The Burke Center provides a haven for boys in need
At age 14, Shannon was placed by Child Protective Services at Pathfinder’s Ranch, a residential treatment center in Driftwood. There, he grew from a boy in desperate need of support, stability, and a reason to hope, into a young man who graduated from high school earlier this year and is now attending Austin Community College, with plans to transfer into Texas State University to study criminal justice.
In 1973, Rosemary Burke and Charlie Campise founded the Burke Center for Youth, which now includes four Child Placement Agency locations in Texas in addition to Pathfinder’s Ranch. “They were trying to help the most lost child in society, and that was the teenage boy,” says executive director Steve Fournier.
Steve, a former Air Force pilot of 25 years, has served as executive director for a year and a half. He began as a volunteer, renovating buildings. When the director position needed to be filled, Steve stepped up. “There was a reason I have all the training and leadership I have, to be here at the right time to help these boys,” he says. He’s led the way in improving policies, staffing, and facilities. “We specialize in helping boys 11 to 17 from all over Texas who have been severely traumatized or sexually abused,” Steve explains. The ultimate goal is for each boy to heal and learn enough to move into a foster home or permanent adoption.
Helping these boys grow and learn to cope with all they’ve been through is a multifaceted effort. The center is staffed with four therapists, full time care counselors, administrators, and an equine therapist. The equine program, involving rescue horses, is especially effective. “It is able to get into places in the boys’ minds they would never get in talking to a human,” Steve says. ‘We’ve had some major breakthroughs in the corral.”
Diane, the center’s equine therapist, relates the horses’ own experiences and behaviors to the boys’, enabling the boys to better understand themselves. Shannon has been grateful for the horse program. “Miss Diane is a wonderful woman who chooses to give her time to help us. We get to know ourselves better by learning about how the horses interact,” he says.
In addition to the equine program, volunteers teach residents all sorts of skills, from culinary arts and gardening to music and 4-H goat showing. “They teach us life skills. When I first got here, I didn’t have a sense of work ethic,” Shannon says. “I’ve now learned if there’s a job, let’s get it done.”
The center focuses first on providing the boys with an environment where they can rest assured they are totally safe and can depend on structure. “The staff helped me deal with all my emotions,” Shannon explains. “I come from an abusive background, and I had a bundle of emotions from depression to anger, and I didn’t know how deal with them. Some staff members have also had rough backgrounds, and they choose to come here every day and connect with us on a level deeper than many parents do with their children.”
The charter school on the ranch, with three teachers and a principal, provides the backbone of the boys’ education and is the reason Shannon graduated when he turned eighteen, despite being two years behind in school when he arrived.
When a boy arrives at Pathfinder’s, his future is never certain. However, the caring staff does make sure that every single boy who steps foot on the ranch feels safe and supported. “We have a 100% success rate in that every child that comes here is better off than when they showed up,” says Steve.
For more information on The Burke Center and volunteering or donating, visit burkecenterforyouth.org.