In a December 2016 expose that floored nearly all of San Francisco society, an investigative team from the San Francisco Chronicle released a scathing report detailing the shady dealings of a well-known bespectacled charity director and socialite. The chickens, it would seem, have now come home to roost.
Joy Venturini Bianchi has for years been the face and force behind Helpers Community Inc., formerly known as Helpers of the Mentally Retarded. For ages, rumors have buzzed that Bianchi pocketed a ton of money from the charity and basically used the non-profit as a heart-warming means to live a glamorous lifestyle. The Chron's jaw-dropping feature shed light on the actual math of Bianchi's running of Helpers and lo and behold, the rumors were correct.
17 dinners at Gary Danko? A jaguar? Designer clothes donated to the charity's thrift shop that end up on the back of Bianchi at galas and balls? Under Bianchi's recent helm, Helpers had been of very little help to adults with development disabilities and of great use to Bianchi's comfort and fashion sensibilities. Thanks to her leadership, Helpers became a designer consignment business in which the proceeds, meant for the charity, kept Bianchi covered in Balenciaga.
Following the report's publication, Helpers' Board of Directors quickly pow-wowed and pushed Bianchi to the side as they scrambled to start to try and make things right. Within the past few months, they's made four $250,000 grants to Bay Area non-profits that serve the disabled. This is six times the amount Helpers gave away in 2015.
Helpers also has a new Executive Director. Bianchi has been fired.
She responded to the Chronicle's request for an interview with a text, saying, "My heart has always been with those who are developmentally disabled and my heart will always be with those who are developmentally disabled."
As for Helpers, the organization is trying to add a positive spin. “If not for the work that Joy did over the last 60 years, we would not have the assets available to even begin exploring programs, services and partnerships that we may undertake to help fulfill some of the needs of those who are developmentally disabled in our community,” said Board President Peggy Bachecki.
While a new director was hired this week, we don't know who it is yet.
Bachecki promised, "We're going to get Helpers moving forward, and it's not going to resemble what it has been in the last few years. My intention is new blood, new ideas, new people."
As for Bianchi's former assistants, they're thrilled. Claims the Chron:
"Three of her former administrative assistants during the past five years Betsy De La Garza, Bryan Blumenfeld and Roberto Rosas Marshal described an emotionally difficult work environment, where they were routinely asked to perform personal tasks for Bianchi they found inappropriate and outside their scope of duties. Those tasks included housekeeping, cooking and yard work at Bianchi's private residence on Third Avenue as well as doing her laundry, carrying the trash from her home to garbage bins at Helpers, and cleaning her car, they said."
"It has been a long time coming," said Helpers' bookkeeper Marie Callahan Brown of Bianchi's departure. "Finally, finally somebody got it. Hopefully now they will be able to do a lot of good and help a lot of people."