Thursday, January 18, 2001

Teen program leaving Warren

Founder cites climate of hate

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HARVEYSBURG — A program for troubled teens is packing up and moving back to Arizona.

        “There's no point in having a ministry of love for kids in a place you're hated,” the Rev. Bobby Torres said.

        He is founder of Teen Reach, an Arizona-based program that has housed 14 or more teens in this northern Warren County village for the past 10 months. Last week, the Enquirer reported on its failure to follow state laws.

        Residents had pushed Ohio and local authorities to enforce regulations the program appeared to be breaking: Teen Reach was not licensed as a group home or registered as a nonchartered school. It was cited by the state fire marshal and sued by the village for alleged zoning and fire code violations.

        Teen Reach denied the charges on the grounds that it's religious-based and that it's not a group home, but rather a family. Even as the moving trucks were loaded Wednesday, the Rev. Mr. Torres insisted legal pressure was not a factor.

        “It isn't because of the state, it's because of the hate,” he said.

        His decision to leave came as a welcome surprise to some.

        “We didn't do anything out of hate, but we expect everybody to follow the law and not use religion as an excuse to do whatever they want,” longtime resident Mary Ann Bourne said.

        Despite Teen Reach's move, the state Department of Job and Family Services will keep working for more power to enforce its regulations, spokesman Dennis Evans said. The agency licenses group homes.

       Michael Snyder contributed to this report.


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