Trump painting fallout brings national attention to local non-profit

Updated Sept 21, 2016

A controversy involving GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s charitable foundation has thrown a Palm Beach County non-profit organization into the national spotlight — a position the local group is hoping will raise awareness about the abused and abandoned children it services.

So far, though, there are no takers for Lake Worth-based HomeSafe’s latest fundraising attempt using a portrait of Trump by local painter Michael Israel. But there’s been plenty of comment about a previous artwork involving Trump, Israel and HomeSafe.

HomeSafe found itself in the center of a national news story this past week after The Washington Post reported that Trump used his foundation’s money to buy a six-foot-tall portrait of himself while attending an auction benefiting the local non-profit group. The 2007 event was held at Trump’s exclusive Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago.

After the story was published, Matthew Ladika, HomeSafe’s CEO, was contacted by host of national media outlets, each wanting to know about the painting by artist Michael Israel.

“It has kind of been a whirlwind of a week,” Ladika said. “I hope that it translates into some awareness about what we do and the population we serve.”

In an effort to capitalize on the national media attention, Israel created another portrait of Trump and donated it to HomeSafe. The non-profit is now auctioning off the painting online. The opening bid starts at $15,000. As of Wednesday afternoon, there had been no bids.

The 2007 painting sold for $20,000. According to Israel and press reports, Trump’s wife, Melania, bid $10,000 for the piece, before the auctioneer pushed her to double that number. The Donald J. Trump Foundation cut the check for the artwork, raising questions about whether the foundation broke IRS rules by bidding on an item that mighthave benefited Trump directly.

President Barack Obama pointed to the controversy this past week while campaigning for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who has also come under fire for contributions to her family’s foundation.

“You want to debate foundations and charities?” Obama said in a speech in Philadelphia on Sept. 13. “One candidate’s family foundation has saved countless lives around the world. The other candidate’s foundation took money other people gave to his charity and then bought a six-foot-tall painting of himself.”

Ladika said he hoped the buzz about the 2007 painting would bring more attention to the non-profit’s work, but so far, much of the focus has been on the painting and Trump’s foundation. The non-profit group helps more than 16,000 infants, children and teens in Palm Beach County each year, according to its website.

It operates five group homes for some of the county’s most at-risk youth, and plans to open a 12-unit apartment complex later this year for teens who are too old to receive services from the foster care system and want to continue their education. The Palm Springs apartment complex is within walking distance of Palm Beach State College.

HomeSafe, in partnership with the Children Services Council of Palm Beach County, also works with new and expecting mothers to help identify and prevent child abuse and neglect, promote healthy births and ensure children are ready for kindergarten.

“I wish that they had focused more on the charity,” Ladika said of the national media attention. “You try to do that, but unfortunately we are at the mercy of the editors and that gets cut out. That has been the only downside.”

So far, the spotlight hasn’t resulted in any new donations, he added.

Israel said he hopes his new painting will help change that.

“I was disappointed to see how much of the charity was left out of things,” Israel said of the national buzz over his 2007 work.

Israel, a longtime supporter of HomeSafe’s work, said he hopes those who have been critical of Trump’s bid will consider donating to the non-profit.

“Hopefully people who have been writing articles and reading articles and saying how terrible it is, hopefully some of those people will make a little donation,” Israel said. “You don’t have to bid on the painting to help HomeSafe. You can just click the donate button and donate the cost of a coffee. If enough people do that, you can help.”

As for Trump’s 2007 bid, Israel said: “I have to assume the intention was to do something noble. I don’t think he needed another portrait.”