Kids Helping Kids of Cincinnati
promoted by The Cincinnati Enquirer
We relax some of the structure, and they focus on giving back -- to new clients, to the community, to doing speaking engagements for youth groups.
Penny Walker, executive director KHK, describing fifth phase clients [Kentucky Post, 4/26/03]
Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
George Santayana

You know, synanons (which prefer to call themselves the more euphemistic"therapeutic communities") have been parading their success stories before PTAs and the media since cult leader Chuck Dederich invented the concept in 1958. The idea is that a program oldcomer or graduate tells his dirty story of crime, drug abuse and/or sexual promiscuity before entering the program and now his new found salvation at the program. Synanon was able to convince a lot of people to join their church that way only to have parishioners participate in naked community weighins, auctioned wives, child beatings and forced sterilizations and abortions--even attempted murder. Straight, Inc. was a third generation Synanon for kids-only that sent its young clients out to tell their dirty stories in a step called "sharing the gift," the excuse for which is AA's 12th Step: "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics . . ." Like Synanon, Straight was also a destructive mind-control cult that harmed its members. Eventually it was closed by authorities wherever it had popped open. But the Straight therapeutic approach lives on through second-generation Straights like Kids Helping Kids of Cincinnati. We are not making claims that KHKs is organizationally or financially tied to the defunct Straight treatment program or that it is destructive or harmful like Straight, but there has been a rash of media coverage about Kids' success stories prompting us to send the following letter (slightly enhanced from the original) to the writer of the most recent story.

Ref: Teen drug use declining - or is it? by Tim Bonfield, The Cincinnati Enquirer 11-14-04

Dear Staff:

I am submitting this as a "Your Voice, reader contributions"; but, failing that, I ask you to consider it as a letter to the editor.

On November 11 you published an article by Tim Bonfield that helps popularize Kids Helping Kids of Cincinnati--a drug rehab program for teens in Milford. Seventeen years ago Cincinnati prosecutors closed another juvenile drug treatment program in Milford. That program was Straight, Inc. It was closed for criminal child abuse. Today Kids Helping Kids is a second-generation Straight that ironically operates out of the old Straight facility in Milford. Twenty years ago The Cincinnati Enquirer unwittingly helped recruit clients into torture at Straight before its history of abuse was known. Today The Enquirer, The Cincinnati Post, The Kentucky Post and TV station WCPO are doing as much as anyone to recruit clients into Kids. Now I'm not saying that's bad, but I am saying we should be be mindful of history.

Until its demise in 1993 Straight, Inc., a $100 million nonprofit corporation based in Florida, operated the biggest chain of juvenile treatment facilities in the world. All 12 Straight treatment facilities closed under state criminal or health investigations. Straight claimed that it takes a druggie kid to recognize a druggie kid and only a druggie kid can treat another druggie kid. Straight kids were deprived of food and sleep. Kids were beaten and painfully restrained by other kids without cause. Some Straight kids were forced to sit in pools of their own vomit, feces, urine or blood; others were spat upon in their faces.

In the early 1980s after being accused of criminal child abuse Dr. Miller Newton, Straight's infamous national clinical director, left Straight to found his own Straight rendition--Kids of Bergen County in New Jersey. In 1989 California authorities closed Newton's Kids of Southern California and so Straight moved in and took over Newton's clients until authorities closed Straight the following year for child abuse. In 1990 Kids of Bergen County was accused of abuse so Newton changed the name to Kids of North Jersey, hopped the Hackensack River and setup operations in neighboring Hudson County. In 1992 when Virginia authorities closed Straight of Northern Virginia, Straight hopped the Potomac River and reopened as Straight of Southern Maryland. In 2000 Newton's Kids chain finally closed after four counselors had been convicted for assault and after Dr. Newton had paid out over $11 million to former clients and to the federal government for fraud and for criminal child abuse. Interestingly enough, Dr. Newton uses the expression "kids helping kids" in his doctoral thesis. Just before Dr. Newton left Straight Dr. George Ross, then Straight's national education director, left along with Helen Peterman (who had been accused of criminal child abuse at Straight) to help form their own second generation Straight. Ross went on to help found KHK of Hebron, Kentucky and then Possibilities Unlimited in Lexington, Kentucky. At the time Straight was being prosecuted in Cincinnati, Dr. Ross and PU were being prosecuted in Lexington. One of Ross' character witnesses was Helen Peterman. Kentucky prosecutors were probably not aware that she herself had been accused of child abuse in Florida. Dr. Ross was not convicted.

Straight-Cincinnati operated out its $1.2 million facility in Milford. The building was donated by the citizens of Ohio to treat Ohio teens. When those same citizens ran Straight out of town Straight tried to sell the property and run with the money. The Ohioans sued and a judge ruled that upon the sale of the property the proceeds would be divided evenly between Straight and the fund raisers. Thus the more Straight got for the building the more it would make, but also the more it would have to split with the Ohians. Mysteriously, Straight sold the property in 1993 for only $300,000 to the second-generation Straight: Kids Helping Kids of Hebron located just across the Ohio River in Kentucky. After paying their legal fees the fund raisers got just $80,000 from a million dollar investment!

Simply put, Straight was an extortion racket where many from upper management were more concerned with how much money a kid's parents make than they were with actual drug use by teenagers. Kids were coaxed, threatened or beaten into confessing their deepest darkest secret--real or just made up to stop the torture. Frequently this data involved abnormal sex. These kids were denied all access to the outside world including their own parents until the program had a chance to get potentially blackmailable information from the kids. And yes Straight used this data to discourage kids from speaking out once they left Straight and to hush up those who sued Straight.

Under such harsh conditions Straight kids had to be watched 24/7 even as they wiped themselves on the toilet to prevent them from carving on their bodies and to keep them from committing suicide. Unfortunately Straight had no way to guard these kids suffering from Straight-induced Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome once they left the program. As might be predicted there are over 40 known post-Straight suicides including that of Jeff Leuger who graduated from Straight-Cincinnati and was president of Straight's after-graduation support group in Cincinnati before shooting himself dead in the 1990s. I believe the suicides are related to the forced sexual confessions.

Straight owed its success to its endorsement by Nancy Reagan (who visited many Straight facilities including the one in Milford) and President George Bush the First. It was also successful because its clients were encouraged or pressured into "sharing the gift" by telling their dirty stories to PTAs and to the press. We call this Sembler's Second Paradox or Selective Anonymity when treatment programs parade their success stories but stand by the rules of "anonymity" whenever anyone cries abuse at the program. [US Ambassador to Italy Melvin Sembler founded Straight, Inc.]

Kids Helping Kids of Cincinnati uses many of the therapeutic elements perfected at Straight, Inc. like foster homes, peer counselors, five phases and the Five Criteria for Rational Thinking. I am not accusing KHK of Cincinnati of abuse of any sort, but we should be mindful that there have been allegations of abuse at some second-generation Straights like Kids in New Jersey and Possibilities Unlimited in Kentucky. Michael Scalleta is the former director of Straight-Orlando. He opened SAFE in the same facility Straight used and took over Straight's young clients the very day Straight closed there. SAFE has been accused of using drugs to keep kids in-line. Growing Together, a second-generation Straight in Lakeworth, Florida, is currently being sued by a parent who alleges abuse. A 1997 Lakeworth Police report documents an alleged gang-rape of a male client at a GT host home. One Growing Together flier proclaims, "We emphasize, "Kids Helping Kids." [KHK is accredited by CARF, the same organization that accredits Growing Together and the Church of Scientology™'s affiliated Narconon™ program.]

The Enquirer article features a 21 year old man named Randy Paul Young who has kicked his drug habit at Kids Helping Kids. It includes a prominent picture of Randy shown with his mother and father--Randy and Resa Young. [Bonfield fails to point out that a Randy Young is on the BOD of Kids.] This is so reminiscent of a 1984 family photo of Dr. Richard H. Schwartz, a Fairfax, Virginia pediatrician, his son Keith, then in recovery at Straight of Northern Virginia, his wife Rose Lynn and daughter Keira. The picture was published in The Fairfax Journal on July 31, 1984 as part of an article on Keith's recovery at Straight. Keith says "you can’t con a con," which is a part of the Straight lexicon that goes all the way back to Reverend Chuck Dederich at Synanon Church. In the article Keith admits he is "chemically" dependent, that he stole from his family to support his drug habit, and that he had once held a knife to his sister’s Keira’s throat (but "I was just fooling around."). [Four years later, writing in the Journal of Pediatrics, Dr. Schwartz told the world that Keith had relapsed after 17 months in treatment at Straight and had been arrested for shoplifting and given a two year sentence on probation.]

Straight: using kids to defame themselves. In 1983 this good looking client at Straight of St. Petersburg, Florida told 20/20 reporter Tom Gerald, "I've used pot, alcohol, hash, hash oil, tie sticks, opium, pot like with PCP, ups, downs, different kinds of prescriptions, over the counters, mescaline, acid, mushrooms, MDA, THC, PCP, morphine and rush, as well as shooting up cocaine and THC." His confession shocked millions of viewers and helped Straight's enrollments burgeon. Incidently 20/20 did not white-out the boy's eyes, I did. How could Straight let this kid defame himself forever! How could a major network? Who could believe he used all those drugs anyway?

Charges against Randy Paul for stealing beer from Kroger have been dropped (though ironically Kroger was one of the principals that sued Straight to get its money back from the sale of the old Straight property). That's good, but if Randy and another man both asked you for a job and you recalled Randy's picture in the newspaper, who would you hire? If KHK encouraged Randy to go public and show his picture, I would say, "how dare them!" Today Straight is defunct, yet Keith Schwartz can never erase the image of him holding a knife to his sister's throat! How dare Straight let Keith Schwartz expose himself for Straight's benefit. Perhaps Randy Paul will get married one day and have children. Perhaps a more mature Randy Paul would not want his kids to know about his history of stealing and drug use. Regardless of how he may feel later in life he has made a public document of his history that he can never erase. So who really benefits from The Enquirer article. Randy Paul or Kids Helping Kids? And what about Randy Paul's parents. They're in the photo too, gleaming. Their message is clear: Hey, look where our boy's been, but now, thanks to Kids Helping Kids, he's a successful student at Miami University. Mr. Bonfield, doesn't it seem a bit weird that a mom and dad would go along with your expose of their son?

Again I have no data of abuse at Kids but I am concerned that the building is allegedly surrounded by a ten foot fence. If I were to learn that newcomers at Kids are not allowed unmonitored contact with their own parents and siblings at specified times say like Monday evenings from 7 - 8, then I would have a major issue with the program. I do have a concern about using peer counselors at Kids. After all, we have colleges and universities that teach adults of good morale character how to rehabilitate addictive persons. KHK has clients as young as 13. I am happy for Randy Paul, but then something just doesn't sit right with the idea of a 21 year old man in recovery being a role model for a 13 year old kid. Papers such as the Enquirer have done as much as anyone to promote juvenile treatment programs. But as history shows sometimes the well-intentioned media has steered unsuspecting parents into a deeper abyss than they faced to begin with. Are those who cannot learn from history doomed to repeat it?

update 11-25-04 Bonfield does not report that his paper has a financial operating agreement with The Cincinnati Post and that the Post and TV station WPCO are owned by E. W. Scripps Company. Daniel J. Castellini is a senior vice president at Scripps and also on the Advisory Board for Kids Helping Kids. Also though he identifies Randy Paul Young's father as Randy Young, Bonfield does not state that a Randy Young is a director at Kids. Finally, for the record, Norma Rashid, former anchor at WLWT News, was a former Kid's director.

For an overview of Straight's abuses please visit:

theStraights at a glance:

For information on the sale of the Straight property in Milford see:

Also read these media articles on Kids Helping Kids of Cincinnati:

The Kentucky Post: "Attacking the problem" by David Wecker

WCPO TV News report "Tri-state Man Talks About Overcoming Addiction"
by John McQuiston and Stacy Puzo


1. Straight, Inc. (1976 - 1993) was a destructive, mind-control cult. Many Straight officials formed their own Straight-like programs as Straights closed. There continues to be other juvenile drug programs that use some parts of the Straight clinical method. This is not to say that any or all of these others programs are abusive or that they are mind-control cults, but we do list them under theStraights to mean that they use some Straight-perfected, therapeutic methods.