By: Christina Johns
Donnie Read and a board of directors composed of some of Liberty County's most involved citizens, opened the Liberty Wilderness Crossroads Camp in September of 1998. This camp, designed to hold delinquent boys between the ages of 14 and 18 is located on 78 acres of the Apalachicola National Forest.
A key component to the program at the camp, according to Read is what he calls "continuous care." Continuous care involves not only working with the camper (or delinquent), but with his family.
"We're in his home community" Read says " developing a support-team made up of mentors and churches and school personnel, people who'll support the camper when he gets out of the program." The continuous care (as the name suggests) begins as soon as the camper starts the program.
Another focus of the program at the camp is helping the camper find his vocational interests, and hopefully placing him in a vocational program when he's ready to leave.
"If they leave us" Read says "without any skills, their chances of success are very slim," "We want to help them gain meaningful employment."
The Camp is very careful about hiring staff. "Most of our people see it as a calling," says Read. "We expect them to see it as a camper-oriented program. And, we try to have them work as a team to achieve the end result which is to produce a productive citizen We want to encourage them to have fun while they are doing it, enjoy being around the campers, but always keep in mind that the end goal is the rehabilitation of that camper, and the camper achieving the goals he sets."
"We've got this camper for six to nine months," Read points out, "and we try to emphasize that every moment is a teachable moment. From the time they get up to the time they go to bed, they need to be learning. Six to nine months is not a long time for us to try to make life changing decisions to help them. We have to take full advantage of every minute."
In order to take advantage of that learning time, the Camp has developed an active animal therapy program and is also implementing music, art, and drama therapy.
Even with all this, the kids complain - about food, about the clothes they have to wear, about not being able to make telephone calls when they want. They complain like all kids complain when they're put on restriction. But, they also change.
"A lot of them come in here really withdrawn from society and feeling hopeless," says Curtis Lee, Operations Director at the Camp. "Some feel like nobody really loves them or cares about them. Usually they stay that way for the first month. Then you see them start to develop some trust - trust with the other kids and the staff. They come out of their shell. They step up and become leaders of their teams instead of followers. They start giving out suggestions instead of waiting for instructions."
The Camp has only been in operation a short time, but when I asked Curtis Lee if he thought they were going to see some success stories with the kids, his reply was immediate. "I know we are." He says.
"I think everyone of them's better than when they came in. In my opinion when that kid steps off the bus and looks in your eyes he decides whether he's going to trust you. If he doesn't, you know it's going to take several months to see any changes."