Friday, August 24, 2012

Why NHYM Alumni Are Concerned about Crosswinds

In 2011, Escuela Caribe and its parent company New Horizons Youth Ministries shut down. The property was donated to Crosswinds, a subsidiary of Lifeline Youth Ministries.  At first we celebrated. However, now we alumni are concerned.
Caribbean Mountain Academy, a division of Crosswinds, is predominantly staffed by former New Horizons Youth Ministries/ Escuela Caribe employees.  These are employees that were employed by an organization that professed that children must be broken in order to be fixed. They worked during a time when students, teenagers, were given swats and being sent to the Quiet Room (often for days) for minor violations, when students were being "slammed" against the wall for minor infractions, even when the story of waterboarding recounted by "Emily" occurred sometime around 2009. (For further reference, read this student's account of abuse in 2008, when many of these staff were employed).
Another troubling aspect is that this summer Crosswinds uploaded a parents' guidebook (since removed from their website).  The students are on a level system similar to the one utilized by Escuela Caribe. It does not say how their placement on levels is determined.  (In the past it was via a point sheet).Zero Level, which we all considered an abomination, is no longer mentioned in the guidebook.  However, it seems to have been replaced with Level One.  
This summer, Jesus Land author Julia Scheeres created a petition to protect students at Caribbean Mountain Academy.  A series of requests to protect basic human rights was outlined.  Nearly 600 individuals have signed, including Caribbean Mountain Academy/ Crosswinds CEO Mark Terrell.  
Terrell added comments.  Many are problematic. The two things that worry us most is that he carefully qualified his answers on employing former staff and on uncensored communication between students and families
In order for students to be protected, they need uncensored communication with their families.  They need a hotline to report abuse, and an outside agency that monitors the facility to ensure that abuse is not occurring.  For students to be safe, they shouldn't be in the Dominican Republic at all, cut off from their families.
We believe all former staff should be dismissed.  Two of the current staff members have written a post for the Crosswinds facebook page defending why they should still be employed. Even if they did not commit abuse, they still were there while it was occurring.  In the United States, teachers or counselors who do not report abuse happening to children lose their jobs.  Why should the rules be different in a therapeutic program?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Dusk at the Cubist Castle

   I moved to Athens, Georgia a few years after Escuela Caribe, knowing I needed to be surrounded by people compelled to create. Around the same time a group of artists moved here from Ruston, LA.  Back home they'd formed bands like the Synthetic Flying Machine and the Gerbils,  discovered Daniel Johnson and the Tall Dwarfs on college radio, played at the Fun-o-Mat. They'd established a collective, Elephant 6
   Once they moved to Athens, they formed other bands.  The Olivia Tremor Control. Neutral Milk Hotel. Always Red. the Marbles. The Sunshine Fix. Their music became the soundtrack of my generation.
   Bill Doss (Synthetic Flying Machine, the Olivia Tremor Control, the Sunshine Fix, Apples in Stereo, etc...) was a leader of the Ruston group.  He was one of the last people I saw before I left town for July.  We ran into each other on Washington Street, in front of Flicker.  He was with Peter Alvanos (Fabulous Bird, Sunshine Fix, etc.), one of the many people Bill inspired.
   Elf Power and the Glands had just headlined on the main stage. It was the first hot weekend of summer, all of us were sticky from sweat. Velena and I are were headed for the Manhattan's air-conditioning. I told Bill about an article I wanted to write, how his hometown Ruston had inspired him and his friends to be creative, how our community in Athens had done the same.  Bill raised an eyebrow, intrigued.  We talked about how more than thirty artists had migrated here from Ruston, how back when we were younger, the Olivias practiced across the street from our house. We made plans to talk this month, when I got back.
   I returned home Saturday, missing OTC's Thursday show- 500 plus watched them rock out. Tuesday I outlined the article, preparing Bill's questions.  After lunch, my son and I  walked down to Vision Video. Jim Hicks met me inside.  His face was face flushed, eyes rimmed red.  He'd just found out Bill had died. Bill was only 43 years old.  He was married. He was at the top of his game, touring with the Apples...The Olivia Tremor Control had reformed. The news sent shock waves through Athens, to fans around the world, devastated friends and family at home.
   That night, I rode my longboard for a long time ... no helmet, sandals, listening to my ipod...thinking of how Bill embodied the best of what makes life sweetest, always creating, encouraging those around him to do the same.  Occasionally, the cicadas drowned the music out.