posting a caution about this organization. I was able to find that it is only a few months old, being formed in Texas in July 2022. Its articles of incorporation are not online, so far as I can tell (unlike the articles of Michigan nonprofits), and of course a federal 990 form [with financial disclosures] will not be due for many months. It’s hard to ascribe credibility to an organization that is so young, without more information. Has it told ELI why it selected ELPS for ‘investigation,’ and on what authority it proposes to issue an ‘official’ report? I’m reminded of that classic New Yorker cartoon, in which two dogs, sitting near a computer terminal, observe, ‘On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.’”
To answer one of the reader’s questions, Chapin didn’t claim any authority, other than his foundation, for pursuing an “official report.”
As to how he ended up interested in events here, Chapin said in our interview that people from East Lansing contacted him asking for help. It is the case that he direct-emailed his press release (with its unusual capitalization style) to my and Julie’s email addresses, suggesting someone here had shared our contact info with him.
News reports (like ours) featuring interviews with him do make the foundation look legitimate, and the foundation uses those news reports on its own site to further its own reputation. For example, for its website press announcement about the East Lansing case, the group used a great photo by ELi’s Dylan Lees of Friday’s “listening session.” To be clear, the Uvalde Foundation for Kids used it without our permission.
We can’t find any evidence Chapin has produced actual reports for or about schools. When we asked him about when he expected to produce something for East Lansing, he said he didn’t want to tie the work to a particular timeline.
The more we looked at the group’s website, the more curious it seemed. Various people were named as “team members,” but not a single one of them had photos – just the organization’s logo where you’d expect to see headshots.
Chapin couldn’t even seem to provide us a usable headshot of himself. First, he offered us this image:
When we told him that was too blurry to use, he offered us this “more recent photo”:
We found those odd choices of headshots for the director of a national foundation. We didn’t use them.
Further perusal of the “team members” page indicated an absence of named corporate directors. The IRS requires a governing board of directors for a 501c3 nonprofit organization.
Pressed about this, Chapin revealed that he is not only the national director, he’s also a board member and the chief financial officer. This didn’t seem reassuring, as it appears to mean he’s controlling the money, overseeing the finances, and getting paid as the top employee (and maybe as the only employee?).
Chapin also told us his board president is Michael “Travis” Stevens. We found a press release about this, but the information in the release was obviously self-generated, not verified.
This is what Chapin told me about Stevens: “For The Interest Of Brevity, Regarding Our President, Dr Stevens, Please find the below bio link as it will provide more information on him as you may need. It is recent as he recently ran for the Texas State Board Of Education.”
The link led to a Ballotpedia entry describing a man with two failed campaigns. The citations for the bio indicate the information came from the candidate himself.
Chapin provided a foundation domain email address for Stevens and said, “Do contact him as needed. I do know he has been traveling for business as he is also a School Superintendent In Bexar County, Texas, so please be patient if there is a response delay.”
Figuring Chapin could himself answer the email tied to the foundation domain, I tried finding a way to reach Stevens independently by looking at school districts in Bexar County, but soon discovered there are many districts in that county.
I asked Chapin to identify Stevens’ school district. He wrote back, “I am currently stepping into a meeting and will connect again later as able, either today or tomorrow. These are busy times. Stay well.” He never provided the information.
I found a superintendent of a school district in Texas who is named Michael Stevens. I wrote to him to ask if he is associated with the foundation. He didn’t write back. The photo of “Michael Stevens” in the press release doesn’t appear to match the photo of the man shown on the district’s page for the superintendent.
Since my verification questions to Chapin, the foundation website “team” page has been changed to add the title of “Board of Directors” to many of the team members’ names. I didn’t bother trying to chase all these people down, since, as an ELi supporter noted to me yesterday, “Everything in East Lansing appears to be on fire, except maybe the fire department.”
Chapin’s bio on Facebook claimed he “studied” at the UMass Chan Medical School and at the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress as well as Loyola Marymount University. I asked him for the dates so I could call and verify these educational credentials. He did not provide the dates.
To be fair, his claim about studying at the UMass Medical School was tempered by the qualification that the study was for “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Intervention.”
When I asked Chapin about his claim that he was a first responder at the Columbine High School massacre, this is what he said: “In 1999, In Response To The Columbine High School Shooting, I was Part Of A Critical Incident Response Team Out of Orange County, California for another Nonprofit, Coalition For The Coalition For The Advancement Of Civil Justice & SOS INTERNATIONAL. Our team was responsible for providing additional volunteer crisis counseling (As A Chaplain) as well as ATSM (Acute Traumatic Stress Management) for first responders on scene.”
I was not able to verify this information, although again I didn’t spend that much time on this part. I’ll be honest that the capitalization makes the research much more tiring. (My mother raised me on Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.)
What we can verify is that Chapin is running a lot of fundraisers, in Temple, Texas, and online, collecting money in the name of the foundation. He also continues to encourage youth in crisis to contact his organization.
We can also confirm that Daniel Chapin has hopped onto ELi’s Facebook page to object to our warnings about his organization.
He tried pointing people to the foundation’s Guidestar profile page, which, as I noted in my response, is self-reported.
My response apparently annoyed him, because he resorted to even more capitalization than usual, answering, “Perhaps, This Will Help. FYI HERE IS THE ACTUAL IRS LINK Which Is NOT Self Reporting.”
I responded, “This only indicates that the organization was approved for 501c3 status. It is not difficult to obtain 501c3 status. The organization is too new to have done any reporting of financial information.”
So, to get back to our reader’s question, we can’t say for sure why Chapin picked East Lansing for an “investigation.”
But we like to think he’s discovered what a serious 501c3 local news organization does for a town that supports it. Thank you for that.