Camp For Troubled Men May Locate Next To Scout Camps

The City of Dallas is considering a zoning change that may put a facility, with a troubled past, for up to 100 men with "life controlling issues" next door to Dallas' oldest Girl Scout camp, and a neighboring Boy Scout camp.

The planned facility could be located at Camp El-Har and will be operated by Teen/Life Challenge of Dallas--loosely affiliated with the Assembly of God Church.

Teen/Life Challenge Executive Director Paul Ecker defended the facility. "I am a father myself," said Ecker, "and the last thing I want to do is to place children in a position where they would be harmed."

Ecker explained that all men entering the facility undergo extensive background checks. "We do not allow sex offenders, or those on mood-altering medication into the program," said Ecker, an ordained minister for the Assembly of God Church.

The facility will also exclude men with a history of violence.

"We're always concerned about safety which is why we [plan to install] appropriate fencing and cameras."

Asked about the facility's relationship with paroled offenders, Ecker said, "[the facility] is not a halfway house."

According to Ecker, between 15 and 30 percent of all the facility's residents are under some sort of court oversight. The majority of the men in the program participate on a voluntary basis.

"Most [of the troubled men] come to us voluntarily," explained Ecker. "For instance, their pastor may refer them to us."

According to Ecker, the program has been around 49 years. "I've been the Executive Director for 26 years."

However, not everything with the program has been smooth. In 1998, Teen/Life Challenge of Dallas and Ecker were sued by an 18 year old man who claimed he was sexually abused when he was 16 by a worker at the ranch--then in Winnsboro.

The lawsuit accused Ecker and the ranch's board of hiring known criminals as counselors.

"We're not permitted to talk about those cases," Eckert said.

Dallas District Court records indicate that the case was settled in 2001. The amount of the settlement was not available, but the record indicates the judgment went against Teen/Life Challenge.

The zoning case is due before the Dallas Plan Commission on Thursday, June 21 at 1:30. The Girl Scouts of North Texas released a statement expressing concern and urging parents to voice opposition at the meeting:

"Camp El Har, a 52-acre site bordering Camp Whispering Cedars, is currently under contract for sale to Teen/Life Challenge of Dallas, Inc., pending approval of a zoning change request by the City of Dallas Planning Commission. The request is to "amend the planned development ordinance to add a use of Group Residential Facility as an allowed use by right."

Their plan is to provide a residential facility for 100 men who suffer from "life-controlling issues" such as substance abuse or other addictions. While we acknowledge that the mission of this organization is a worthy one, in today's climate, even the perception of a safety issue could harm our council."

Still, Ecker insists the facility will be safe. "Heaven forbid we'd want to hurt anybody."


Permit was denied

As you may have heard, today the City Plan Commission denied the request for the permit.

It is not a slight on the good work that the Teen/Life program has done and can achieve in the future. But many of the folks in attendance felt that it was not a good idea to put it next to the camps that were in place.

Potential Neighbors For Scouts

Having a "Troubled Men" facility VERY NEAR a Girl Scout and Boy Scout Organization does not make good sense at all to a rationally thinking individual.

However --- to the the Zoning Authority (and some on the City Council), the zoning proposal will perhaps be thought of as a means to further reduce crime.

[Ed Note: I am not convinced that this "twist" was ever considered by city staff. As a scout leader, and a dad with kids in both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, I applaud Life Challenge's efforts, but I share the sentiment that there might be a more appropriate place than next door to children's camps.

For instance (hypothetical): can you imagine the repercussions if there were to even be a minor incident involving men from the camp and children? It would be disastrous for the city, the Life Challenge camp and the Scouting programs.

I interviewed Mr. Ecker yesterday morning, and he seemed like a very decent guy with nothing but honorable intentions. I understand why they want a facility located close to the men whose lives they are trying to impact.

That being said, a minor incident could ruin his organization and seriously damage the reputation of the scouting programs. No matter how good the security, it would only take one "breach" and it's all over but the crying!]

Potential Neighbors For Scouts

Oak Cliff is the only part of Dallas I have ever lived since coming here in 1979.

If we are ever to get high quality, positive development here, we must end the perceptions that Oak Cliff is a "dumping ground" for all of the undesirable uses and facilities that Dallas as a whole does not want to deal with.

Oak Cliff has MORE THAN ITS SHARE of rehab and court-supervised facilities. It seems that when we get one, we then end up with ten! We start out serving people from Oak Cliff, then end up serving people from all over the region.

Honestly -- enough is enough!

Find another site for this facility -- preferably, one that is already zoned for this type of a use. Leave our pristine and undeveloped land for positive development that produce tax revenues and good, high-paying jobs.

[Ed Note: I wish someone would do some research on how much of that kind of "dumping" is in Oak Cliff. I've long said that South Dallas is the key to the city's success or failure. Much more attention needs to be paid to development in the area if Dallas is to succeed.]

From a Life Challenge Participant

Im in Dallas Life Challenge, and have been for the past 19 months. It has changed my life.

In my entire time here there has never been an incident outside of the ministry, and we are constantly around children at our borrowed facility of Lake View camp, where they have kids camps of over 1000 at a time.

We are descent people: your sons and daughters and followers of Christ.

Pray for us, Because this ministry changes and saves lives, and without a facility, we may not save someone you know who needs saving.

Camp El Har

A Girl Scout camp will fall prey to the kindness of our hearts because the now defunct Camp El Har is up for a zoning request by its new owners Teen/Life Challenge of Dallas--if Camp El Har is to be turned into a residential facility for young men ages 25-40 with life controlling issues.

I commend Teen/Life Challenge of Dallas Inc. for the fine work that they are doing, but I have to question their judgment in wanting to move into a property next door to a camp for young girls ages 5-17. To me this will set some of these men up for failure and will endanger the safety of young girls.

Our Girl Scout Camp borders the former Camp El Har and has been in existence for 83 years. It is a camp that has given back to the Girl Scouts and to the community in so many ways.

The camp properties share an old barbed wire fence between the two and it has fallen down in many areas.

The GS Camp is a camp I am very familiar with. I camped there as a child myself and now my grown daughters have had 13 wonderful years of troop camping, day camping, and many volunteering opportunities at this facility.

It is not only used for Girl Scouts, our council has a camp called "Camp We Can" and they bring in kids from the inner city that have not ever had the experiences of bonding with counselors, leaders and other kids in an outdoor setting.

I volunteered a couple of times where Girl Scouts and Texas Parks and Wildlife, in a joint effort, invited the kids from a private school which is a school for children with special needs. They had so much fun. I felt privileged to be asked to volunteer with these kids. They were awesome. I was very blessed.

Our council's largest population is here in the Dallas metroplex.

This is the only place in the city we have a camp ground . Some parents will only allow their kids to go to this camp because of its proximity.

If this zoning request is allowed, no parent will allow their daughter to be in such close proximity to this caliber of men. Inevitably the men and girls will come in contact with each other.

I am not saying IF this happens but, WHEN it happens. Nothing good can come from this!

If this zoning change is allowed. Another camp will be destroyed. Another victim of Katrina.

[Ed Note: You hit the nail on the head: it is not "if" it is "when." It will only take that one situation to destroy the program--and were I the board of Teen/Life Challenge, I'd worry about the loss of my investment in the camp as a result of it!]

Absolutely NOT!

This is the most stupid thing I have ever heard. With all the vacant acres we have around Dallas, the fact that a government authority is even considering putting a Troubled Men facility between a Girl Scout camp and a Boy Scout camp is pure madness!!

What part of "troubled men" don't they understand? Many of them will have anti-social personality disorder which is the old "out of favor" psychopath or sociopath diagnosis.

These guys are or have often been substance abusers and do not have a shared moral code with the rest of us. They will do things without even thinking they are wrong. They will lie, manipulate, steal, harass, and yes, even rape and assault if they need to do this to get what they want. It takes a long time to change these behaviors and being near kids in the process is shocking and of the highest risk.

If these government decision-makers aren't smart enough to think critically to see why this is an outrageous idea and how kids can easily get hurt, just tell them about law suits and nasty press when something happens....because something inevitably will.

[Ed Note: Keep in mind that this is up before zoning and planning. The entire Council will still have to vote to approve it.]

Keep Questionable "Ministry's" Away From Scouts

I understand fully why such a ministry for troubled folks should N-O-T NOT be placed in Southwest Dallas. For many years, Camp El Har served thousands of safe, law abiding children and adults from many communities without the fear of robbers and criminals being nearby. The biggest mistake that happened in 2005-06 was to end the successful ministries that Camp El Har provided for many years. I fully blame the folks responsible for making such arrogant and ignorant decisions to literally reduce and eliminate the great programs El Har had to offer. Before 2003, the former board members of Camp El Har were continuing to expand the camp for the good of the people. The Bible says to "Make disciples of ALL NATIONS!" As a former employee of Camp El Har, the camp did more than a great world of good for thousands of people that I witnessed for myself!! The best solutions to this problem: 1. Re-establish and restore Camp El Har as it was with all of the successful programs they had before 2003! 2. Move this other ministry to a distant and more open location, where those with serious issues can get the help they need without being a burden to folks like The Boy and Girl Scouts!!! Closing and ending Camp El Har the way they did in 2006 was more than a cost prohibitive mistake!! Literally, even elementary school children could have voted to keep Camp El Har alive!! It was totally sad to see this camp close as it did!!

An El Har Employee

I was an El Har employee the summer of 2006 when it closed. I worked there all summer and watched it die a little every day. They discontinued over night camp which was a mistake. Also the new director was terrible. He literally strangled the camp to death. He fired the summer director without grounds and then failed to raise enough funds to keep the camp alive. So the board had no choice but to go bankrupt and close. The director fired any counselor who had a small disagreement with him. He refused to take responsibility for anything and blamed everyone else for the camp's problems. Many counselors just straight up quit. I worked there the summer before (2005) and the atmosphere was much better. Never in El Har's history have so many counselors quit or been fired in one summer. It's terrible what happened to El Har and I would love to see it up and running again.

Nurse's Viewpoint

Dear Mr. Editor,

Sorry if I sounded so "know it all"! I'm a nurse who has run a suicide and crisis center in Collin County, am certified in substance dependence, come from a long line of drunks, have taught about substance abuse in the nursing program at Texas Woman's University. Finally, TA DA, I have a 37 year old son who has been sober for 18 years! it took him a good bit of time to have his peers in the 12 step program rub off his very rough edges,

We in the business and those with recovering (or not) family members know that getting and staying sober is just the beginning of sobriety.

All folks who have been addicted to something have all these really harmful behaviors swirling around their heads which can be as harmful to them and other as the actual drinking and drugs were.

These can be rage, manipulation, control issues, flawed conscience formation, lack of empathy for others and on and on.

If these guys had truly recovered from addiction and those behaviors, they would be building new lives and not needing not another containment program to get going again. They are not trustworthy to be placed next to a girl's camp. Actually, they should not be near families or unprotected kids at all.

Barbara Mathews Blanton MSN, RN, CARN

[Ed Note: Thanks, Barbara! Folks need to hear from professionals like you. Sounds like zoning will approve the change, then it's up to the city council to deal with the issue.]

Former Teen/Life Challenge Staff

I'm a former staff member of Teen/Life Challenge and this woman was a nurse where my wife was having contractions and she was bashing the program. She needs learn where to voice her opinions and not when someone is in dire need of nursing and not griping.

[Ed Note: Yes, I can imagine that would be a bit annoying.]

How to fight this thing

I know it sucks to take a day off work for this thing, but the best way to fight this is to go down there with your petitions and a show of force.

I wouldn't call myself a planning commission vet by any stretch but I've been down there a few times. And I have fought and won.

1) Again, go down there with a show of force. Numbers (of people) count.

2) Have someone attend the briefing which usually happens in the morning in the room behind the council chambers. You can't speak in this meeting but you can hear the cpc discuss the issue.

3) Have a copy of your petitions to submit to the Planning Commission when you speak.

4) Then make sure you speak your mind when the issue comes up.

5) Ask for it to be heard today and for it to be denied "with prejudice" meaning they couldn't apply to the CPC for two years. This would kill the deal, since the closing of the land purchase is likely tied to the approval.

What will likely happen:

It gets "held under advisement" (postponed) for some other day. Then you must be diligent in finding out when it appears again on the agenda.

If the CPC votes no, then they will have to get 3/4 vote at council. Also, the applicant does have the option of applying to council for the permit in 60 days.

A yes vote will be impossible with the new council, in my opinion.

I'm sure that Dave Neumann will kill this if somehow it makes it to Council, since he will be the District 3 councilperson if/when this makes it that far.

My numbers may be slightly off since I'm typing this late but that's how the process works.

Michael Davis
Dallas Progress

Life Challenge Participant

I'm a life challenge participant.

I went through the ministry several years ago and cannot even begin to explain how it blessed and changed my life forever.

What you may not know is that Life Challenge has been residing ON a children's camp near Waxahachie for many years.

We cannot let one incident determine the outcome of many souls that will surely perish if this program meets too much resistance.

When I was in the ministry, select men were allowed to help with camp activities and interact with the children. The children played a detrimental role in my own salvation.

Now a father myself, I do understand the concerns of everyone. For the love of God people, if you ever wanted to help anyone now is your chance. Just let go and let God take of the rest.

[Ed Note: This is an old debate that has been settled. Life Challenge is undoubtedly a noble project. Be that as it may, it deserves oversight and common-sense should prevail when locating a camp next to what could end up being a great temptation for someone in the program. Life Challenge will go on even without being next to the Girl and Boy Scout camps.]

Life Challenge Mom

I am a mother who will forever be grateful to the changed life of my son after going through the Life Challenge program. It saddens me to hear people be afraid of what they know nothing about. I wish those people who fear and criticize this great program would only attend a service where the men are singing and hear the many testimonies of the changed lives.