by Bailey Porter
Walking into any one of the residential units at the LeRoy Haynes Center for Children and Family Services is not unlike stepping into a university residence hall: a common room with hallways leading to bedrooms.
But underlying this is a complex, family-like dynamic that provides the basis of support to the boys who live there.
Most of the residents, ranging from 7-to-17-years-old, were taken by the courts from abusive and neglected situations and have severe emotional and behavioral handicaps, said Andre Bossieux, spokesman for the center and University of La Verne alumnus.
“(The residential cottages) are very homey and relaxed,” said Tina Powell, a senior criminology and psychology major who will be interning at the center. “They provide a kind of structured environment much like a family.”
The staff is treated like parent figures and provides the kind of positive re-enforcement most of the boys did not experience in their lives before coming to LeRoy Haynes.
Destiny Hellum, 22, a “p.m. counselor,” arrives at one of the resident cottages, Wittry, in time to welcome the boys back after a day at school.
Her job is to become a parent to the boys, helping them with homework, taking care of them when they are sick and providing snacks and allotting awards for good behavior in the form of a weekly allowance, she said.
Colorful student-of-the-month certificates decorate a bulletin board and the boys receive an extra allowance when they are seen promoting the values that the center works each day to encourage.
“The staff are gifted, patient people,” Bossieux said. “They get where the kids come from.”
It was difficult, at first, for Wittry Cottage counselor Mona Jasemian, 25, to understand the boys’ individual experiences. Many of them act older than other children their age, she said, knowing how to vacuum and be self-sufficient, but also cursing.
She said it is important to take the time to understand where they come from in order to work with them.
Each residential unit has a separate program. Thurber Cottage houses the emancipation program where boys 15 to 17 years old live who will be assimilated when they turn 18.
The focus for these boys is to expose them to the skills they will need for everyday life, like independent living and trade skills, Bossieux said.
“Our primary goal is to move them on to a less restrictive setting,” he said.
For the younger boys this includes placement with families, in smaller group homes or in foster homes.
LeRoy Haynes is a 12 on the residential care level, the scale used to classify all residence programs in the children welfare industry.
An RCL of 14 is the highest, after that, is a lockdown system.
Most boys stay at the center for one to one and a half years, he said. To Bossieux, the courts often move the boys out of the center too quickly.
“I’m not sold that the best thing is to get them re-exposed to the things that got them here in the first place,” he said, noting the all too familiar occurrence of individuals’ digression once they are placed back with their families.
The center provides full-time medical, nursing and psychiatric services. A non-public school, the Haynes Education Center, is also on site and residents as well as students referred by local districts attend.
ULV alumna Vicky Garcia teaches multiple grade levels in a classroom with eight students, six of which are residents.
When there are behavioral problems in the class, the other students are very cooperative and understanding while the student who has acted out is attended to, she said.
Aside from the clinical treatment and school, the center has an indoor regulation size basketball court and holds games with neighboring residential programs and club teams from the city. There is also a pool and a field for soccer and football.
The boys use sports as an outlet, said Louie Juarez, who coaches the boys and has been working at the center since he graduated from ULV in 2002.
Shooting hoops with each other and teachers after school encourages social skills and gives the boys something to look forward to, he said.
Bossieux said it is a daily challenge to work in an environment where the fruits of labor are not apparent right away, but a reward to see former residents leading successful lives based on the values taught at the center.
“It is a headache everyday to wonder if it’s working, but if you’ve been here long enough you know when the kids are making improvements,” he said.
Journalism operations manager at the University of La Verne. Production manager and business manager of the Campus Times.