Since he became director of the D.C. recreation department's Community Based Programs 14 months ago, Hank Larsen says, he has been struggling to over-come management problems that have plagued the department's neighborhood youth programs.
The problems have led to a long-running series of disputes between Larsen's office and the city's 20 Neighborhood Planning Councils (NPCs) which operate the youth programs.
Last year, more than 9,000 District youths participated in citywide recreational, educational and job training programs, funded jointly by the federal government and the city.
During the past year, Larsen and the D.C. recreation department have been the targets of frequent complaints from some NPC participants about the management of the neighborhood councils and their youth programs.
In addition, Mayor Barry has been charged with attempting to politicize the election of new NPC officials, an accusation Barry has denied.
Specifically, NPC critics claim:
* That Larsen's office has "inadequately monitored" the youth programs and there have been "deficiencies" on the part of employes who do the monitoring. Larsen, acknowledging that he has administrative problems, said he has taken steps to upgrade the performance of his division.
* That Larsen used only partial data to arrive at the number of poor city youth, which contributed to a 43 percent loss in federal funds for the programs. Moreover, Larsen's office held up funding of NPC programs. In response, Larsen said that the city previously had used "bloated" figures based on the 1970 census, that he did not receive his final budget figures until early February and that the 96 programs--42 federal and 54 city-funded--either have begun or are about to get underway.
* That Larsen has been spending "nearly 40 percent" of the NPC budget for administrative expenses. Larsen said he has reduced the amount to 25 percent for the 1983 budget.
* That Larsen's office mishandled the Jan. 12 election of new NPC officers, held after the NPC's governing board, the Council of Chairpersons, got a court order delaying the original Oct. 29 election because of uncertainty over program funding. Larsen, who said some mistakes were made, suggested the NPC officers may have used the funding issue to block the election and thereby extend their terms of office.
Larsen's critics have included Oliver Johnson, who recently stepped down after two terms as chairman of the Council of Chairpersons, Neil Seldman, treasurer of NPC 8, and others. The complaints have been discussed in meetings of the Council of Chairpersons.
"The confusion over the last six months about the election and funding are behind us," Larsen said. "I have no intention of looking back. The mayor sent me here to get this program on its feet and we will work overtime, Saturdays and Sundays to get programs funded and operating as fast as possible."
Larsen, a 47-year-old Barry appointee, said he is attempting to give his staff more training, reduce internal costs, and initiate better management, record-keeping and follow-up procedures. He said he plans to "bird-dog" each NPC program to determine what the youth themselves feel they have learned.
In order to measure participation, he is having his workers collect "sign-in sheets" from each NPC unit "to find out what people are doing and who they are."
NPC programs lean heavily toward recreation and education, with a smaller number of job-training activities. In the recreational category are programs in arts, dramatics, boxing and karate. Job training programs include photography, graphic and visual arts, ceramic and floral workshops, nutrition, carpentry wood shop, sewing and shoe repair. Tutoring for civil service exams also is provided.
Larsen said one of the most important reasons for turning the NPC programs around was for the sake of the youth themselves.
He said he envisions the citywide programs as providing badly needed "reinforcement" for District children who may not get it from their families.
"These youngsters see the problems with the NPCs," Larsen said. "In many cases, they see things not being done properly, programs not being run properly, and they become very disenchanted. We are going to turn that all around before I leave this program."
Johnson, one of the recreation department's most persistent critics, said that if Larsen can do what he says he will do "it will help and improve the NPCs."
Each NPC unit has seven adult and youth officers elected by the neighborhoods they serve. Children 13 years of age and older can hold office and cast votes and any person 13 years or older who lives within the council's boundaries is qualified to hold office. Only administrators and the youths who work in the programs receive salaries.
Youngsters, as well as adults, vote on and appropriate money for each program sponsored by their particular NPC unit. Detailed proposals for each program must be approved by Larsen's office, which he said operates workshops in each NPC unit to help officers write proposals correctly.
To identify the program's target youth population this year, Larsen said, his office used figures from Aid to Families with Dependent Children rolls.
This caused the figures for the city's poverty youth population to "fall drastically," he said. In the past, he explained, adjusted 1970 census figures were used to arrive at the target youth population.
The 43 percent cut in federal anti-poverty grants--from $877,000 to $500,000--also has reduced the number of programs that will operate this year from 115 to 96.
Because of the loss of federal funds, Larsen said, the mayor increased the city grants from $25,000 to $27,750 for each NPC unit, for a total of $550,000 for NPC programs.
The federal money comes from the Community Services Block Grant, which is targeted to areas meeting federal criteria for poverty. Federal regulations require that city and federal funds and their programs be kept separate.
Last year, he said, 9,058 city youths between the ages of 13 and 21 participated in the programs, 5,058 in 62 federally funded programs and 4,000 in 53 programs sponsored by the city.
He also said 527 youths and adults were hired last year, mostly on a part-time basis, 223 for federal programs and 304 for city-funded programs.
Out of approximately 200 youths enrolled in 11 job skills-related programs, 31 obtained jobs as a result of NPC training, Larsen said. In addition, 32 youths returned to school as a result of NPC counseling, eight were referred to training programs and 10 enrolled in GED (General Education Development) programs, he said.
One of his chief objectives, Larsen said, is to channel tutorial programs sponsored by the NPCs into the city's 18 community schools.
"The schools are not only open all day but they often are open until 9 or 10 p.m.," he said. "Teachers could identify a target group that needs assistance and we could hire retired school teachers and seniors in college who would be happy to earn extra money by tutoring. Get them involved in the process."
Larsen also will look into additional funding for the NPCs from "other sources, such as foundation and other grants."
A native of New York City, Larsen served two years in the Army, earned a political science degree from Howard University and was an administrator for the Agriculture Department before joining the city administration in 1979 as director of the Office of Community Services. He has been active in his community since moving here in the early 1960s and has been an elected officer of his Advisory Neighborhood Commission since 1976.
"In the future, things are going to be done by the book," Larsen said. "This has been one of my greatest challenges--taking the NPC program from base zero and moving it in a positive direction."
Larsen said 2,852 people voted in the Jan. 12 election for 140 new NPC adult adult and youth officers. In the election held two years ago, approximately 1,935 persons voted in the citywide NPC election.
New NPC officers were installed Feb. 13 in a ceremony at the District Building sponsored by Community Based Programs. New officers of the NPC's Council of Chairpersons, elected at a meeting at the CBP headquarters Feb. 27 are: Joseph Carter, adult chairman of NPC 18, chairman; Emerson Davis, adult vice chairman of NPC 14, vice chairman; Johnnie Mae Durant, adult chairman of NPC 3, recording secretary; and Voni-Lyn Bower, 20, youth chairman of NPC 8, corresponding secretary.