Escapes from VisionQuest prompt changes

October 15, 1997


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

SOUTH MOUNTAIN, Pa. - VisionQuest officials announced plans Tuesday to make some major changes in response to 38 escapes this year from its environmental camp on Rocky Mountain Road.

"To improve and strengthen the structure and scope of the program at South Mountain Lodge, a comprehensive plan of action is being implemented," VisionQuest's Lodgemaster Jake Devonshire said in a prepared statement.

Nine juveniles escaped from the unfenced camp last month and three more fled Oct. 2, bringing the total to 38 escapes reported to Pennsylvania State Police this year.


In the last escape, two juveniles and an 18-year-old stole a car from a camp employee and headed east on U.S. 30 before they were captured in New Oxford, Pa.

One of two camps at VisionQuest, which houses troubled but nonviolent youthful offenders, will be converted to a military-style camp focusing on discipline, honor and respect, Devonshire said.

Plans for the military-style camp include building a separate facility on the property that will house the youths who now sleep in tepees, said Pat Yeager, VisionQuest's community liaison.

Yeager declined to comment further on the new facility, saying that more details will be available next month. The number of juveniles assigned to the camp will not change, she said.

VisionQuest officials expect to have the new program in place in three to six months.

But neighbors of the youth camp, concerned about their safety, remain skeptical of the proposed changes, saying they've heard similar promises from VisionQuest before.

"I hope that they can hold up to all of this, but I have my doubts," said Patti Wagaman, of Coral Ridge Road, who has campaigned for more security at the facility since it opened in 1992.

Wagaman said she's still planning to file a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I really seriously doubt there's going to be much of a change," she said.

The camp also will see some immediate changes in the quality of staff as officials focus on recruitment and training, Devonshire said in the prepared statement.

The nearly 100 employees at VisionQuest already are going through retraining programs, Yeager said.

Administrators also are looking into employee salaries and compensation issues, she said.

To increase support and direct on-site supervision, VisionQuest's operations administrator and his family will be living in a new modular unit residence on site, Yeager said.

"He has direct responsibility for all operations functions at the camp and living there will provide extra support and accountability for the staff," Yeager said.

The changes at the camp are the result of an internal investigation led by Devonshire and VisionQuest President Steve Rogers.

The investigation included interviews with staff, the youth, and advisory board members that led to "the development of a plan of action to significantly reduce the number of runaway episodes," the statement said.

"VisionQuest is developing a plan of action to again promote community trust and ensure safety," the statement said.

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