Soaring higher: Eagle Village’s programs, services look to expand

Eagle Village offers programs for our kids on-site as we can. This includes education at Ashmun School, Eagle Village’s own accredited charter school as well as medical services and more. (Courtesy photo)

This is the final article of a three-part series about Eagle Village, it’s programs and services and history. Today’s article focuses on the future of Eagle Village.

HERSEY — Since its inception more than 50 years ago, Eagle Village has grown from a program for juvenile delinquents to one which today, provides a wide-range of services for children of all ages.

Four hundred adoptions, 10,000 campers and more than 7,500 residential program children later, Eagle Village in Hersey utilizes its different programs — foster care and adoption, intervention camps, community programs and residential services — to provide children the best environment of their life and a pathway toward success, said Cathey Prudhomme, Eagle Village president and daughter of founders Kermit and Jean Hainley.

“We work with a continuum of services and they start with education, prevention, intervention and treatment,” she said. “Everything from a variety of camps, trainings for schools and communities on how to be resilient, mentally strong and have strong character.”

Prudhomme

After 50 years of providing a variety of programs and services, Prudhomme said the future for Eagle Village continues to get brighter and brighter, as programs become stronger and partnerships develop throughout the area.

“In our immediate future, what we’re most excited about today, is a career and trade center that we’re breaking ground on in the next couple of weeks,” she said. “We will be able to actively give the kids certificate-based endorsements, not just exposure, so they can enter the job market ahead of their competitors.”

Prudhomme said the focus for the center will be laddering skills — from basic, entry level to advanced skills in a certain field — whether it’s in health care or food service.

“These will be certificates that are external to Eagle Village, but allow our kids to leave with true credentials to enter the job market.” she said. “We’re really excited about that next step. We will be in that facility, and we’re already offering some of those trainings now.”

Growth already is being seen with the recent opening of an office in Big Rapids, the first off-site office which Prudhomme said shows great potential for its foster care and adoption programs.

“Before we opened it, we were already at capacity,” she said. “We’re offering more therapeutic support to better serve the community, continuing to do more assessment work. That’s really in the future, psychological or other types of assessments to help families. We’re really focusing on the family and working directly with the family, hopefully avoiding some of the system and how to support their child, how to best work together, parent education and support for adoptive families.

“There will still be a need for foster care in the future. Our focus is to better train and equip foster families, because the children that are being placed in their homes have greater and greater needs. Parent education in the future, when the children start to have challenges, which is happening at younger and younger ages.”

Big Rapids is the first of four potential regional offices targeted by Eagle Village, Prudhomme said.

The art room at Eagle Village allows children to get in touch with their creative side. Officials would like to add a music and drama room to expand experiences for children. (Pioneer photo/Brandon Fountain)

Its community resiliency Victor’s Edge, a program for teens and schools, also will see growth.

“We’ve seen great growth within that program as schools are continuing to be challenged,” Prudhomme said. “Our approach to antibullying is different — rather than saying don’t bully, we talk about mental strength and respect and how to be honoring beyond that understand the path you’re going and how to rebrand. It’s a program we do for schools focused on help in ninth grade, as it is such a pivot year, with behaviors, cliques and social disruptions. If we can facilitate some different perspectives and give kids more sensitivity and resilience to understand how they can interact.”

Prudhomme said the program is an introduction of an intentional culture, rather than waiting for one to emerge.

“We work with teachers and the growth that comes out of that program means more professional development for teachers, so they know they can do what they have to with other disruptive behaviors or emotional needs and how does that function in the classroom.

“We’re exploring some other programs that will layer onto that target area to keep that positive growth moving.”

Prudhomme said schools like Harrison, McBain and Mesick participate, and partnerships with Ferris State University’s athletic teams continue to be popular.

Those partnerships also extend past the Victor’s Edge program, she added, noting Eagle Village work with social work and criminal justice programs to provide interns with an educational experience to help them train and get practical experiences.

While programs grow, Prudhomme said it’s important to keep and seek out quality employees to help children be successful.

“The best employee is one who wants to make a difference in the life of a child,” she said. “Our kids, they don’t come in easy packages. It’s not just coming in and playing with the kids. There’s a lot of training and support, a lot of seeing some things that can be pretty shocking. We always look for people who have a heart for our kids and are willing to engage the kids.”

The crew of transporters put nearly 35,000 miles on vehicles each month, as they drive kids and families to different places, from court events, sibling meetings and doctor’s appointments, Prudhomme said.

One of only three assessment centers in Michigan, this facility comprehensively reviews the history and current well-being of children ages 8-17 who suffer from unknown mental health and behavior issues. (Courtesy photo)

“(These experiences) can be a pretty traumatic time for our kids,” she explained. “Our crew tend to be semi-retired or their post-retirement job. They have more maturity and they have a huge impact on these kids, as they’re having those conversations coming and going to these vulnerable times in these kids’ lives.”

With youth specialists from a variety of backgrounds, Prudhomme said many left traditional job settings because they wanted to make a difference and do something that impacts lives.

“This is a great place to work,” she said. “We have full-time staff with benefits, all of the things employment would have, and first to third-shift jobs. But really, if you want to make a difference in the life of a kid, it’s amazing. You have to watch out, because it will get under your skin in a hurry.”

With weekly training and monthly staff meetings, the small community of staff members aim to create a positive environment for the children.

Prudhomme said she also sees great need in the future to help fix the winding roads throughout Eagle Village, while also working on the career and trade center.

“We want to provide opportunities for our kids,” she said. “We would like to put in a music and drama room and enhance our library and sensory room.”

Essentially, Prudhomme said, Eagle Village needs just about everything, as state funding is strictly used for what is required by the state.

“The state pays a per-day rate for the kids to be here,” she said. “However, we know the things that actually make an impact are the experiential programs, like the family program, spiritual life and the trauma-informed programs. The added things, like getting the kids out to the community, helping them get some of these ‘normal’ experiences, all of those things are what we fundraise for. They’re not paid for. That’s one kind of support we need.”

Another need ahead is for more volunteers for those who enjoy activities with kids, Prudhomme said.

“We have volunteers who bake birthday cakes for the kids, others do art or even come in and share songs,” she said. “We’re interested in whatever are some people’s interests. Support given for these added experiences help support our volunteers.”

Volunteers can help paint or rake around campus to help maintain the buildings and amenities which is always appreciated, Prudhomme noted.

Recent legislation in the form of the Families First Act is going to significantly change funding for kids who are in the high-risk area, Prudhomme said.

“The greatest barrier today is that money is not available for prevention or early prevention or for post-care support,” she said. “Today, the money that comes in is for kids who are placed. This new legislation opens the wings, making some available for intervention to prevent kids from going into foster or residential care. There’s more money to support families on the other end, families will be able to get the support they need to continue to be successful.”

As for other Eagle Village programs, Prudhomme sees those continuing and possibly growing.

“Residential programs are always going to be needed,” she said. “Really, there’s sometimes a strong bias for residential care, but the truth is, when our kids hit those walls, they need the support, structure and time out from all the other pressures so they can grow and regain awareness. Some of those kids can’t do that in the chaos of community, there’s always going to be a need for residential care.”

Prudhomme said she’d like to see the residential program resemble more of an academy-type of environment rather than punitive.

“Trying it that way, isn’t about punishment, but opportunity and growth and learning to rebrand yourself into the future,” she said. “I’d love to say there won’t be a need for Eagle Village in the future, but I think the need will be greater. We need to position ourselves in a way to be a community resource, for education and training and intervention. But we are still here when we are needed for that treatment approach.”

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Posted by Brandon Fountain

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