PIERCETON — Around Christmastime every year, Pierceton residents receive a box of homemade cookies from a group of young gentlemen in the community. They’re not delivered by carolers or salespeople, but by residents of Pierceton Woods Academy.
“They make thousands of cookies at the end of the year and deliver them themselves,” said Joe Gough, vice-president of residential services for Lifeline Youth and Family Services. “Sometimes, we’ll get people contacting us wondering when cookies are being sent out.”
Pierceton Woods Academy does not fit the traditional definition of the word “academy”; the residential facility functions as a place for young males between the ages of 10 and 21 to learn, grow and develop. The boys are placed into the program through agencies such as the Department of Child Services or probation departments. Each resident in the program has a service plan designed specifically for them.
“These boys aren’t here for punishment,” said Gough. “They’re here for treatment and therapy, and to learn and grow and change. Some of the kids are here for a few months, while some are here for a couple of years. But on average, most of the kids are here for six to eight months.”
Before accepting residents into its program, PWA completes background checks on each potential candidate and conducts face-to-face interviews.
“We always remind them that they can say ‘no,'” said Gough. “We’re not going to force someone who doesn’t want this into our program. And if we feel like they need some other type of assistance that we can’t provide, we always give a referral.”
Recommendations are all driven by the youth’s home county. Placing agencies such as probation departments or DCS will refer young males to PWA if they believe residential placement is needed.
During their residency at the academy, boys complete self-paced online curriculum and participate in vocational programs, including engine repair, horticulture and wood shop. Currently, the boys have tomato plants growing on a table that they built themselves. Upon entering the campus’ main office, visitors can see chairs and other pieces of furniture that the boys made.
“Participating in these vocational programs allows these boys to build something that’s good,” said Gough. “In the past, we’ve helped people who lost their home to a fire and had no furniture. So we made furniture for them. It’s great to teach them, ‘Well, what happens if you do one, three, or ten good things?'”
In total, there are approximately 48 boys at Piercton Woods who reside on campus in rooms that resemble college dormitories.
“I remember when one of our residents was with us for a year, but then went to the Department of Corrections for a couple of years,” said Gough. “Then he came back once he was done and said, ‘I didn’t get it when I was here, but now I do. The staff here, they spoke life to me. They offer forgiveness and really invest in you.'”
The PWA first opened in 2008 and established a chapel at its campus in 2015. The academy also has tentative plans to establish a retail shop and plant fruit orchards on recently purchased property.
“We want to get our residents engaged in a way to help them make positive relationships and help them grow,” said Gough. “We want them out in the community and getting involved, not cooped up in the facility. In the end, they’re just normal kids who are learning the do’s and don’t’s of society.”
“It’s just great to see the boys’ satisfaction in helping others,” said Bob Jones, vocational manager at Pierceton Woods Academy. “That moment when you help someone learn how to drive a nail for the first time…well, I liken that to watching kids walk for the first time. Seeing them grow and learn is amazing.”