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I am writing on behalf of the Consortium for Youth Services, a private, nonprofit collaborative of service providers, community representatives, and public agencies that serves at-risk youth in the District of Columbia. Specifically, I am writing in response to the City Desk item titled “Back Pay” (5/10), which misrepresented the programs and services provided through Harambee House, a program operated by Union Temple Baptist Church and a consortium member agency.

Union Temple began its Harambee House program in 1984 to provide innovative residential care for delinquent girls, which included family and individual counseling, drug counseling, and educational support in a homelike environment. At a time when the needs of a growing population of delinquent female adolescents were largely unaddressed, Harambee House offered a sound and effective program for rehabilitation.

In 1994, DHS decided not to exercise its contract option to continue the program at Harambee House, stating that costs were too high compared with other facilities contracting with DHS. The program operated at Harambee House was different from the programs traditionally operating as group homes, which were mainly for delinquent male adolescents. The additional services provided by Harambee House created additional expense, and DHS was simply not willing or able to pay. When the Kelly administration, as your article phrases it, “pulled the plug” on the program, it was not Union Temple, the Rev. Willie Wilson, or Mary Wilson that lost out, but rather it was the population of adjudicated, at-risk female adolescents served by Harambee House.

Currently, Harambee House is under contract with DHS to provide transportation and overnight shelter for youth charged with an offense awaiting a status hearing. Again, the service provided by Harambee House fills in one of the gaps existing in the area of youth services. For youths whose parents are not able or willing to escort them from the juvenile holding center to their homes, Harambee House provides safe transportation home and to court the following morning. For those youths without a home or who are not welcomed back in their homes, Harambee House provides overnight shelter and a meal, as well as transportation. In providing such services, the program also increases the number of youth who appear in court for the initial hearing.

Overall, while your article may have proved to be titillating for members of the public who look to the media to form their opinions and actions, it missed a more important and legitimate issue: the welfare of our city’s youth. While I realize that in today’s world of media coverage your article and its jaded interpretation of the facts may increase readership for your newspaper, the article serves as a sad commentary on the journalistic integrity of your newspaper’s reporting.

Consortium for Youth Services Inc.