Md. Easter Seal chapter to close in dispute with national board


The Easter Seal Society of Maryland is scrambling to find services for about 140 clients and jobs for its 60 employees by July 24.

On that day, the national Easter Seal Society will drop its affiliation with the financially troubled Maryland chapter and forbid it to use the Easter Seal logo or to call itself the Easter Seal Society of Maryland.

National President James E. Williams said the national board of directors voted unanimously March 21 to expel the Maryland chapter, which is based in Baltimore, for failing to participate in the society's 20-hour telethon March 8.

"It was a contract violation the national board took very seriously," Mr. Williams said. "The decision is final."

Carol Hudson, president and chief executive officer of the Maryland chapter, said that her board was shocked. She said that the chapter, with a budget of about $2 million, was not behind in its annual payment of about $65,000 to the national organization.

Her 60-member staff provides speech and language therapy in Baltimore and elsewhere for about 140 clients with various disabilities. Ms. Hudson said it provides both residential and vocational services and operates five homes statewide where people with head injuries and various stages of retardation are looked after.

The chapter withdrew from the telethon, Ms. Hudson said, because it could not afford it. Air time alone would have cost about $60,000, and it was doubtful that there would have been enough pledges to cover that amount, much less produce a surplus, she said.

The local organization has operated with deficits for four of the five years it has been in existence, Ms. Hudson said, and its board feared that a further deficit would be "the kiss of death."

But Mr. Williams said that the national board sees the telethon as more than a fund-raising event:

"For me, the perspective is that it is important even if the dollars break even," he said. "It is important from a PR perspective and as an advocacy and educational tool for people with disabilities."

Ms. Hudson said the local board was told that if its members resigned within 30 days, the national board would take over the organization.

"Our board decided it was in the best interest to look for other organizations to take over" the work of the local chapter, Ms. Hudson said. "We're in conversation with the state about where to place our clients and staff. We're still here and will be here for a while."

"We were hoping to buy time" between now and July 24, she added.

Mr. Williams said the national board has asked the District of Columbia branch to organize a new chapter in Maryland.

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