Get Lost!

These troubled teens found themselves at Lost and Found. But now the program is finding itself out of options.

The eight-acre Lost and Found facility in Morrison currently houses eighteen boys between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. They spend their days taking specialized, Colorado Department of Education-approved classes, doing chores, going to counseling, playing baseball and basketball, and occasionally indulging in some good-behavior-earned free time, which recently consisted of watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Some are sent there through the Colorado Department of Human Services and assorted counties' social services departments, some through the Colorado Department of Youth Corrections, others through direct, private referrals. And they come with every sort of problem imaginable — from the Montbello gangbanger neglected by his parents who wound up selling crack and butterfly knives, to the well-to-do white kid whose first memory is of being sexually abused by his neighbor, and who then repeated the behavior a few years later and was quickly labeled a sex offender. Though generally reluctant to participate in treatment at first, with time and patience, most of the kids at Lost and Found come to view it as a way to break the cycle.

"We provide a therapeutic, healing community where kids can learn to interact with other kids appropriately, often for the first time in their lives," Rogers says. "By living in a healthy community where there are adult mentors and role models, they can learn in a different way. We have a highly trained staff, but it's not rocket science; it's just about learning healthy relationships."

Rogers says that Lost and Found's motto — "Hope, healing, a place to grow" — pretty well sums up what goes on there. But unlike the hundreds of kids who have passed through the program since it started 27 years ago, Lost and Found itself is having trouble finding a place to grow. Last year the nonprofit leased a 115-acre former Christian campground in Evergreen, where it wants to move both its Morrison boys' facility and a girls' facility that's now in Arvada. But some very vocal residents of Clear Creek County insist that the property is no place for the program — or the kids who've found a home at Lost and Found.

Residents of Upper Bear Creek Road don't think Lost and Found fits in their community.
Jim J. Narcy
Residents of Upper Bear Creek Road don't think Lost and Found fits in their community.

Harl Hargett, executive director of Lost and Found, views his work as God's calling. "Hargett, a former 'hippie' and drug addict, had emerged from the 70-80s culture via the power of the Holy Spirit at age 30," the program's website explains. "On fire and looking for a way to minister (by the hand of God), Harl met the Board President of Lost and Found, Inc., who convinced him to 'come up and see Bob's hope for teens.'" Bob was Bob Lynch, a former alcoholic turned Christian who'd been called to establish a place where drug-addicted teenagers could turn their lives around. Lynch's vision started with a few houses in Denver in the late 1970s, but soon expanded to the Morrison facility when it came on the market in 1979. The next year, Lynch was working on converting a geodesic dome on the property into a house for girls when he slipped and fell. He died from injuries sustained in the accident, and Hargett carried on Lynch's vision.

"I came on board at the time to try and see if the ministry could be salvaged after Bob's death," Hargett says. "I've been here ever since."

In the 27 years that Hargett has been with Lost and Found, the organization has expanded from a modest center for a handful of troubled teens to a full-fledged nonprofit with 160 employees and two facilities catering to the needs of more than thirty children. Lost and Found offers a family-counseling center, a child-placement agency, an independent-living program and a slew of other services.

"They're a great group," says Skip Barber, executive director of the Colorado Association of Family and Children's Agencies. "They're a quality treatment organization, and they have had great leadership over the past twenty-something years. I think they strive for the best interest of the kids and are constantly expanding the program to meet the needs of the population they've been working with."

But while those needs continue to grow, Lost and Found's budget has not.

Back in 1994, the Colorado Department of Human Services began accessing Medicaid to help pay for residential psychiatric treatment for kids in the custody of local social-service agencies. Medicaid covered about half the total cost of this care from '94 until the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services began to raise some questions about the practice in 2005.

"Initially, no one was certain what it was they were fishing for," Barber remembers. "We thought they were suggesting that we make some minor modifications to the program."

But instead, the Medicaid investigation determined that for eleven years, Colorado had been improperly billing for services that should not be covered by Medicaid funds at all, and ordered that all referrals to facilities such as Lost and Found cease.

"Our response was that we've been doing this for a dozen years — why now?" says Barber. "CMS's response was that they never looked that closely at it and that it was probably never legal in the first place. They decided they were changing the rules, and that was pretty much that. It sent a shock wave through the community."

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