Few agencies interested in est-like program


The Columbus Dispatch/February 13, 1992
By Sylvia Brooks

Franklin Country Children Services recently stopped promoting a program for delinquent and unruly children that was built on ideas of Werner Erhard, the creator of est and a program called The Forum that some people say is similar to a cult.

For the last several months, Margaret Sandberg, director of Franklin County Children Services, had beenpromoting the Youth at Risk program to various Franklin County social agencies.

"Our agency is not pursuing it," Children Services spokesman Kay Marshall said. The idea or using the program was dropped after a meeting Jan. 31 because agencies that contract with Children Services were not interested and there was not enough money to start it, she said.

David B. Small, executive director of Youth Advocates Services, was at the Jan. 31 meeting.

"I think there was a strong feeling from (some of us) who questioned why we're not raising money to support local agencies," Small said. "I was astounded at the amount of money we were talking about."

Information distributed at the meeting proposed a five-day pilot project for 25 youths, plus follow-up sessions, for $167,000.

However, others in the community might be interested in promoting Youth at Risk, Marshall said, and she did not rule out having children Services participate in a program run by someone else.

"We are always looking for projects that might benefit children," she said.

Youth at Risk is run by the Break-through Foundation, an ideological offshoot of Erhard's multimillion-dollar human potential empire.

Sandberg in 1990 attended The Forum, an Erhard-created seminar, and subsequently paid $4,800 in tax funds for 20 management staff members at Children services to attend.

Some psychiatrists, psychologists and law enforcement officers consider The Forum to be a cultlike organization. Other people believe it is not a cult and can help individuals and organizations discover their full potential.

Erhard is being sued by former employees of est and participants in The Forum who say they were damaged by him or the seminars.

Asked if youth at Risk is connected to Erhard, Mark Charley, program manager of the Breakthrough Foundation, said, "No and yes. We bought the use of his skeleton technology and use that, but we incorporate other programs, too."

Charley said the rights were bought from Erhard, who initially was a volunteer for the organization. He said Erhard has not been involved for about eight years.

The technology bought from Erhard "is hard to explain," he said. "It is about giving the youth the ability to produce the results they want to produce in their lives inside the environment they are already in."

He said the basic core of the youth program is Erhard's, which is "having people be able to do breakthrough."

"Children Services has been spearheading this dialogue with the Breakthrough Foundation and getting other agencies involved," said Sister Monica Nowak, director of Rosemont, a center for troubled girls. "We wondered whether it really meets the needs of our children."

She did not understand the program, she said, adding, "If you can't understand something, you cannot have a truly educated opinion."

"I am not going to participate in it," said Les Bostic, executive director of Buckeye Boys Ranch, a center for emotionally and behaviorally disturbed boys aged 10 to 17. "I had no knowledge that there was any relation to est with youth at Risk. I doubt if any of us (agency staff) were aware of the connection."

He said managers must screen "with more scrutiny these thing that come across our desks. Unwittingly, we could step into a situation like this. I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole… It is not the kind of thing I want my folks associated with."

Larry Danduran, executive director of Gladden Community House, said, "There was a push to get some agencies involved. I am not interested at all."

"I don't believe in any quick fix for anything. I have not seen quick fixes work. I am suspicious of them."

Youth at Risk has received high praise from some cities, including officials in Phoenix, Ariz., Chicago and a number of California cities.

The program claims to reduce school drop-out rates, substance abuse and criminal arrests and to improve family relationships, school attendance and employment.

Under close supervision, the youths attend classes and participate in physical activities, according to a synopsis of the Phoenix program.

Children, usually hard-core offenders and violent youths, attend the program away from home for five days and go to follow-up meetings for ayear. They are assisted by volunteer adults.

Rules of the five-day seminar include being on time, not wearing a watch and not sitting next to a friend.

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