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Boys see the light at Arrowhead

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Nobuko Oyabu

Arrowhead Ranch residents study in their science classroom. The residential treatment center for troubled teenaged boys near Coal Valley teaches them how to good citizenship, along with more traditional studies.

COAL VALLEY -- The extravagant Christmas light display put up by the students of Arrowhead Ranch almost didn't happen this winter.

Superintendent Gary Brown was beginning to think it was too much work -- until he visited nearby Oak Glen Home.

``Two ladies there said they could hardly wait,'' he said, ``so if it makes them happy ...''

Mr. Brown doesn't want to let anyone down, and he expects the same thing from the students he tries to mold into responsible citizens. Arrowhead, in its 52nd year, is one of the best facilities of its kind in the state. Part of that success is because of Mr. Brown who has been at Arrowhead 26 years.

``It is hard to track some of these kids because they move around so much,'' Mr. Brown said, ``but I think it is safe to say 70 percent are successful in that they don't end up being a burden on you or me.''

The facility and its success inspires loyalty in students, staff and the community at large, according to Mr. Brown.

He said there are four reasons for the success of the 74-bed Ranch, a residential treatment facility serving troubled boys between 13 and 18.

-- Staff loyalty and longevity.

-- The program, ``Positive Peer Culture.''

-- The Ranch's board of directors.

-- The support of the Moline school board.

Before the positive peer culture program was installed more than 20 years ago, Mr. Brown remembers the trouble the facility had.

``Unless I was here, physically, there wasn't much control,'' he recalled.

The program took two years to take hold, not just in the students, but the staff as well.

``(The students) control and change each other,'' Mr. Brown said. ``The staff has to stand back and observe. However, if there is a severe problem, the staff will intervene.''

The program, developed in Red Wing, Minn., has worked. Part of the program requires students to do jobs like washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms and making beds each day. He hopes the Ranch's success rate will increase even more with a proposed group home on the grounds.

The success of the program has allowed Arrowhead students to become involved in community projects like Festival of Trees in Davenport and the Ranch's long-standing commitment to the PGA golf tournament under its many incarnations.

The students' community involvement is another major part of their rehabilitation, Mr. Brown said. ``Our kids need to be in the community. That helps their self-esteem.

``When they hear, `We couldn't do it without you,' do you know how that makes them feel?'' Mr. Brown asked.

In return, the Quad-Cities has embraced Arrowhead Ranch and its good works. People flock there every fall for the annual Arrowhead Ranch Roundup, which includes an open house, food and an auction of donated items.

``The community supports us because we don't just sit out here,'' Mr. Brown said. ``We are out in the community. If you see our boys out in the community, they behave tremendously.''

However, Mr. Brown admits the boys at Arrowhead Ranch are not perfect citizens. That is why they are there.

``We encourage problems,'' he said. ``We tell these boys, `Don't come out here and be a good little boy, because you are not a good little boy.'|''

Arrowhead had a new athletic facility built in 1992 and renovated the old gymnasium into a new education center in 1994. Also opening in 1994 was a Medicaid program serving 24 Department of Children and Family Services clients.

Although Arrowhead's athletic facilities have helped make good athletes, Mr. Brown said sportsmanship always comes first.

``We teach them that we want to go out and win, but we want them to be good citizens, too,'' Mr. Brown said. ``When we compete we always come back with the citizenship award.''

That, he said, is a start.

-- By Kurt Allemeier (January 26, 1998)

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