Boys school rebuilds
|In this photo taken March 28, 2012, Matt Stanaway, 15, of Wheaton, works in the stable at the Salem Children's Home in Flanagan. (AP Photo/The Pantagraph, Lori Ann Cook-Neisler)|
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FLANAGAN (AP) — A home for prodigal sons is getting a second chance.
Salem Children's Home, which is renaming itself Salem4youth, is rebuilding. Like the boys it serves, Salem has accepted correction and is working on growth.
"We're proud of our program," said Executive Director Kent Robson. "We have turned things around and we're growing. We are not completely out of the woods. But we are dreaming now instead of just surviving."
Salem, a working farm two miles south of Flanagan in Livingston County, was founded in 1896 as an orphanage for boys and girls. Over the years, Salem became funded in part by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, accepting into its residential program adolescent boys with a history of adjustment problems, abuse or family dysfunction.
But in 2002, Salem closed that program amid a state investigation into possible sexual misconduct by some former Salem employees with boys placed there.
Salem reopened quietly a few years later as a private-pay facility for families needing help with their kids, Robson said. Salem reorganized as a nonprofit under an independent board of directors and Robson — formerly with the OSF Home Care Foundation — was brought on 18 months ago to keep Salem open, improve its finances and look to the future.
Today, Salem is a Christian therapeutic boarding school, serving boys ages 12 through 18.
"I call 'em prodigal sons," Robson said. "They made bad choices, were going in the wrong direction and didn't know how to turn around. Many of them were behind in school, had substance abuse issues and were in trouble with the law. But they aren't bad kids."
Salem is growing, with 27 boys from throughout the Midwest and a desire to serve 40.
Its 100 acres includes a main building with classrooms and administrative offices, three cottages where the boys live, a gymnasium, a maintenance building where boys vocational skills such as carpentry, a horse farm with a stable of 43 stalls and pasture for riding and an area for eight head of cattle.
In addition to Robson, Salem's staff includes three other members of the administrative team, two teachers, two people who work with the horses and cattle, two people with the vocational program and a cottage residential staff of about eight.
"Our operating budget is about $1.4 million and we accept no state money," said Robson. Families pay a sliding-scale fee, based on household income, that ranges from $1,000 to $5,000 a month, he said. Scholarships, donations, revenue from Salem's annual Charity and Horse Auction and other business income make up the balance of the home's revenue.
Among mental health professionals who have referred families to Salem is Nikki Kelley, a clinical social worker who is the youth intervention specialist with the Normal Police Department.
She counsels youth having their first contact with police and has referred to Salem several families whose boys weren't helped by outpatient behavioral health programs.
"Longer-term programs have a better chance of changing how youth think and behave . than 12 sessions of counseling and medications," Kelley said. "As far as I know, there is nothing else like Salem in our area. And, from what I've seen and heard from parents, they are happy with the services.
"By encompassing all areas of life, the boys are taught responsibility, different ways of thinking and appropriate rewards and punishment for behavior," Kelley said.
Boys in Salem's short-term program are there six to 10 months. The long-term program is 12 to 18 months.
The goal is to help the boys grow through their relationships with themselves, others and God. As a Christian school, Salem teaches that the heart ultimately is healed through a relationship with Jesus Christ and staff work with the boys on reconciliation and improvement through work, play and counseling.
"We teach that God has a plan for our lives and we all are accountable for our actions," said Robson, adding non-Christians are not forced to change their beliefs but must respect Christianity.
Salem's treatment program is four phases. During the first phase of six to eight weeks, boys are not allowed to have any interaction with their families.
Throughout their stay, the boys are graded on their behavior every waking hour of every day. Once a week, their progress toward their treatment goals is discussed with them.
"The intent is positive discipline," Robson said. "It's not just about changing their minds, it's about changing their hearts. We want them to be successful back home, to re-engage with their families and to be productive citizens in their communities."
The boys' typical day includes feeding the horses and cleaning out the stalls, classes, chapel, vocational work such as woodworking or horse riding therapy, chores in the barn or main building and running or other athletics such as weight lifting or archery.
Salem's 53 horses have been donated by horse farms from throughout the country. While some will be sold at the April 14 auction and some are leased to individuals, 15 will be kept at Salem for the boys' riding therapy, Robson said.
Weekends include vocational projects, chores, athletics and church.
Most school districts honor Salem's school credits and many boys return to their high schools to finish after graduating from Salem.
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