Fresh Start program closes after Darby Borough sells building for $1

DARBY BOROUGH, Pa. (WPVI) -- It is the end of an era for a program that helped thousands of kids through the years.

The Fresh Start program for troubled teens has been operating out of a building in Darby Borough. But the borough has abruptly sold the building to SEPTA for $1.

Now Fresh Start has stopped operation, as the program has no other place to go.

"We helped a lot of children, making sure they graduated from high school, kids that got in trouble in the court system, we would go in the court and help them," said program founder Leslie Lewis-McGirth.

Parents would pay $35, or whatever they could afford, to send their child to the Fresh Start week-long tutoring program.

"Kids go there with bad behaviors and they turn around and end up loving this camp. Every foster child I've ever had that went to the camp loved it," said foster parent Larry Whitfield.

Action News spoke to students who couldn't say enough about Fresh Start and its founder.

"I really loved this program," said student Eli Glasco. "This lady has always been there for me, been there for the kids."

Members of the community are left with questions after the building was sold to SEPTA for just $1.

"We were advised by our lawyer, our solicitor, not to discuss it any further until we had all the facts," said Darby Council President Darlene Hill.

Darby Borough's solicitors told Action News that the building was being provided to Fresh Start for free. They said that it made no sense to continue paying insurance and utilities on a building that was becoming a liability, and that they could not have sold the building to a non-government agency, like Fresh Start, without going through a bid process.

"This program is a really good program," said student Dorothy Deegon. "I don't understand why they would do this."

Students were perplexed why the Borough didn't sell the building to Lewis-McGirth or to them.

"She could have bought it. They sold it for a $1. I could have went into my house, get my allowance or something to pay for this place," said student Lester Roberts.

Lewis-McGirth said, at this point, she will do her best to continue to mentor the children.

Farmers Insurance agent Timothy Dopson has been a strong financial supporter of Lewis-McGirth and her program.

"We just really believe that we have to support, and we try to encourage all the local businesses to get out and support Ms. Leslie and see if we can find a new place for her," Dopson said.

On Thursday afternoon, Lewis-McGirth will be back at Fresh Start with a number of kids and parents for one last time, to clean out all their belongings from what had been their home for 12 years.

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