Refunds offered in halted fundraiser for former teacher
Henry Wolfson, a substitute teacher, enjoys a cup of coffee and a laugh. The students decided to help Wolfson after learning he was living in a homeless shelter. | Contributed photo
Updated: October 28, 2012 6:18AM
SKOKIE — Four former students of substitute teacher Henry Wolfson have stopped raising money to help him move out of a homeless shelter after learning that he had gambled away a large inheritance.
The four former Niles North High School students had set up a page for the popular teacher at GiveForward.com, a site that allows people and organizations to create fundraising pages. An article about that effort appeared in last week’s edition of this newspaper.
The students, in an update posted late last week on the website, said they have learned that Wolfson inherited about $250,000 from a family member in 2007 and “a little more than two-thirds of that inheritance money was spent horse betting. This news is very heartbreaking and upsetting for us all.”
Prior to stopping the fundraiser the four had collected more than $35,000 toward a goal of $40,000 to help Wolfson move into an apartment.
Many of the donations came from former students and coworkers at Niles North and McCracken Middle School, both in Skokie, where Wolfson taught for 26 years.
In a statement on the website, the students wrote, “us four have been very upset since finding out the news and want to share it with our friends, family and community. We worked very hard to start this fundraiser for Mr. Wolfson as well as helping him live a comfortable life.
“We want to thank all of the donors and followers from the bottom of our hearts for their heartfelt contributions. Unfortunately our opinions have been compromised due to the recent news.”
In a statement released by GiveForward.com, Ethan Austin, CEO and cofounder, said the site has agreed to refund donations.
“GiveForward is a website intended for goodwill fundraising and helping those in need. It is used by independent groups organized to help a specific cause,” he said.
Austin added: “It is unfortunate that the organizers in this case did not know about Mr. Wolfson’s history before they began the fundraiser. We understand the organizers plan to meet with Mr. Wolfson to determine how they would like to proceed with the disbursement of funds.
“To date the fundraising dollars have not been released to Mr. Wolfson. GiveForward’s process holds all funds in escrow, which is where those funds are now.
“GiveForward is committed to providing refunds to donors if they choose to have their donation returned.”
A spokesman for the website said the former students will be contacting people who have made donations asking if they want their money returned.
If donors have any additional questions or would like to talk to GiveForward directly they may reach the company through the “Contact Us” page: http://www.giveforward.com/contact/form.
“If you want to receive a refund for your donation, you would need to contact GiveForward.com directly. We will not take it as a sign of offense or disrespect,” the students said.
They said the money they have collected will still go toward helping Wolfson, but will not be given to him directly.
“We understand that this donation came from your heart. If you decide to not refund your money and still want to help Mr. Wolfson to find a place to live, the summation of the funds will not be put into Mr. Wolfson’s name. Instead, the funds will be given to an honest trustee that will only provide him with the necessities that he needs.”
The site is located at: http://www.giveforward.com/teammrwolfson.