Today the Washington, DC, child and youth engagement community is absorbing the news that the DC Trust, formerly the DC Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation, is closing its doors. Once again poor management, poor oversight, lack of leadership, lack of integrity, and theft has rocked the organization, left low-income and disadvantaged DC youth behind, and caused youth providers to feel discouraged and sickened.
I feel that way. I may be one of the few youth organization leaders in the city who was part of the original planning and implementation of the Trust many years ago. We had such hope for this organization, which was ahead of its time in the national youth intermediary movement. Yet, from the outset there were problems in its design, and despite years of hearings, testimonies, and meetings, there was no leadership and no political will to fix the fundamental design flaws that plagued the Trust from the outset, including its baseline funding, board composition, and lack of a clear mission.
I have testified countless times, often just pulling out the prior year’s testimony and changing the date, because the same problems occurred year after year. And despite our testimony, nothing changed. I would go to the Trust offices and ask why there was no money for our programs, only to be told that they just did not have enough to go around. All the while I knew their office space rent alone cost thousands of dollars. I would walk out knowing that, once again, the youth and children of DC and the nonprofit organizations who work with such integrity to serve and support them were going to lose out! It was getting harder and harder each year to testify on their behalf. I did so reluctantly, but I also felt I had no choice because the Trust was the only vehicle to distribute greatly needed out-of-school time and summer program funding. There was no other vehicle—not the Department of Human Services, not the Department of Employment Services, not the Department of Parks and Recreation. All the funding had been routed to the Trust.
So today I might actually feel relieved, were it not for the fact that I am incredibly worried the Latin American Youth Center and other providers will not receive FY16 or FY17 funds designated for children and youth. I no longer have to testify. I no longer have to feel angry and dismayed when I leave the Trust’s offices. I no longer have to wonder why that place was such a mess. I don’t want to figure out whom to blame for this—there is a lot of blame to go around, and honestly, it is enormously disheartening to think about.
Leaving the past behind, let’s look forward. Most important is funding services for our city’s children and youth so they are engaged in high-quality programs year-round. DC is fortunate—there are so many great organizations in every Ward of the city. And many, although not all, have the data to prove their results. High-performing youth organizations should be given the opportunity to do what they do best: support the children, youth, and families who rely on them daily.
Our city and elected leaders must step in immediately. There should be no break in funding. Summer money should get out the door. Youth-serving agencies should not be penalized for the errors of others. Our leaders should invite members of the nonprofit community at this challenging time to problem solve together. I stand ready to help us move forward. Our city’s children and youth deserve the best, and our youth organizations should be a respected part of this process.