Youth firefighters from Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp learn about rescued animals.

Youth firefighters from Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp learn about rescued animals.

By Deborah Brady, Youth Correctional Counselor
Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp

On Feb. 17, Pine Grove Youth Conservation Camp (PGYCC) took an educational outing to the PAWS Wildlife Sanctuary in San Andreas.

PAWS is a non-profit agency that relies on donations from people to help rescue animals living in unsafe conditions. Two PGYCC staff and 21 firefighters were treated to a tour of their facility by Co-Founder Ed Stewart. They were taught about the behaviors of the animals, and the importance of removing them from the situations they were in before they were brought to the sanctuary. The group learned about elephants, tigers, bears, lions and panthers.

“Field trips like this are important for the youth in their rehabilitation,” said PGYCC Superintendent Mike Roots. “It’s educational because they learn about the animals, and it also teaches them the importance of volunteering, and giving back to the community, not to mention learning the importance of teamwork and the hard work it takes to pull something like this off.”

The youth offenders also learned about tigers and other rescued animals.

The youth offenders also learned about tigers and other rescued animals.

PAWS  is a place of refuge where abused, injured and abandoned captive wildlife may live in peace and dignity for the remainder of their lives, according to organizers. They don’t breed or exploit their animals for commercial activities such as entertainment, sports, sale of animals, or animal parts.

These facilities often function as the end-of-the-line for surplus animals who can no longer earn dollars for mainstream zoos, circuses, traveling shows and exotic pets.

The guys especially enjoyed learning about the behaviors of the elephants. The volunteers spend a lot of time teaching the elephants how to work with them in order to take care of the elephants’ personal hygiene and care. We enjoyed our visit immensely, and were very grateful that they were given this opportunity. Pine Grove Camp would like to extend a sincere thank you to the PAWS Organization.

Community integration is vital to youth rehabilitation and success at PGYCC. The purpose of this important relationship between successful community integration of youth and the support of the community environment is the unique interaction between youth and community members, Roots said.

Off-grounds trips such as the PAWS Wildlife Sanctuary, ACRA Recreation Events, and the Upcountry Lion’s Student Speaker Contest contribute to rehabilitation efforts by promoting and supporting, among other things, community participation, social relationships, social skills development, and new perspectives on identity.

“Youth at PGYCC identify as young men, students, firefighters, athletes, and community members. Community reintegration is an important goal of youth at PGYCC, as excursions off grounds help the youth to maintain balance in everyday life outside of the correctional experience. A significant impact has been made on youth as they lessen their vulnerability to separation to community through incarceration and strengthen their success potential when provided opportunities to community interaction,” Roots said.

According to Roots, the process of integration begins when the youth offenders first step foot onto the grounds at Pine Grove.

“PGYCC staff work diligently to start youth integration at the beginning of a youth’s participation in programs. From their arrival, to their fire crew training, to education, to cultural enrichment and recreational activities, community reintegration is a planned strategy in order to facilitate successful transition to probation, parole, or release,” he said. “PGYCC strives to accomplish the ultimate goal of a permanent successful transition into youth’s local communities of residence by having them connect, work, experience, and serve in their current community.”

Two Pine Grove staff and 21 youth offenders visited a wildlife sanctuary.

Two Pine Grove staff and 21 youth offenders recently visited a wildlife sanctuary.