Longform

Shelter Skelter

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Dennis Stroble, who served on the board in 1994, says, "They would show us the financial reports, but, to be quite honest with you, I didn't understand them. . . . They didn't have enough information on them to see anything."

Stroble says he spoke with Henke, "but, you know, I'm not an accountant and I never really understood the figures that well."

Celeste Howard, who joined the board in 1990, says, "Lola ran things. She would have an agenda . . . and she would pretty much tell us what she wanted us to know and it would sound okay."

But Howard became concerned in late 1993, when staff turnover increased. Howard says she heard that crisis shelters weren't referring clients to The Open Door because "they had been hearing that things were not pleasant to live there."

The board began to meet monthly, but Howard resigned in the fall because Laswell-Daniels would not accept her input, she says.

By 1994, few crisis shelters in the Valley were referring clients to The Open Door, says Terri Hanson, executive director of the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Hanson says counselors at the crisis shelters "felt that it was not the most nurturing environment." She refused to elaborate.

Laswell-Daniels announced her retirement in the fall of 1994. By the end of the year, just three board members remained--Jody Trentor, Jan Ashford and Audrey Rounding.

Laswell-Daniels says she was asked to stay on to wrap up loose ends, but she resigned after board members confronted her about the missing $40,000 check.

Rounding confirms this. "I called her up," Rounding says, "and I said, 'Lola, you cannot begin to believe all the stuff they have on you. You have two choices. Bring back the check with your letter of resignation or they're going to go to the attorney general and you're going to be in a lot of trouble.'"

After that, Rounding's resume gained a new, bizarre entry: "evict[ed] Lola Daniels . . ."

Audrey Rounding wants it known that her friends and associates live in Carefree and Paradise Valley, and they're nothing like the "scum" that populates domestic violence shelters. She serves a visitor Hawaiian coffee from fancy gold cups with rock sugar on swizzle sticks and shows off a book titled Woman to Woman: From Sabotage to Support.

Rounding calls the shelter system a scam. Of course, she didn't know that years ago when she started donating to The Open Door.

She'd visit the shelter to drop off donations she'd collected from friends. "One day I went over there and I had on this gorgeous, gorgeous sweater that I had just bought the day before. And I'm the kind of person who will take the shirt off their back," she says.Laswell-Daniels admired the sweater, so Rounding gave it to her as a gift. And agreed to be on the shelter board of directors. She joined in the fall of 1994. After Laswell-Daniels left, Rounding lobbied fellow board members Jody Trentor and Jan Ashford to become president. Within weeks she had also assumed the title of executive director--with no salary.

One of her first moves was to sell the shelter's location of eight years and buy a new building.

She says, "When I went there, I thought I could just go in for a couple of months and get this new shelter and kind of leave my mark and die in peace and know that I did this great thing. But when you're dealing with evil people, it doesn't happen that way. And you have people here that are power-hungry."

If she had known with whom she was dealing--and how much money the shelter was raking in--she never would have surrendered her beautiful sweater.

She says, "I went in as Mother Teresa. I came out as Mary Queen of Scots."
Rounding recruited new board members, including longtime acquaintances Elizabeth Goff, a CPA, and Bruce Smidt, a lawyer. Those two actually attended meetings. Others, like Channel 5 news anchor Carol Cavazos, didn't, and resigned within months.

Rounding says that when she took over, there were just two women and their children living at the old shelter. One unit was used for storage, another for an office. That left just two apartments for clients. She decided they needed more space and found a larger building in east Phoenix.

In the spring, Rounding launched a major fund-raising effort to buy a $250,000 building.

During a March tour of the new building, which at the time was uncarpeted and messy, Rounding painted a rosy picture of life at The Open Door Shelter.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.