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Tvind sought troubled kids to employ

Chicago Tribune, USA
Feb. 12, 2004
David Jackson, Tribune staff reporter • Thursday February 12, 2004

Promising the earth

Tvind leaders hit on a novel strategy to make the most of the bright green clothing-collection bins that dot Chicago-area streets: They attempted to enlist foster children and juvenile delinquents to help gather and sort the clothes.

Since it gained a foothold in the U.S. in the 1980s, the Danish organization known as Tvind has tried without success to operate schools and residential treatment programs for troubled youth.

Tvind’s first effort was a small boarding school in rural Virginia. But state officials there revoked the school’s license in 1985 after finding violations, including sexual abuse of young girls.

When Tvind officials in Dowagiac, Mich., tried again in 2002, they advanced an unusual teaching method: As part of their schooling, youths in the program would work in the Chicago clothes-collection operation, sorting textiles donated to the green boxes of Tvind’s Gaia charity.

Tvind leaders applied to the Dowagiac planning commission for a permit to operate a 15-bed boarding school for state wards with drug problems, behavior disorders and criminal backgrounds.

The curriculum calendar attached to Tvind’s “Junior Department” application said the youths would spend time in Chicago to “help the Gaia-Movement . . . with practical work.”

For their lessons, the wards would “help the truck driver to collect clothes from Gaia’s used-clothes containers or help in one of the shops or repair and upgrade some of their used-clothes containers. It’s good to do good!”

Backing the Tvind youth facility were local officials such as Van Buren County, Mich., Family Court Director Joseph Leary, who said in a Tribune interview that he had not read the Tvind packet of curriculum plans and so was unaware that they proposed sending troubled youth to Chicago to assist in the clothes recycling operation.

Some 119 Dowagiac residents signed a petition of protest, saying a school for delinquent wards could have a deleterious impact on the property values and character of the surrounding neighborhoods.

In February 2003, the Dowagiac Planning Commission denied Tvind’s application. The Tvind institute sued the city in Cass County Circuit Court, and won a rehearing, but the Dowagiac Planning Commission again turned down the permit application.

Tvind leaders say the project is on ice for now. But Eva Nielsen, who directs Chicago’s Gaia clothes collection operation, says the troubled youths would benefit from working in the Chicago clothing operation. The delinquent and emotionally disturbed youths “have to be busy all the time or they make trouble,” she said. “And they have to learn about different aspects of life.” At Gaia, they will learn about “environmental things,” Nielsen said. “It would be good for them.

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