After nearly a year of dormancy, the Eckerd property in Boomer is alive again with trained staff counseling and teaching youths with behavioral problems.
In partnership with the N.C. Department of Public Safety’s Division of Juvenile Justice, the 600-acre Eckerd property on the western end of High Rock Road is home to a new short-term, residential, campus-style program.
Linda Hayes, chief deputy secretary for the N.C. Division of Juvenile Justice, and Eckerd Chief Operating Officer Ron Zychowski attended an open house there today and discussed the property’s transition from an Eckerd therapeutic “wilderness camp” to the short-term, campus-style program.
The wilderness program, called Camp E-Ma-Etu, operated for about 10 years before it was closed last spring after Eckerd lost a state contract for serving youths referred by the state juvenile justice system. Camp E-Ma-Etu was among Eckerd’s four remaining wilderness camps in North Carolina. All four are closed now and only two remain elsewhere—both in Florida.
In North Carolina, Clearwater, Fla.-based Eckerd transformed itself from focusing almost exclusively on serving youths in wilderness camps to a wide range of child welfare, behavioral health, and juvenile justice services.
Eckerd announced in May that the N.C. Division of Juvenile Justice had awarded it a multi-year contract for providing the new residential program in the Montgomery County town of Candor and then announced in September the award of a second the program in Boomer, celebrated today.
Officials said today that the new Eckerd program reflected increased emphasis nationwide on the importance of letting troubled youths remain with their families in their home communities as much as possible and less on long-term residential programs like the wilderness camps.
“If you treat a youth without his family, you don’t have as much success,” said Cindi Blackburn-Jones, who is program director for Eckerd’s new short-term residential service in Boomer. “We always had an emphasis on transitioning youth back to their home community, but it wasn’t as intensive or supportive as it is now.”
Ms. Blackburn-Jones said Eckerd staff have extensive interaction with parents after their children complete the new program and return home. This includes helping parents implement certain structure for youths to make the transition home as seamless and successful as possible.
The goal of the new Eckerd program, which started in Boomer early last month and in Candor in October, is to provide participating youths with complete rehabilitative experiences in three to four months.
How do wilderness camps compare to the new short-term residential service? Housed with their counselors year-round in rustic, open-sided shelters with detached bathroom facilities, camp participants stayed an average of 10 to 12 months at Camp E-Ma-Etu. The shelters had heaters in the winter.
Two of three planned “dormitories” have been completed so far, each with their own names. Each have heating and cooling systems, bathroom facilities and bunk beds for participants and their counselors. Truth Hall is currently occupied by program youth, Wisdom Hall is completed in anticipation of the next group of youths and Honor Hall is under construction.
The new program utilizes experiential education, but the wilderness camp program had more of an emphasis on experiential education and group dynamics in an outdoor setting. Like the wilderness program, the new program’s school curriculum is accredited with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
“The new program is designed to address each youth’s behavioral challenges through a strength-based approach with evidence-based practices,” stated Eckerd literature. Services include individualized treatment and academic plans using formal and experiential education, vocational education, community service, behavioral health and family counseling in a non-punitive environment.
Specific features include a “Forward Thinking” interactive journal program, social skills and life skills training, motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy, community service work and individual, group and family counseling.
Camp E-Ma-Etu typically had around 60 male and female participants ages 10 to 17. When at full capacity, the new program in Boomer will be licensed for 36 youths ages 13 to 17, male only. It now has about 10 male youths receiving services.
Only adjudicated youths (youths found guilty of juvenile offenses) participate in the new program in Boomer. Although referral from a state juvenile justice official was needed in the wilderness camp program, adjudication wasn’t required.
Both level I and II offenders were accepted at Camp E-Ma-Etu, but the new program is only for level II juvenile offenders. Ms. Blackburn-Jones said a juvenile is designated a level II rather than a level I offender because of having more offenses rather than more serious ones.
Initially, youths from across the state will be accepted in the new program at Boomer, but there may be a shift to serve only youths from the region in the future.
With the new program, said officials, Eckerd should eventually have about 40 employees on its property in Boomer.