Eagle Pines Academy
Woodside Trails may be gone, but the wooded acreage for which it was named still remains – and now that many of Woodside's former campers have "aged out" of the foster-care system (at 18 years old), half a dozen have returned to the rustic setting they once called home. The transition from state care to independent adulthood can be especially tricky for foster kids, and Bebe Gaines hopes that she can ease that transition. Gaines has been trying to help them in any way she can, she says – "help them find cars, help them find jobs, help them with relationships" – and in the process, she seems to have hit upon a win-win idea for the kids, the land, and the surrounding community: an educational program in which young adults can learn skills for sustainable living.
Living sustainably was always part of the Woodside experience, to a degree – campers learned carpentry and self-sufficiency as part of their therapy. The kids who have returned are carrying on that tradition, but they're updating it, too. Now, they want to learn how to build adobe, straw-bale, and cob houses, as well as learn about photovoltaic installation, organic gardening, and biofuel technologies. Green skills, says Gaines, are a particularly good fit for former foster children: "It's a brand new field. It doesn't require extensive formal education and credentialing, plus there's a lot of funding available right now. Many of these kids end up not being able to pay their bills. Many never get to own anything. We can teach them how to live frugally and how to give back, as well."
The school's mission is multifaceted: It will be a "trade-school, demonstration-project, community education center for sustainable living," says Gaines. It is coordinated through the Eagle Pines Academy, a former Smithville boarding school, and will eventually provide six-month, one-year, and two-year programs – but right now, the program is more modest. Earlier this month, students held their first workshop – on rainwater harvesting – funded by a grant from the Lower Colorado River Authority. About 35 people showed up from the surrounding community, a mix of people there to learn, to share their knowledge, and to donate money to the school – a nonprofit organization. The rainwater collection tank that they built will be used, among other things, for watering the garden and washing clothes.
"Older [foster] kids are an underserved population," says Gaines. "They need marketable skills, but they're kind of an unusual work force. They need more attention. They have a cross between being entitled and having low self-esteem. They're a very challenging group of kids." Of course, says Gaines, these kids aren't really kids at all. But though they range in age from 18 to 24, some are not quite grownups, either. The hope is that Eagle Pines will change that.
To learn more or to make a donation to Eagle Pines Academy, e-mail email@example.com.