Teen Challenge facility in Wayne County faces financial issues

Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The Rev. Bill Vance, left, program director for Teen Challenge of Missouri Boarding Academy, and Jack Smart, executive director, talk about the future of the facility last week at the Wayne County boarding home. (Linda Redeffer)

Teen Challenge Mid-America had a dream to open a boarding home for troubled teenagers to offer services that Teen Challenge in Cape Girardeau does not offer. In 2008, Teen Challenge bought the former Mountain View Academy in Wayne County.

Now the board of directors for the boarding academy is facing the challenge of attracting clients and raising enough money to keep the place open.

Bollinger County businessman Don Crader sits on the board of directors. He is concerned that unless some money is found soon, the facility may be in jeopardy.

Crader met last week with Jack Smart, executive director of Teen Challenge Mid-America and the boarding facility, Bill Vance, the program director, and Leah Wiggs, a grant writer who has experience with helping faith-based groups such as Teen Challenge.

"We've got to find a way to stop the bleeding," Crader said.

According to Smart, last year's expenses came to about $450,000. Income for the academy comes from Teen Challenge's budget, tuition costs and donations. It also makes a little money selling timber from the acreage surrounding the facility. Smart said he could not give a definite answer about the facility's deficit -- the books are currently being audited, he said -- but he did say the deficit could go as high as 35 or 40 percent.

"The cost per student is fairly high," he said. "We have not had the numbers we would like to have had. We need more students."

Because the academy likes to have an 8-to-1 student-teacher ratio, it has a staff of about 24, Smart said. Although the student population has been as high as 40, now there are fewer than a dozen, and the academy can easily accommodate around 150.

Wiggs said there are resources she will tap to help bring in some cash but added that she could see various places in the facility where cuts can be made to save money. She agreed to help the academy staff come up with a financial plan and to search out whatever grants it qualifies for, and said she would report back in the next few weeks.

"When Teen Challenge Mid-America started 40 years ago it had lean years," Smart said. "I'm not sure how long we can go on."

So far, faith is persevering. "We believe God will provide and meet our needs," Smart said. "We will be surprised where it will come from. We have a lot of support from a lot of people."

While the academy staff is thankful to have the financial support and Smart's leadership through Teen Challenge, they feel it may be better for them if the academy had its own executive officer to oversee day to day planning and operating. Smart said he will leave the area at the end of September to take a promotion within the organization. The plans are for the academy to remain under the jurisdiction of the Cape Girardeau facility after Smart leaves, but the academy's board would like to see it have more autonomy.

Vance is already overextended, Crader said. He works at least 75 hours a week, "and he's on salary, so half of that is donated," he said. The staff devotes itself to recruiting students and to ministering and teaching the students who are there. There is little time to devote to financial matters.

Troubled homes

Most of the students who come through the academy are not so much troubled by drugs and alcohol -- although some are -- as they are by an unstable home life. Most have been abused. They are emotionally immature, and when they arrive at the center they are frightened, angry and out of control.

"Eighty percent of them are adopted," Vance said. "And every kid we have here comes from a split family."

Too often, he said, the parents, either out of guilt or because they want to believe their child when he says he will do better if he could just go home, take the children out too soon, and the problems recur.

What keeps the staff wanting to go on are the success stories: the child who came there with virtually no school credits and was able to catch up to his grade level. The girl who finished her high school work there and decided to go to a Christian college. The boy who turned himself completely around emotionally because for the first time in his life he could actually believe that he could realize his dream of being a park ranger.

Another challenge the academy faces is that the economy has made its job that much more difficult. Parents struggle to find the money to pay for the tuition, and some children in foster care or who have no parents have little hope of getting the help they need. Children come to the academy from all over the country, and are referred there by the Teen Challenge national office and the Division of Family Services. There are few resources they can tap, and because the children are juveniles, they can't work to pay for their stay. Vance said the most success comes from parents who invest in their children's treatment.

"The reality is finances," Vance said. "The harder a parent works the bigger success we have. I want to be able to help parents who can barely scrape the money together."

The most frustrating thing, Smart said, is "knowing we have the capability to help but the resources are not there."

Teen Challenge of Missouri Boarding Academy welcomes any interested person who wants to serve on the board of directors or help in any way. Visit the website at tcmboardingacademy.org.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: