We are a group of alumni who have learned of continuing child abuse at our former boarding school and are determined to put an end to it.
We range in age from our teens to our 50s, live in different areas of the country, belong to disparate social-economic classes, and have never met in person, yet we share a common goal: to prevent more children from suffering the brutalities we experienced as adolescents.
Many of us are middle-aged now, with children of our own, and we consider it our duty to speak out on behalf of the students attending Caribbean Mountain Academy.
For four decades, this school has relied on its remote location in the Dominican Republic to hurt kids with impunity. We were stunned to recently learn that in the 1970s, several newspapers published exposes on child abuse at the school, resulting in investigations by authorities in Illinois and Michigan, as well as Congressional hearings.
But none of those actions closed down the school. It merely changed its name, several times, to disassociate itself from the bad press, and kept recruiting students.
The well-being of these children -- some as young as 12 years old -- is now in our hands. Please join us in asking the CEO of the school, Mark Terrell, to stop the legacy of abuse at Caribbean Mountain Academy.
Read more here:
Alumni website with dozens of testimonials: http://nhym-alumni.org/
Deirdre Sugiuchi's blog about time at EC int the early 90s: http://unreformed.blogspot.com/
Congressional hearings featuring the the school: http://www.eric.ed.gov/PDFS/ED188371.pdf (pages 204, 205)
"Youth facility in Marion under fire for its tactics," By Teresa Auch, The Chronicle-Tribune October 22, 2006. http://www.teenadvocatesusa.org/NewHorizons.html
Children's Nightmare? Government Spending Millions to Keep Troubled Juveniles in Deplorable Conditions, Witness Says. Evening Independent, January 24, 1979 http://tinyurl.com/7ockvq9
Former students' protest: http://tinyurl.com/799afgv
Former students speak out: http://youtu.be/ouMFWzgusno
"Kidnapped for Christ" documentary about Escuela Caribe: http://www.kidnappedforchrist.com/
Promotional video narrated by founder Gordon Blossom in 1988: http://tinyurl.com/7yv58tg
- Mark Terrell, CEO
Lifeline Youth and Family Services
- Mark Terrell, CEO
We, a group of New Horizons Youth Ministries alumni and the undersigned people of conscience, are deeply concerned about your boarding school in the Dominican Republic. Protecting the rights of children is our utmost concern, and this school, in all its previous incarnations, has a long and well-documented history of child abuse.
Take the case of Emily, who graduated in 2009:
Emily was suffering from severe depression when her parents decided to send her to this self-described “Christian therapeutic boarding school.” Shortly after her arrival, she was confined to the “Quiet Room” for several weeks, where she was forced to sleep on a concrete floor and use a bucket as a toilet. The other students were told to ignore her anguished cries. After releasing her from solitary confinement, the staff gave her a potent sedative each morning whose sleep-inducing side effect prevented her from completing her chores. In an attempt to rouse her, three men routinely dragged her outside, pinned her to the ground, and poured water over her face with a garden hose. She was terrified they would drown her.
We can’t tell you Emily’s real name because she was only 14 when this abuse started.
We are aware that in December 2011, New Horizons Youth Ministries donated the Dominican campus to Lifeline, which changed the school’s name from Escuela Caribe to Caribbean Mountain Academy. But we are skeptical that these abusive practices have stopped. Several of the staff members who participated in Emily’s abuse—or who witnessed it and remained silent—continue to work at Caribbean Mountain Academy.
If Lifeline is sincere about charting a new course that respects students and their well-being, then it should terminate all staff members who previously engaged in, or passively supported, child abuse. Until this occurs, we reject the misleading pretense that this is a “new school.”
This school has relied on frequent name changes and its remote Caribbean location to avoid government oversight and has been hurting students with impunity since 1971. Its record of mistreating children is thoroughly documented:
In 1974, Michigan authorities ordered 18 children from that state returned home after the Detroit Free Press learned students were spanked to the point of “excessive bruises and bleeding.” As a result, the school changed its name from “Caribe Vista Youth Safari” to “Caribe Vista.”
In 1976, Kenneth Wooden, the executive director of the National Coalition for Children’s Justice, visited the campus and testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Child and Human Development about mistreatment of children there, including beatings, extended solitary confinement, and censorship of all student communications with the outside world—effectively rendering students powerless to seek help. The resulting negative press, including a widely disseminated Associated Press article, prompted Illinois courts to stop sending children to the program. As a result, the school changed its name to Escuela Caribe.
In 2005, alumna Julia Scheeres wrote a New York Times bestselling memoir, Jesus Land, detailing abuse she witnessed at the school, including a boxing match between the Dean of Students and a 13-year-old boy, the forced haircut of a girl who tried to run away, and the physical assault of her brother by a teacher. That same year, former students launched a website (http://nhym-alumni.org) featuring dozens of testimonials describing abuse they experienced or witnessed at the school. Their advocacy resulted in many negative media reports.
In December 2011, due to a sharp drop in enrollment, New Horizons Youth Ministries donated the Dominican campus and its wilderness camp in Ontario, Canada, to Lifeline Youth and Family Services. In 2012, Lifeline, which is based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and runs several “prison alternative” youth homes in that state, created a new entity, “Crosswinds,” to operate these properties.
With this latest restructuring, we’re asking Lifeline Youth and Family Services to immediately cease all punitive and degrading tactics used by New Horizons Youth Ministries, including:
1. The level system requiring children to "earn" back their freedom by asking permission to sit, stand, walk from room to room, begin eating, etc.
2. Extended solitary confinement. The “Quiet Room” should never be used for more than an hour at a time and should only be used for children who pose an immediate threat to themselves or others. It should not be used as punishment.
3. Physically intimidating students by slamming them into walls, also known as “body slamming.”
4. Censoring student communications, including all mail, phone, and Internet conversations.
5. “Rock support,” forcing children to carry rocks in their pockets and count them before speaking.
6. “Push-up support,” requiring children to do push-ups before entering a room.
7. “Silence support,” forbidding children from speaking to anyone.
8. “Bucket support,” forcing children to defecate and urinate in a bucket.
Additionally, we request that Lifeline Youth and Family Services:
1. Immediately terminate all Caribbean Mountain Academy staff members who worked for Escuela Caribe. Escuela Caribe staff members were aware of the chronic child abuse at the campus but failed to stop or report it. We deem them unfit to work with children.
2. Allow parents to have unlimited, private communication with their children.
3. Hire licensed therapists as counseling staff.
4. Hire licensed teachers as teaching staff.
5. Develop a staff rulebook delineating acceptable disciplinary measures and condemning abusive behaviors. Publish the staff rulebook on the school’s website.
6. Write up and evaluate all restraints of students.
7. Create a system allowing students to lodge complaints about mistreatment without fear of repercussions.
8. Allow an independent review board unrestricted access to the campus and students to ensure children’s rights are being respected.
9. Stop holding students past their 18th birthdays—the age U.S. citizens are considered legal adults, free of parental control.
We call upon Lifeline Youth and Family Services to immediately end this legacy of abuse. A mere change of name and ownership will not suffice. Lifeline must prove that it has radically transformed New Horizon’s programs to reflect a new compassion for children.
We encourage Lifeline to open and maintain a dialogue with our alumni group as a way to demonstrate its commitment to uphold the rights and dignity of children.
We call upon everyone who believes in a child’s right to be treated with love and dignity to join us in this fight by signing this petition.
Julia Scheeres started this petition with a single signature, and now has 1,712 supporters. Start a petition today to change something you care about.