This is the History of and Reporting Guide for Anchor Academy in Vanduser, MO (Formerly in Havre, MT and prior to that another unknown location)*


On this page you will find incomplete staff and complaint histories with sources cited (i.e. Progress Report), the general advisory against segregated congregate care with sources cited, and a reporting guide for those unlawfully harmed or firsthand witnesses to unlawful harm by or at this location to report violations of the law to the proper authorities/law enforcement.  The staff list itself will not be updated with additional names out of a sense of fairness where those providing the names ask for anonymity or confidentiality.  And, this program will remain eligible for merciful release if all criteria are met and no guest sermon is provided by a qualifying sponsor by that time.  In the meantime, it can graduate the COPE Conversion Program by meeting the Honesty In Marketing Standards (HIMS) or permanently close to be removed from the watch-list/released from the COPE Conversion Program.  If permanently closed prior to graduation or merciful release, it will be buried in the virtual graveyard.




Additional Information
Dennis McElwrath Superintendent HEAL has submitted a request to the MO Dep't of Education regarding whether or not Mr. McElwrath is a certified educator in the State of Missouri.  We received a reply from the MO Dep't of Education and they claim they cannot verify whether or not McElwrath is a certified educator unless we can provide his social security number.  Mr. McElwrath can contact directly to provide his Educator ID # or Social Security # so we can verify his status, if he is licensed.  McElwrath is not a licensed mental health nor medical professional in Missouri.  Source:

Eighteen young men and three adults spent their days and nights ginning cotton at the Vanduser Cotton Gin in Vanduser, Mo, for 10 weeks. Then, on Dec. 10, they headed back home to the Anchor Academy for Boys Camp in Havre, Mont.  Taken from: Show Me Missouri Farm Bureau • January/February 2006  They require a minimum stay of one year.  So, these are additional problems with the facility.  Forced labor (wages not mentioned and where the wages are sent or if they are signed over to the program is also not mentioned in the article--this is what happens at most programs that farm out children as labor--the program profits, the kids don't) and a minimum stay of a year also point to this being an abusive program that exploits children and families for profit under the guise of religion and "treatment".  Dennis McElwrath was formerly working at the confirmedly abusive and now closed Mountain Park Boarding Academy (a Roloff Home)

"The years seem to fly by when you are in the ministry.  In ten years the Anchor Academy has moved three times, ministered to over 400 young men most of whom trusted Christ for salvation, helped many parents, built numerous buildings, traveled in 45 states, Mexico, and Canada..." (From on September 19th, 2010)  Concerns include that they relocate often and are associated with abusive and fraudulent programs like Mountain Park Boarding Academy (closed).  Also, it is a concern that they travel and appear to be little more than a wealth-building traveling show for the few leaders of the program as opposed to providing a real solution to children and families.  There were 8 youths in the "graduating" class of 2009 and it is highly unlikely that they have served anywhere near the 400 children they claim.  In more recent documents they claim to have only taken on a handful of new "students", a total of 12 in the last year (since August, 2009) by our calculations based on the statements of their website claiming the numbers. ( Newsletter pages on September 19th, 2010). 

McElwrath is not a licensed educator in Missouri.  (Source: E-mail from Missouri Office of Educator Quality)

McElwrath owns the Vanduser Gin Company (cotton gin) and reportedly forces youth enrolled in Anchor Academy to work both picking and processing cotton.  He then reportedly sends the wages to Anchor Academy to cover the tuition cost of those enrolled at the academy.  To HEAL Mission this sounds like human trafficking, money-laundering, and wage theft.

Abraham Ueland Staff HEAL has submitted a request to the MO Dep't of Education regarding whether or not Mr. Ueland is a certified educator in the State of Missouri.  We will post the information upon receipt and appreciate your patience.  Ueland is not a licensed mental health nor medical professional in Missouri.  Source:  Ueland is not a licensed educator in Missouri.  (Source: E-mail from Missouri Office of Educator Quality)
Lucas Chouinard Staff HEAL has submitted a request to the MO Dep't of Education regarding whether or not Mr. Chouinard is a certified educator in the State of Missouri.  We will post the information upon receipt and appreciate your patience.  Chouinard is not a licensed mental health nor medical professional in Missouri.  Source:  Chouinard is not a licensed educator in Missouri.  (Source: E-mail from Missouri Office of Educator Quality)
Isaiah Ueland Staff HEAL has submitted a request to the MO Dep't of Education regarding whether or not Mr. Ueland is a certified educator in the State of Missouri.  We will post the information upon receipt and appreciate your patience.  Ueland is not a licensed mental health nor medical professional in Missouri.  Source:  Ueland is not a licensed educator in Missouri.  (Source: E-mail from Missouri Office of Educator Quality)
Josh Boals Staff Qualifications--"Graduate" of the program in 2003.  HEAL has submitted a request to the MO Dep't of Education regarding whether or not Mr. Boals is a certified educator in the State of Missouri.  We will post the information upon receipt and appreciate your patience.  Boals is not a licensed mental health nor medical professional in Missouri.  Source:  Boals is not a licensed educator in Missouri.  (Source: E-mail from Missouri Office of Educator Quality)
Lucas Toll Staff Reported to HEAL by survivor on April 7th, 2014.  Toll is not a licensed mental health nor medical professional in Missouri.  Source:  Toll is not a licensed educator in Missouri.  (Source: E-mail from Missouri Office of Educator Quality)
Steve Nielson Staff Reported to HEAL by survivor on April 7th, 2014.  Nielson is not a licensed mental health nor medical professional in Missouri.  Source:   Nielson is not a licensed educator in Missouri.  (Source: E-mail from Missouri Office of Educator Quality)
Joshua West Staff Reported to HEAL by survivor on April 7th, 2014.  West is not a licensed mental health nor medical professional in Missouri.  Source:   West may be a licensed educator, HEAL requires middle name, certification number, and/or birthdate to complete verification.
Martha Moyer Staff Reported to HEAL by survivor on April 7th, 2014.  Moyer is not a licensed mental health nor medical professional in Missouri.  Source:  Moyer is not a licensed educator in Missouri.  (Source: E-mail from Missouri Office of Educator Quality)
Heath Stengler Staff Reported to HEAL Mission by survivor on May 24th, 2020. 
Caleb Kooy Staff Reported via e-mail February 25th, 2021.
OTHER OTHER This program is a Roloff Home...It is on a list of affiliated programs that include:

Anchor Character Training Center(coed)
Harvest Baptist Church Ministries, PO Box 430, Fort Dodge, IA 50501
(515) 955-5270 or (515) 955-3074
Pastor, Marvin E. Smith III, Director, John Brooks
Home located at: 1940 225th St., Fort Dodge, IA

Calvary Boy’s Ranch, Boarding Academy, City of Refuge, Baptist Institute & Seminary
Calvary Baptist Church Ministries, PO Box 834, Eufaula, OK 74432
(918)689-9403, (918)689-4789 (Fax)
Pastor, Dr. Jerry McDonald
Haven of Hope Girls Academy - Opening Soon!
(Ministry of The Church of the Open Door, Westminster MD - Dr. Norris Belcher, Pastor
550 Baltimore Blvd, Westminster MD 21157
(410) 876-3838

Happiness Hill Home (girls through 19 yrs)
(affiliated with Roloff Ministries, Corpus Christi, TX), Rt. 5 Box 437, Union MS 39365
(601) 656-7714
Director, Dr. Jack High

Heritage Boys Academy
Director, Bro. Buddy Maynard
P.O. Box 10064
Panama City, FL  32404
(850) 913-1844

Hephzibah House (girls)
Believers Baptist Church, 508 School St. Winona Lake, IN 46590
Pastor, Don Williams, Director, Ron Williams

Hope Children’s Home (coed) 
(813) 961-1214, (813) 968-7686 (Fax)
11415 Hope International Dr., Tampa FL 33625


Hope Children’s Home (young girls)
(Ministry of Tabernacle Baptist Church, McDonaugh, GA)
Directors, Jimmy & Donna Prather
Rt. 1, Box 194, Duck Hill, MS 38925

 Joshua Scott Boarding School (boys)
(Ministry of Bible Baptist Church, Belva WV)
P.O. Box 67, State Rte. 39, Belva WV 26656-0266

Jubilee Home For Ladies

(18 years old and over; For younger girls see Happiness Hill)
Peoples Baptist Church Ministries, Roloff Ministries
Pastor Charles Crummey
1355 FM 665, Corpus Christi, TX 78415 

Lighthouse Children’s Home (girls)
Lighthouse Baptist Church, West MS. Evangelist Larry Neff
PO Box 276, Kosciusko, MS 39090 

Pearls of Promise Girls Academy
Ministry of El-Bethel Baptist Church
8485 Highway 431 North
Roanoke, Alabama 36274


Reclamation Ranch (boys and girls12-17, young men 18-45)
Dr. Jack Patterson, Founder and Director
Ministry of Gloryland Baptist Church
P.O. Box 150
Empire, AL 35063

Shenandoah Boys Ranch
Shenandoah Girls Haven

Shenandoah Baptist Church
(423) 339-0103, (423) 339-0992, (423) 339-0117 (Fax)
Pastor Steve Grubbs

Shining Light School for Boys
Ministry of Walter’s Grove Baptist Church
Dr. Jeremy Simpson, Pastor
Bro. Roy Isenhart, Director
2620 Cid Road
Lexington, N.C. 27292

Victorious Valley Homes (coed)
Ministry of Victorious Valley Baptist Church
Pastor John McGill, Director
140 Victorious Valley Drive
Sunset, SC 29685
Contact: Jennifer Holobrooks

William Seth Rochester Home for Children
Ministry of Calvary Hill Baptist Church, Pacolet SC - Pastor Bill Pickel
Directors: Jason & Mandy Koepke

Willow Valley Boarding Academy and Camp (boys)
Ken Puckett, Director
P.O. Box 99
Vinton, OH 45686

The Ark Youth Shelter (boys)
Ministry of Trinity Baptist Church, Spartanburg, SC
Darrell Finch, Director
9261 Fairforest Rd.
Spartanburg, SC 29301

In Missouri, the criminal statutes of limitation are 1 year on misdemeanors and 3-5 years on most felonies, no statute of limitation on felonies including rape, sodomy, sexual offense where a child under 18 years of age is the victim, and murder (no statutes of limitation on any Class A Felonies).  For civil suits in Missouri, the statute of limitations is 5 years depending on cause of action.  Here are your options:
1.  Report crimes such as fraud, assault, battery, false imprisonment, rape, labor trafficking, and child abuse to law enforcement in Missouri.  You can call the Scott County Sheriff at (573) 471-3531 or (573) 471-3530 to inquire about filing an official complaint which when filed may provide the probable cause needed to get a warrant for investigation and/or prosecution. 

2.  File a consumer complaint with your home state's attorney general against Anchor Academy and include your request for a refund/compensation for any harm done to you.  If your home state is Missouri or you'd like to file with the Missouri State Attorney General as a non-resident, here is that link and form: 

3.  If you do not wish to file a consumer complaint, you can contact a private personal injury attorney and look into suing in tort/civil court.  However, if you can't afford the retainer, you should expect to settle out of court with a non-disclosure agreement which may bar you from speaking publicly about the incident because you've agreed (even if with a grumbling assent) to the terms of the settlement. 
4.  You may send a new e-mail to with subject "Post My Feedback" and we will post your feedback (e-mail printed to .pdf disclosing your name and e-mail address and any information in your e-mail with that subject) to  and add a direct link to those .pdf files to this page . 

 5. You may also wish to provide a guest sermon.  Guest sermons are posted at , under Progress Reports/Guest Sermons at where appropriate, and on program info pages when applicable.  So, one provided by you on your program would also be placed on this page .  Guest sermons should be written into the body of an e-mail and sent to . Your first and last name will be disclosed (contact info will not be unless you expressly request disclosure).  For sermons available on our site see  (and sermon archives linked on that page).  If you have questions about this option, please contact Please see  to get an idea what your sermon may be worth.

All segregated congregate care providers, including those on our watch-list, are welcome to contact us to correct any information or provide additional data that may assist with delivering the whole truth to the public.  The HEAL Mission of COPE (HEAL) found in many cases where this offer has been abused or resulted in revealing additional basis for our concerns. For some examples see feedback.  Now, we are willing to look at the facts and may have questions or require documentation backing up any claims.  We do verify licensing, academic backgrounds, and other qualifications when investigating and researching programs on our watch-lis/enrolled in the Conversion Program to assist consumers seeking additional information on such programs or victims requiring assistance with getting corroborating evidence of their claims.  We do that in order to make sure the information we provide is accurate and verified and cite our sources.  In the event any information we've posted is in error, we're happy to make a correction. 

HEAL does not support segregated congregate care for many reasons which include that many such facilities are abusive, exploitative, fraudulent, and lack effective oversight often as a result of fraudulent misrepresentation coupled with the ignorance of those seeking to enroll loved ones in such facilities, programs, schools, or centers without a valid court order and involuntarily.  In the United States such involuntary placements done without a court order are apparently illegal as they either violate the Americans with Disabilities Act community integration requirement or due process rights of those involuntarily placed.  Now, in regards to parents, in the United States parents have the right to waive their own rights, but, not the rights of their minor children.  See for more information.  Now, most facilities on our watch list include waivers, indemnity clauses, and sworn statements legal guardians must sign assuring the program that the parents/legal guardians have the right to make the placement involuntarily and without due process in a segregated congregate care environment, however, California and federal prosecutors as well as settled law appears to suggest that is not the case.  In fact, in the David Taylor case found at , Taylor sued Provo Canyon School and his mother as co-defendants.  His mother was found liable for 75% of the damages awarded to Taylor as a result of multiple complaints including false imprisonment, while the program was found only 25% liable because the mother owed a duty of due diligence to investigate anyone to which she would entrust care of her child and she failed to do so. 

Now, HEAL opposes segregated congregate care and we find most placements are happening illegally in the USA which if the youth understood their rights would result in unfortunate outcomes for the parents, particularly when they don't exercise good judgment and support the fraud and abuse rather than their own children when they need remedy and justice.  And, HEAL supports all victims of fraud and abuse in seeking remedies at law for any crimes or torts committed against them.  And, that's true whether or not the program or victims are in the USA. 

HEAL has a 5 point argument against segregated congregate care we'd like you to consider:

a.  Segregated care is unconstitutional and a civil rights violation.  It is only permissible if a person is unable to survive independent of an institutional environment.  For more on this, watch the HEAL Report at  Or, see:  which includes in part:    "United States v. Florida – 1:12-cv-60460 – (S.D. Fla.) – On April 7, 2016, the United States filed an Opposition to the State of Florida’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.  In the Motion, the State had asked the Court to rule, on a variety of grounds, that the United States could not recover damages for unnecessarily institutionalized children to whom the State had been deliberately indifferent."

b.  Institutionalization is always dehumanizing and coercive.  Institutionalization always harms the institutionalized and deprives them of protected civil rights.  Dr. David Straker, Psychiatry Professor at Columbia University's School of Medicine (Ivy League) explains this in detail at  "Many institutions, from prisons to monasteries to asylums, deliberately want to control and manage their inmates such that they conform and do not cause problems. Even in less harsh environments, many of the institutionalization methods may be found, albeit in more moderated form (although the psychological effect can be equally devastating)."  (See website linked in this paragraph for more info.)

c.  Institutionalization is not in the best interest of children.  Institutions are not ever better for a child than living with a loving family.  Source:       

d.  Reform schools, residential treatment programs, and other segregated congregate care settings have been shown to be ineffective and harmful.  Best source on this currently is:

e. Boarding Schools, even the "good ones", result in a form of social death, isolation, and cause both anxiety and depression.  Therefore, it is clearly not in the best interest of the youth subjected to those environments.  Sources: and

Beyond the above arguments against segregated congregate care, we have reports from the NIH, Surgeon General, Yale University Studies, and much more showing the methodologies of behavior modification are damaging, harmful, and ineffective.  You can request these documents via e-mail.  In addition, for such programs offering academic services or claiming to offer diplomas, certifications, or the like, it is important to check to see if it is a diploma mill with no accredited academic services.  Please see article: "Avoiding Scams: What You Need To Know"  for important information on how to avoid education/training scams.

If you'd like to see what HEAL suggests rather than segregated congregate care (i.e. committing a crime or tort against your child if done against their will without a court order), please see articles: "Fix Your Family, Help Your Teen" and "Emancipation Guide".
Tough Love or Abuse? Inside the Anchor Home for Boys By: Maurice Chammah | June 30, 2014View as "Clean Read" ShareEmail Print TheFarm: Inside the Anchor Home for Boys from JJIE Multimedia on Vimeo. The Baptist preacher Lester Roloff founded the Anchor Home for Boys to help troubled teenagers get their lives back on track. Nearly 50 years and three states later, the school that bears his name has transformed dramatically and escaped the allegations of abuse that once plagued its reputation. But many of its alumni are still haunted by questions. Aaron Anderson’s dad had said they were going to the beach. Along with Aaron’s mother and younger brother, they were packed into the family car, careening past the sand and scrub of the Texas Gulf Coast on a spur-of-the-moment vacation that so far had included an amusement park in San Antonio and the Corpus Christi aquarium. It was 1998, and 16-year-old Aaron was still coming out of a rebellious stage. He had been taking drugs and sneaking around with his girlfriend. His parents tried to home-school him. He tried to run away. His parents relented, allowing him to attend high school in Burleson, their rural town south of Fort Worth. That seemed to improve things. The family was getting along better and better. This vacation was the proof. Which was why things didn’t add up when his father started driving away from the beach. Before he thought to ask where they were going, they had arrived. It was a small set of buildings surrounded by farmland, just outside of Corpus Christi. “This is where you’re going to stay for the next year,” Aaron remembers his father saying. He remembers his brother crying and his mother remaining silent. He remembers an older man walking up and telling him to step out of the car. When Aaron refused, the man left and returned with three more men. They yanked open the door and began pulling him out by force. “I was screaming at the top of my lungs,” Aaron recalled. “You put up a fight. You want somebody to hear.” Aaron learned that he had been taken to the Anchor Home for Boys, which offered a year-long residential treatment program for teenage boys with various behavioral issues. His parents had heard about it from their pastor. At Anchor, Aaron would read his Bible every day and be kept under close watch. Hundreds of boys had gone through the school and spoken glowingly of having their path corrected in a safe, warm community. As his parents and little brother drove away, Aaron was taken inside. “The rest of that day,” he said, “was pretty much non-stop beating.” The violence continued for weeks, Aaron said, until eventually he was put in charge of other boys and in turn oversaw harsh physical discipline. When Aaron arrived at the Anchor Home, the institution had already been through a long and winding history of battles with Texas over allegations of abuse and a lack of oversight. After he left, the home would move to Montana and later to Missouri, where it currently operates. Maurice Chammah / JJIE Aaron Anderson Throughout that history, there are allegations of abuse from some former students. But there are also denials from other students and from staff, who say those allegations are exaggerated and that for the most part the school provided an encouraging, positively transformative experience. Eventually this back-and-forth gives way to something more complex. Many alumni describe conditions and practices that fall into a grey area between discipline and abuse and simply not feeling right. They can’t always decide whether what they experienced was wrong or illegal or valuable or just inexplicably strange. One said, “I'm glad somebody can hear me, because it's bananas." Another said, “It was crazy. It's hard to explain or to tell anybody.” Aaron Anderson said, “They have their own culture there. You never leave it.” Hundreds of residential programs around the country — some religious, some secular — promise to improve the behavior of teenagers through strict discipline or ‘tough love.’ For the most part, these programs face little to no regulation from state and federal authorities, and that creates the conditions for abuse, which has been well-documented by journalists throughout the years. But the lack of regulation also creates the conditions for all manner of practices, punishments and activities that are not abusive, not illegal and not “wrong” by any sort of official measurement but still may make some observers queasy and may have had negative psychological consequences on the teenagers who went through them. There’s no scoop here; just an endless stream of knotty questions. For many of the boys who went through Anchor, these questions — What really happened? Should it have happened? —  are still unresolved.   Personal Photo by Aaron Anderson of Anchor boys doing push-ups, 1999-2000 The Anchor Home for Boys was founded by the radio evangelist Lester Roloff in 1967, one of numerous homes set up by his ministry to help boys, girls, men and women struggling with problems ranging from adolescent disobedience to adult alcoholism. Until his death in 1982, Roloff battled with Texas over regulation of his youth homes. Outside activists accused the home of abusing its wards, while Roloff argued that strict Bible-inspired discipline was necessary to correct their wayward paths. Roloff’s successor, Wiley Cameron, continued that battle, eventually moving some of the homes to Missouri before shutting them down. The homes reemerged under Cameron’s leadership in the late 1990s, when the Texas Legislature passed a bill allowing religious childcare institutions to be accredited by the Texas Association of Christian Child-Care Agencies, on whose board Cameron served. When Aaron Anderson was dropped off by his parents in 1998, he became a member of the inaugural class of the revitalized Anchor Home in Corpus Christi. On his second day, he told me, he tried to escape and fell into a mud pit. He was taken back to the home and beaten. “My ribs hurt for a couple months after that,” he said. “Who knows if I cracked or bruised one. They never took me to a hospital.” Over time, he learned to avoid getting hurt. The main way to do that was to stay totally silent. When he arrived at Anchor, Aaron said, he was placed on “verbal probation.” He was barred from speaking to anyone except for staff and a single “keeper,” and could only speak to them when instructed. Later students would use the term “guide student,” and the practice has lasted until today, defended by staff as a good way to break old self-destructive habits that the boys bring to Anchor. Aaron told me that the punishments — for looking at others, for speaking to anyone outside of the approved structure — included hits and kicks from staff or from men at the Lighthouse home next door. He described being forced to kneel on rice for hours while weights — usually heavy books — were added to his outstretched arms. If he was put on “Red Shirt,” a special punishment designation whose numbers ranged from a few to as many as 20 other boys, he would have to run for hours on end, and be kicked if he fell down. Over time he learned how to talk the talk. "If you pretend with a group of people long enough it feels real," he said. Less than a month after Aaron was allowed to talk to other students, he was put in charge of punishments. Instead of sitting in the classroom, where other kids had self-paced Christian workbooks, Aaron was out on the track, watching kids run endless laps and kicking them if they fell down from exhaustion. His sole education was Bible memorization. If he succeeded in his memorizations, he might be treated to a John Wayne movie in the lunchroom or a short trip to a carnival with other “crew leaders.” Fifteen years later, Aaron regretted how he had used his authority. “I get emotional, shaky when we talk about this,” he said. "I'm constantly questioning how I felt back then. Did part of me enjoy it?”   Maurice Chammah / JJIE Dennis McElwrath at Anchor Academy in Vanduser, Mo. As Aaron left in 2000, pressure was mounting on the school to open itself to scrutiny. News stories had been coming out about Anchor’s sister school, the Rebekah Home, where girls were telling stories of being whipped, beaten, bound with duck tape and locked in isolation cells with Roloff’s sermons blaring over speakers. In June 1999, Texas Child Protective Services issued findings of physical abuse and medical neglect at the Rebekah Home and banned Wiley Cameron’s wife, Fay Cameron, the head of the home, from working with juveniles in Texas ever again. Day-to-day leadership of the Anchor Home was handed over to a 25-year-old named Dennis McElwrath, who decided to move the facility out of Texas. He reestablished the school as Anchor Academy and set up on two different sites in Montana before financial problems led him to relocate to Vanduser, a tiny cotton-ginning town in southern Missouri, where he operates it to this day. McElwrath led a decisive break from the past, changing the minimum age to 16 and the maximum age to 24. Aside from a 2004 incident in which a staff member was fired after fondling a student, Anchor Academy escaped the allegations of abuse that had plagued its predecessor. “Dedicated staff members are constantly mentoring and demonstrating Christian character as they work with the young men on an individual basis,” read the school’s new website. “A positive student culture allows new students to quickly adjust and be influenced by peers who have committed their heart and life to Jesus Christ.” Maurice Chammah / JJIE Front entrance to the Anchor Academy Here are some of the punishments and general policies described by graduates of Anchor Academy during its years in Montana: spankings with a wooden paddle, hours of physical exercise in freezing weather with improper clothing, being prohibited from speaking to anyone other than a direct superior, spending eight hours on a Saturday scrubbing a single spot on the floor, eating peanut butter sandwiches for weeks at a time and having to carry them around in plastic sacks if you failed to eat them, having to hold a broom above your head while your feet were tied together, so that any movement required hopping around. Graduates described having to write hundreds and even thousands of repetitive lines of text by hand until their hands cramped. If you got behind, they said, you would be forced awake for 30 minutes every hour of the night to stand and write lines, which amounted to sleep deprivation. “That place brainwashed, whether they intended to or not, an ideology, a dogma and a fear of physical and eternal punishment if you didn't comply,” said Michael Quinn, who attended from 2002 to 2004 in Havre, Mont. On the lingering effects of verbal probation, he said: “I ran out of things to talk to myself in my head about. I couldn't remember words. There was nothing up there in my head.” On the system of authority, he said, “I always to this day have trouble looking at people. I look at the ground.” “Put your back against the wall and put your leg at a 90-degree angle and raise your arms,” he said, describing one punishment. “If you drop your leg I'd punch you. If you drop your arms I'd punch you. If you say no I'd punch you. I'd say that's torture. As a 16-year-old kid viewing this stuff, all I know is that it felt wrong.” When he described kids whose parents seemed like they might never come back, he broke down crying. “Nothing too terrible happened to me,” he said. “I played the game as much as I needed to.” Other Anchor alumni say these punishments were wildly exaggerated by boys who were so undisciplined that getting up before noon could be spun into an act of torture. Daniel Minnick, who started in Corpus Christi in 1999 and then returned as a staff member in Montana intermittently until 2003, described Anchor as a “watered-down” version of the military, which he later joined. “We had it easy,” Daniel said. “I almost think that some of the folks that see it in a bad light never woke up to adult responsibilities.” Was there violence? Daniel said, “Obviously you put those kind of youth in an environment with each other, there's going to be tension. One student is going to punch another student. Was that tolerated or perpetuated by staff members? No. But were there times I recall somebody got punched in the face? Sure. Boys will be boys.” One theme that pervaded every interview for this story conducted about Anchor, particularly after its rebirth in the late 1990s, was the idea that the program fostered a very particular subculture that outsiders would find perplexing. One young man interrupted himself constantly to say, “It's so crazy. It's so crazy.” Several said that the school’s current head, Dennis McElwrath, or Brother Dennis as they call him, had a select group of boys come to his room each night. Those boys would rub his feet and serve as informants on what was happening outside of his gaze. “They tried to get me to rub feet,” Michael Quinn said. “They woke me up in the middle of the night.” He was sleepy and confused. “Then the kid came back and said, 'Never mind, go to bed.'” Michael paused and then spoke, as if responding to this late-night silhouette of a boy from a decade before: “You're damn right! That's the weirdest thing ever!”   Maurice Chammah / JJIE Jeffrey Barnes at home in Universal City, Texas Anchor Academy and Anchor Baptist Church sit on one corner of the main intersection in Vanduser, Miss., the nicest buildings in a town of decaying wooden houses and vast cotton fields. Dennis McElwrath was standing on the front porch, chatting with a group of young men when I drove up on a recent Tuesday. Over a dinner of goulash, string beans, and garlic bread, McElwrath gave me a broad overview of how he transformed the old Roloff’s Anchor Home into Anchor Academy. He introduced financial literacy classes and set up accounts so the boys — he calls them “the fellas” — could get paid for work at the cotton gin and other projects, taking their savings when they left the home. He said that the two major issues facing young men today are the fracturing of families and the emphasis on status — physical, social, financial — which makes them feel inadequate. He mentioned the high rate of teen suicide. “They get to a place where they don't want to face it anymore. We want a young man to come here and be safe, to know that they're not going to be made fun of or ridiculed.” He said that assigning guide students to newcomers and strictly managing who new students can talk to is part of the process of “putting the past in the past.” The guide students are supposed to exert “positive peer pressure” and the enforced silence keeps the new boys from “reinforcing old addictions.” When we finally got to disciplinary policies, McElwrath was not defensive about the accusations of abuse we had both read on the Internet. He chose the analogy of traffic tickets, which if unpaid may lead to higher fines and then jail time. Small disciplinary infractions had minor penalties, he said, and the vast majority of the time that was enough. Maurice Chammah / JJIE Anchor Academy Classroom, Vanduser, Mo. He said that the practices described by alumni I had spoken with were consequences given to only a tiny percentage of students who simply would not follow the rules, and that many of the most intransigent boys made a game of taunting staff members. He pointed to his bald spot and described an instance where one student had to run a single lap on the track as punishment and instead stood in place, ridiculing McElwrath as he got bitten by mosquitoes. "There are kids with unbelievable amounts of stubbornness,” McElwrath said. “There are times where you're worn to a complete frazzle. To them it's a game, to us it's like, 'Will anything get through to them?'” He said that in order to lower the number of boys like this, he increased the minimum age and started turning away kids whose problems were so severe that he felt the program could not help them. “I’m not going to tell you there haven’t been mistakes made,” he said, giving credence to the criticism that he does not have extensive training in counseling. He mentioned Anchor Academy’s only brush with the law, in 2004, when an employee named Justin Peterson was charged with fondling a 15-year-old student and was promptly fired. “There is no substitute for experience,” McElwrath said. “If you do things the wrong way a few times you're apt to learn the best way to do it, and we're always open to change in the program overall. ... I'm not going to have doctor's degrees on the wall, but after 15 years we've been around the block enough times and know the heart of young people.” After dinner, McElwrath gave me a tour of Anchor Academy, and I saw the perfectly-made cots, the cozy living spaces, the schoolroom with its individual desks and a school store with snacks you pay for with good grades and behavior, the clean and unadorned chapel, the vast stores of food, much of it fresh. All around me, boys were doing their evening chores: sweeping, cleaning plates from dinner, loading laundry by the armful. A few boys were on the phone with their parents. They nodded and smiled at McElwrath and I as we passed by. McElwrath described the boys and the staff as a family with their own particular habits and quirks. "You may certainly see things that appear as strange, and you can ask me anything,” he said. As an example, he said I might see one boy having a friend work the knots in his back, since he had been to the doctor for these knots and that was the prescribed treatment. Then, without prompting, McElwrath told me that he has a similar problem. “I have a lot of trouble with my feet; my feet will get so knotted up,” he said. “Sometimes guys will be a blessing and work on some of the knots in my foot.” The activities might seem strange to an outsider, he said, but “it's not uncommon when you live together. ... You’re with them all the time, it's like a family.”   The pervasiveness of abuse at residential homes for troubled teens has been well documented. In 2007, a series of deaths at residential programs for teens led to an investigation of teen deaths and “thousands of allegations of abuse” by the Government Accountability Office and a series of proposals for reforming the regulation of teen homes that since then have failed in Congress. In 2009, House Resolution 911, which would have created a national database of programs and increased access to abuse hotlines for teens, passed the House but did not make it through a Senate committee. In the years since, bills have not fared better. The Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Acts of 2011 and 2013 failed. The same bill was reintroduced this past February and has stalled in committee. There are advocacy organizations trying to increase awareness of the issue. Two of the men I interviewed found one another through a group called HEAL, which aims, in the words of its coordinator, Angela Smith, to “improve laws so children and families are better informed and protected from fraud and abuse.” A group called Survivors of Institutional Abuse recently held their annual conference in New York City, where alumni and parents of schools like the Roloff homes traded stories. But often there is little agreement about whether what occurred should be considered abuse. Just as there were men who still appear traumatized by what they witnessed and experienced, others remember a kind, peaceful environment. Feelings of where a line has been crossed — and where the law should get involved — are inconsistent, and might even change over time for a single person. Many of the boys simply accepted their experiences, but then, years later as adults, came to see what happened to them as wrong. Often it took finding someone else who had the same experience to validate the idea that what happened truly was wrong. If it was illegal, there is little recourse: In many cases around the country, staff at abusive residential programs have not been prosecuted due to the passing of statutes of limitations. Still, just acknowledging what occurred can sometimes feel like its own small victory. About a decade after they left Anchor, in 2012, Sam found Michael living in Houston. They hadn’t spoken in years, but Sam drove down from his home in Dallas and they spent the day together. They found themselves coloring in each other’s sketchy memories of Anchor. “For a long time I started to believe I dreamed it,” Michael said. Sam “showed up and said, ‘Hey, this stuff really did happen.’ ... He made it real.” This story was produced for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange with support from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.  Source:
Reporter’s Notebook: Allegations Still Plague Religious Homes for Troubled Teens By: Maurice Chammah | July 11, 2014View as "Clean Read" ShareEmail Print Ocala Star-Banner The Anchor Home for Boys was one of many homes founded by a magnetic Baptist preacher and radio personality named Lester Roloff. AUSTIN, Texas — While reporting recently on abuse allegations at a home for troubled teens, I realized that the article I was writing had been written before. Sure, nobody had written about the Anchor Home for Boys, founded in Corpus Christi in the 1960s and reopened as Anchor Academy in Montana and then Missouri. Nobody had written about the boys who accuse the school of forcing them to spend hours exercising in freezing conditions with improper clothing, of barring them from speaking to anyone but a direct superior, of giving them nothing but peanut butter sandwiches to eat, of sleep deprivation and group beatings. “Put your back against the wall and put your leg at a 90-degree angle and raise your arms,” one young man told me of a punishment he saw meted out. “If you drop your leg I’d punch you. If you drop your arms I’d punch you. If you say ‘no’ I’d punch you. I’d say that's torture.” But I wasn’t the first one to find these sorts of stories, not by a long shot. Over the past two decades, dozens of unlicensed residential facilities for teens struggling with drug problems and various behavioral issues have been accused of physical and sexual abuse. A handful of these programs are based in Baptist thinking about the necessity of physical discipline in correcting a sinful path. (“Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them,” Proverbs 13:24). The Anchor Home for Boys was one of many homes founded by a magnetic Baptist preacher and radio personality named Lester Roloff. A tall, skinny man with a warm smile and soulful voice, Roloff clashed with the state of Texas throughout the 1970s over licensing and oversight for his children’s homes. After his death in 1982, his successors continued to fight regulation. Over time, Texas grew inhospitable, homes directly or indirectly tied to Roloff’s legacy sprouted in Missouri, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. If you’ve ever heard of Roloff’s homes, it may be because of a wave of news coverage between 1999 and 2001. A newly elected President George W. Bush established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which aimed to “eliminate unnecessary legislative, regulatory, and other bureaucratic barriers that impede effective faith-based and other community efforts to solve social problems.” A mouthful, yes, but in plain terms this often meant leaving church-run treatment centers to operate without much state intervention. Opponents of this idea found ample ammunition in the stories coming out of Roloff’s homes, which Bush, while governor, had invited back to Texas. In the Washington Post, Hanna Rosin reported on Roloff’s Lighthouse, where two boys spent more than 10 hours digging in a dirt pit after being tied to a truck and dragged through brush. In Texas Monthly, Pamela Colloff wrote about Roloff’s Rebekah Home for Girls (the sister school to the Anchor Home), where one girl was beaten, chained in a room alone and forced to listen to Roloff sermons. In The American Prospect, Maia Szalavitz wrote a column called “Why Jesus is not a Regulator,” in which she described how some children had died in poorly regulated facilities, and many more suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Those stories faded away as 9/11 took over the news cycle. Then, a few years ago, they reappeared. In Mother Jones, Kathryn Joyce wrote about torturous punishments at the Roloff-inspired New Beginnings Ministries. The Tampa Bay Times and the New Orleans Times-Picayune published long investigations on schools in their states. On CNN, Anderson Cooper ran a segment called “UnGodly Discipline.” In almost every instance, administrators at these schools who go on the record argue that some physically demanding discipline is necessary to work with the most difficult-to-reach young people. At the Anchor Home for Boys and Anchor Academy, I heard numerous stories from young men who had a great time and believe that the abuse allegations are trumped up by men who, in the words of one former staffer, “never woke up to adult responsibilities.” Though attitudes about appropriate disciplinary practices for children have certainly shifted over the last decade and a half, the debate on them is hardly closed. It is part of a permanently unfinished conversation about the best way to help children, one that reaches far past questions of state and federal oversight. Urging that conversation forward, there will be journalists digging around, documenting stories of abuse. The homes of Lester Roloff will long be a place for them to look. Financial supporters of The JJIE may be quoted or mentioned in our stories. They may also be the subjects of our stories. Source:
7/7/21: COPE Conversion Program Progress Report: Anchor Academy
7/21/21: Daniel In A Lion's Den by Robin S.


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