Alumni Questionnaire ← Back to Index

Julia Scheeres:

What is your name?

Julia Scheeres

To which institutions were you sent?

Escuela Caribe

How old were you?

17

When were you enrolled in The Program?

July 8, 1984 - June 3, 1985

What was the highest level you attained?

5th Level/ off points

Please describe the circumstances that got you sent to The Program:

My parents learned I'd had sex with my boyfriend, so I ran away from home rather than face my father's violence. I was arrested for violating curfew laws, then given the choice between declaring myself an emancipated minor and attending Escuela Caribe. I chose the latter because I didn't have the funds to support myself, and my brother was already down there. The school censored his outgoing mail, so he couldn't tell me what the program was really like.

In which house(s) did you live?

Starr

Please describe instances of abuse you experienced while in the program, if any:

- The founder of NHYM, Gordon Blossom, aka “The Pastor,” threatened to “strip me naked and beat me black and blue,” which he claimed he'd already done to another girl who refused to obey her parents

- We were routinely woken in the middle of the night by a referee whistle blast and made to do calisthenics in the living room while the housefather lectured us. This sleep deprivation affected both my emotional wellbeing and my academic progress.

Describe abuse of other students you witnessed, if any:

- I witnessed my little brother punched in the stomach by a teacher. David had refused to answer the teacher's question quickly enough, and the teacher hit him and continued to berate him. David and I were prohibited from communicating at the time, so I could do nothing to protect or console him. David was in the program from August 18, 1983 to February 6, 1985.

- I witnessed a “boxing match” staged between a scrawny 13-year-old student and the burly Dean of Students. The entire school was summoned to watch it. The Dean of Students hit the boy repeatedly until he was bleeding and fell on the ground. Message: conform or be conformed.

- I saw students forced to do exercises until they collapsed, and then get shrieked at for stopping.

Do you have any good memories of The Program? If so, what are they?

All my good memories are associated with living in the Dominican Republic, the beauty of the landscape and people, and have nothing to do with the program. The white sand beaches were gorgeous. The people were generous and kind.

What is your overall impression of The Program? Did it “help you”?

No. It taught me how to manipulate and front (pretend) to get what I wanted (release). It taught me to squelch my true emotions and tell people what they wanted to hear. It taught me to be untrusting. It was a traumatic event that I still revisit in nightmares, 20 years later.

What do you think of the quality of education you received?

Substandard. I took a lot of “bonehead” classes my freshman year of college to catch up to my cohort.

How old are you today?

38

Did you go to college after attending The Program? If so, what degrees do you have?

I have a B.A. in Spanish from Calvin College and an M.A. in Print Journalism from USC (University of Southern California)

What is your profession?

Journalist/author

Do you consider yourself a Christian today?

No

What effect did “The Program” have on your faith?

It made me lose my faith. The abuse I witnessed in the name of God made me resent organized religion and especially Christian fundamentalists. Of course I pretended to believe in God to get out of there quicker - you must conform to their religious ideology to graduate.

Please feel free to add comments here:

I hope that by revealing the truth about NHYM, Inc. we can dissuade parents from sending their children there and scarring them for life. Some people say that the Marion campus and the Canadian work camp aren't as extreme as Escuela Caribe; I don't know - I was only in EC. And there's a good reason EC is in the Dominican Republic: it's a foreign country where the school isn't governed by U.S. laws preventing child abuse and insuring academic quality. Because all mail and phone communications are censored, students cannot tell their parents what's really happening down there. It is our hope that by banding together now - in some cases decades after graduating from the school - we can ease our pain by making our experience public and commiserating with one another.

Escuela Caribe is a miserable place. It's founded on the concept that all students who are sent down there are "bad kids" who need to be punished. It doesn't take into consideration that many children come from homes where they were physically, sexually or emotionally abused, or that some students have documented mental health problems. NHYM's one-size-fits-all program is a simplistic approach to complicated issues. But itís also convenient dumping ground for wealthy evangelicals who don't want to deal with their troublesome teens.

The image of the teacher punching my little brother in the stomach, and my helplessness at not being able to defend or comfort him, will haunt me forever. It reminds me why it's important to expose the truth about NHYM, and possibly spare other children from similar abuse.

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