Changes are imminent in a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)-related agency that provides services to elderly people in the New York metropolitan area. And there is disagreement about whether that’s the right direction in which to go.
A complaint has been filed with the New York attorney general’s office regarding the administration of the Jarvie Commonweal Service, which is financed through a $95 million endowment fund held by the Presbyterian Foundation.
These actions come at a time when the leadership of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, facing declining PC(USA) revenues and membership, is looking carefully at what programs conform to the denomination’s priorities and which do not. Kathy Francis, the PC(USA)’s director of communications, said by email that the changes were initiated because the services provided by the Jarvie Commonweal Service “are outside the scope of the mission work plan for the Mission Agency and could be offered more efficiently by a local service provider with a larger staff and client base.”
Those filing the complaint – including some current and former members of the Jarvie Commonweal Service Committee, an oversight committee – are asking for a “standstill arrangement” beginning June 30, which would prevent the transfer of the administration of the Jarvie Commonweal Service to a new organization contracted with to provide services. The complaint raises concerns about whether the new arrangements violate the terms of a decades-old trust agreement and whether the organization the Presbyterian Foundation has selected to provide services has the proper expertise and certifications.
Rob Bullock, the Foundation’s vice president of marketing and communications, declined to name the company that’s been chosen, saying that information won’t be made public until July 1. Bullock said the Foundation conducted a search for a new provider and that questions about certification and ability to properly provide services “is not a concern for us, based on our due diligence.”
Others disagree. Laura Jervis, a PC(USA) teaching elder and former chair of the Jarvie Commonwealth Service Committee, signed the letter sent June 12 to the New York Department of Law, and said in an interview that she has concerns about the process used to make these decisions; about the impact on the Jarvie staff; and about the adequacy of the services that will be provided to the beneficiaries.
Jon Brown, a Presbyterian minister from New Jersey who serves on the Jarvie committee, said in an interview that “I felt compelled to at least slow down the process for a more thorough review of the transfer of management.” Brown said he wants a more careful assessment of whether the agency with whom the Foundation is contracting “has the capacity, experience and certification to care for the beneficiaries at the level at which Jarvie has made legal commitments.”
Currently, Jarvie Commonweal Service assists about 80 beneficiaries a year (under the terms of the trust, all elderly Protestants living in the New York City metropolitan area); makes grants to organizations that provide services to senior citizens in that area; and provides educational resources on senior care.
It’s funded by an endowment worth roughly $95 million held by the Presbyterian Foundation, and overseen by a committee including representatives appointed by both the Foundation and the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.
The genesis of those relationships go back decades, until shortly after the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression.
In 1925, businessman James Newbegin Jarvie, who worked in the coffee and sugar importing trade, established the Jarvie Commonweal Fund as a nonprofit corporation in New York for charitable giving. In 1934, following Jarvie’s death in 1929, the fund entered into an agreement with the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church – establishing a permanent endowment to assist in accordance with the terms of the trust agreement.
While the Foundation holds $1.7 billion in assets, the Jarvie fund is one of the largest single endowments in those holdings, Bullock said. The Board of National Missions is now part of the Foundation. “We have the responsibility for the funds and making sure they are used properly,” he said, and the Presbyterian Mission Agency oversees the Jarvie programming. “We take care of the funds, and they take care of the program,” Bullock said.
Within the last year, the Presbyterian Mission Agency began urging the Foundation to look for a new provider of services for Jarvie, Bullock said. “We have the duty to make sure the funds get spent in accordance with the original agreement,” he said. “So when they (the mission agency) said ‘We don’t want to provide this any more,’ that kind of left the ball in our court to find somebody who could do it.”
Bullock said the Foundation’s board had approved the changes. Francis said by email that “services provided by Jarvie are outside the scope of the Mission Work Plan and did not require action by the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.”
While the direct services of the agency will no longer be provided by employees of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, “most things don’t change,” said Doug McArthur, a ruling elder and former chair of the Presbyterian Foundation Board of Trustees who has been serving as the program’s interim director since mid-May. “The commitment that was made to the beneficiaries continues,” McArthur said. “The financial stability of the program continues.”
What does change, he said, is the staffing of the program and who provides the services.
Both Margaret H. Reiff, who had been executive director of the Jarvie Commonweal Service and Susan Cohn, the associate director, “have left the organization,” according to a May 27 letter from McArthur. Asked what had happened with those employees, Francis wrote that “we’re not able to address private personnel matters.”
The letter also states that “these changes are being implemented at the behest of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, which provides the administrative oversight of the Jarvie Service. The Presbyterian Foundation, which stewards the Jarvie funds, will continue in that capacity. The financial strength of Jarvie is not compromised.”
And it states that “the Jarvie Service has made a lifetime commitment to beneficiaries that is steadfast.”
PRESS RELEASE: Foundation Announces New Provider for Jarvie Commonweal Service (7/1 update)
The Jarvie Commonweal Service, a ministry to older adult Protestants in the New York City area, has undergone changes in leadership and structure, according to leaders of the Presbyterian Foundation.
Staffing and administrative services for the program are now being provided by Jarvie Program LLC, an affiliate of VIP Health Care Services. Jarvie services and administration had previously been provided by staff of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. The changes will allow the Mission Agency to focus resources on ministries which better fit its Mission Work Plan.
In 1925, James N. Jarvie formed the Jarvie Commonweal Fund, a not-for-profit corporation in New York. The Jarvie Commonweal Fund’s purpose was “to offer relief to the aged (beyond sixty-five) within the Protestant faith, and residing within fifty miles of New York City—persons of culture and education whose comfortable circumstances have been reversed and who in their declining years find themselves without sufficient means of support.”
In 1934, the Jarvie Commonweal Fund entered into an agreement with the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church, donating the program’s assets and transferring the responsibility for the service. The Presbyterian Foundation, as agent for the Board of National Missions, continues to steward the Jarvie endowment and trust funds.
“Our primary concern is that the Jarvie program’s beneficiaries continue to receive the best possible care,” said Greg Rousos, chief operating officer of the Presbyterian Foundation. “In our search for a new provider, we considered only those organizations with practices that are considered to be the best and most exemplary among their peers. VIP Health Care, through its Jarvie Program LLC affiliate, has the experience and expertise to provide the same high quality of care that the program demands and that our beneficiaries have come to expect.”
“We’re pleased that these changes will provide for the continued care of Jarvie beneficiaries, and may even allow us to expand the number of beneficiaries being served in the future,” said Tom Taylor, President and CEO of the Presbyterian Foundation.