People to People International filed for bankruptcy in the Western District of Missouri two weeks ago. The association has yet to make an official announcement as of April 5.
The organization, founded by former President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, is unable to continue due to financial problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The bankruptcy follows concerns from parents who paid for their children to be part of the organization’s student travel program. The organization’s communication was interrupted and its website closed at the beginning of March.
“Seriously, we had every intention of traveling this summer. It wouldn’t have been a problem,” said Mary Jean Eisenhower, President and President of People to People International. “As soon as we made the decision to disconnect travel in 2022, we filed a file.”
Tricia Scharnberger of Kensington, Maryland, said she gave People to People around $5,000 to send her son on their Celtic Cultures tour of Ireland, England and Scotland in 2021. After paying a deposit of $175 and then paid $2,500, People to People informed him in February 2020 that they had canceled their trip due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Scharnberger said she allowed the organization to keep the money so her son could make the trip the next time he was available.
In June 2021, Scharnberger said the organization took the last $2,500 of the payout without his permission. Other parents told Scharnberger that the same thing had happened to them.
A week after the children met online with the families they would stay with during their travels, a program official contacted Schranger to say that the program could not reach anyone from People to People International and that the website of the organization had become empty. The site is still closed.
“I felt they kept pushing us away and trying to appease us…Mary Eisenhower was the worst, pretending to be upset about it,” Scharnberger said.
Scharnberger said his son, who is a senior in high school, probably won’t be able to go on foreign trips before college because the trips are all booked or too close to the Russian invasion.
“He doesn’t really want to take another trip now. He’s sort of disgusted that this happened. He has already met the other children and he was looking forward to this particular trip,” Scharnberger said.
Now, Scharnberger said she and other parents are waiting to hear from lawyers working out the next steps in the bankruptcy process for them. She and other parents have also filed fraud complaints with their respective banks. She’s worried the claims won’t result in a refund of the full $5,000 she paid.
“Everything was done in a summary way, I think. They could have been more upfront and honest with us,” Scharnberger said. “For a week and a half there they kept blowing us off with, ‘we’re working on it’, just so they have time to file papers, which makes it harder to file a complaint. for fraud because they have already filed for bankruptcy.”
Another parent, Brianna Burrows, emailed the Reflector-Chronicle that she had paid People to People $7,715 to have her daughter travel to Europe. She said the company cut communications with program officials and parents beginning in early March.
“We will now have to fight for any return of funds as an unsecured creditor, while explaining to our children that there is no trip. There are families who have been waiting since 2020 to travel,” Burrows wrote.
“I’m not willing to send a child somewhere where I wouldn’t go myself to begin with,” Eisenhower said. “Even if we were going to Eastern Europe and it would probably be a safe and wonderful trip, with the erratic way of warfare, I couldn’t bear the thought of someone getting a blast, because ( Russia) is getting closer and closer to Poland and neighboring NATO countries.
Scharnberger and Burrow said they received an email from People to People in late March announcing the end of People to People. The email said the organization had canceled 2,022 trips and the business could not continue to operate. The organization’s financial difficulties were due to difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We worked with the Attorney General’s office and provided all student information to the court,” the email read. “In the near future, every parent or student will receive a letter from a trustee responsible for resolving all business matters. They will be able to respond to any refund request.
“Nothing short of a miracle is going to save People to People International because we haven’t received donations for three years,” said Mary Jean Eisenhower.
Eisenhower said the organization will donate its general funds to the organization’s travel provider, ECE, Enriching Cultural Experiences, International LLC, to help cover any refunds. The organization will also close its headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, to reallocate assets to repayments.
“People to People International is not legally responsible for any of this, but we are, in my view, morally responsible,” Eisenhower said.
Designated funds will be disbursed to groups and organizations that will continue the work of the designated fund.
Eisenhower said any avoidance and lack of transparency was unintentional. She said the high volume of calls received was too much for her and a staff reduced by the financial constraints of the pandemic.
The organization’s chapters, however, are financially independent from the main organization because they have different employer identification numbers, Eisenhower said. Chapters will continue without the main People to People organization.
Moving forward, Eisenhower said all the organization could do was wait for the bankruptcy to proceed legally.
“We treasured our students and their parents. They were soldiers and transported on a mission. We’re just sorry about the whole thing. We don’t want people to remember it negatively,” Eisenhower said. “We go like a one-armed paper hanger. We are doing our best. Unfortunately, it just takes time.