- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

Dozens of parents and children in the District were irate yesterday after learning that an annual summer camp sponsored by the Metropolitan Police had been canceled without notice.

Most of the parents found out about the cancellation early yesterday morning when they dropped their children off at the Arts and Technology Public Academy Charter School in Northeast, where the camp was to be held. The camp was canceled Friday because of budget constraints.

Parents such as Larhonda Roberts of Capitol Hill spent most of the morning standing outside the school looking for answers.

“We’ve got money to build a $300 million stadium, build a racetrack and give Chief [Charles H.] Ramsey a raise I’m not sure he deserves, but we can’t fund a camp for our most vulnerable kids,” said Mrs. Roberts, 36, a nurse whose two daughters were enrolled in the camp.

She said the turn of events yesterday showed her “just how little” Mayor Anthony A. Williams cares about the welfare of children in the city.

The camp is a part of the national Gang Resistance and Education Training (GREAT) Program, which is funded by a federal grant through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and run by D.C. police. Police officials said they weren’t notified until Thursday evening that the money wasn’t coming.

“Typically the department funds program when this happens until the grant comes through,” said Inspector Lillian Overton, who oversees the Youth and Preventative Services Division that supervises the camp.

“We realize that we left parents hanging, and they have the right to be angry,” Inspector Overton said. “They were counting on this, and we’re upset about this as well.”

About 175 children were enrolled to participate in the camp, which was to be held at the school, at 5300 Blaine St.

The program has been held in the District for the past nine years. It includes the summer camp; a voluntary course in public and charter schools about gangs, drugs and crime; and a course for parents on how to deal with children enticed by gangs.

Except for a $40 registration fee, the camp is free, and spots are available on a first-come-first-served basis. Expenses for meals, transportation, courses, and trips to Hershey Park, Six Flags and local museums are covered by the federal grant.

Inspector Overton said the department couldn’t afford to pay the $50,000 needed to run the camp in the interim this year. “The funding for the grant was approved by Congress last year and went to the Treasury Department, but the ATF has been moved under the Department of Justice,” she said.

Inspector Overton said the Treasury Department is in the process of transferring the money to the Justice Department. But the transfer wouldn’t occur in time to keep the camp running.

ATF officials confirmed yesterday that their department was transferred to the Justice Department as a part of Department of Homeland Security on Jan. 21.

Andrew Lluberes, a spokesman for the ATF, said the transfer led the departments to rework some details of the grant that funds GREAT. “The transfer from Treasury to Justice required some new nuts and bolts to be worked out for this grant, and we expect that to be completed in the next couple of days,” he said.

D.C. police officials said they made hundreds of telephone calls to parents during the holiday weekend to inform them of the camp’s cancellation.

But most parents didn’t get the message in time.

“If you want to see some parents who are warm about this city’s lack of dedication to our children, you came to the right place,” said Elizabeth Bennings, 44, of the Congress Heights neighborhood, in Southeast.

She said her son Levon, 11, has nowhere else to go for the summer because the other camps in the area are “either booked or too expensive.”

Parents such as Myron Barnes, whose son Kelvin, 12, was supposed to attend the camp, said they support the program.

“It is safe for us because it is safe and we know our children have good role models with officers watching over them,” said Mr. Barnes, 41, of the Edgewood neighborhood, in Northeast.

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