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01-02-03: Harbor House likely to house clients again
The Daily Standard
    Harbor House in Celina is expected to open its doors again this spring to house women in crisis pregnancies, following an investigation into improper handling of agency funds.
    Harbor House discontinued providing in-house maternity service after executive director Karla Eberle was suspended by the agencies' board of trustees on Oct. 15. An investigation, which began in mid-August, revealed Eberle "improperly handled" funds from the organization's adoption account, said Rev. Bill Rieth, chairman of the board of trustees.
    Paul Howell, attorney for the Harbor House board of trustees, spearheaded the investigation along with several board members. Howell said the amount of money inappropriately handled by Eberle was "way under $20,000." 
    Neither Howell nor Rieth would disclose the exact amount of money involved or how Eberle mismanaged it. Rieth said not all the mismanagement of funds was due to "wrongdoing, just poor stewardship."
    Rieth said the exact amount of money involved will be released upon final completion of the investigation. However, he stressed that 100 percent of the missing funds has been reimbursed.
   "All of the money involved was returned," Rieth said, adding that the funds originated from people seeking to adopt babies from clients of Harbor House. No adoptions through Harbor House were terminated or postponed due to the mishandling of funds, he said.
    Harbor House, formed in 1990 by Eberle and her husband, Doug, has three divisions:
    - The in-house maternity service which allows females, mostly single pregnant teenagers, to live in a Christian atmosphere at 119 E. Fulton St. where they receive support, education and even schooling.
    - Elizabeth Pregnancy Services which offers free pregnancy testing, adult referral housing, a 24-hour hotline, education on pregnancy, an abstinence promotion program, adoption care and support, referrals and a mentoring program.
    - Harbor House Adoption Agency which has been licensed since 1999 and is a private adoption agency.
    The Eberles remain residents at the East Fulton Street home where they have been "house parents" for more than 12 years.
    Howell said after board members notified him about a discrepancy in the agencies accounting, he shared the information with Mercer County Prosecutor Andy Hinders who is currently not pursuing the case.
    Rieth said board members "have no desire" to press charges against Karla Eberle who, along with her husband, has unselfishly shared a home and ministered to more than 550 teens in troubled pregnancies.
    "I personally find it hard to imagine dealing with so many teen-agers in my own home, let alone pregnant teens," Rieth said sympathetically.
    Rieth said the board reluctantly accepted Karla Eberle's resignation on Nov. 19, but "that doesn't mean she won't be back," he added.
    Currently, a restructuring of the organization is taking place, Rieth said. Doug Eberle continues his work in the home as development director and technical administrator - taking care of all the day to day activities. Doug Eberle was never accused of any wrongdoing and was apparently taken by surprise when allegations surfaced against his wife, Rieth said.
    The misappropriation of funds reportedly took place the last two years. An outside financial audit for 1999-2000 revealed a clean slate for the agency, so board members are confident funds were not mishandled before that time, Howell said.
    "We did go back two years, in some areas a little further," Howell said. "We are very confident that this was a recent development."
    Rieth said board members are anxious to welcome new clients into the home in the next couple of months. Volunteers have never stopped their ministry work at Harbor House and continue to help clients via telephone calls and e-mails sent to Harbor House's Web site, he said.
    "Volunteers are still helping girls in many ways such as pregnancy tests and counseling," Rieth said. "We have a long list of teens waiting for housing."
    Very few agencies such as Harbor House exist across the United States, he added.
    Rieth said board members did not focus enough attention on the adoption account prior to this fall, but changes in accounting practices will be one of the key points of the agencies' restructuring plan, he said. Although the agency is run largely by volunteers, board members plan to seek outside counseling for future financial matters, he said.
    Other board members include Hal Hoover and Bill Lewis of Celina, Dottie Lynn of St. Marys, and Doug Eberle. If anyone has questions about Harbor House services they may call 419-586-9029 or access the organization's Web site on the Internet at www.harborhouse.org.


Phone: (419)586-2371,   Fax: (419)586-6271
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P.O. Box 140, Celina, OH 45822