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Schools, Programs, & Visit Reports - Jan, 1990 Issue 


Shamrock Acres
Lon Woodbury's Visit: December, 1989

To step into the main building of Shamrock Acres in Eastern Washington is similar to receiving a big warm fuzzy. It feels, and looks, very comfortable. It is a well lit, clean, and well cared for home.

Brian and Betty O'Donnel have been running Shamrock Acres for 25 years, and know what they are doing every minute of the day. I visited them on December 7 and 8th, and the comfortable control they have is very impressive. The focus is to keep the boys in school, and to provide a home type environment.

The no-nonsense approach aims at giving each boy all the elements possible of a strong, stable home. Every boy attends the local public school, is required to participate in a school sport, and is given a "strong dash of Reality Therapy." The staff is as quick to say "that's the way it is," as they are to say "good job," all depending on what is needed at the moment to help guide the boy to an increased sense of self-worth and success.

The therapy focus is on handling day-to-day problems or concerns as they arise. If a boy is lying, it is confronted and there are appropriate consequences. If a boy's grades are down, Study Table is required every evening, among other consequences. If a boy is angry at his parents, he is helped through those feelings to the love that has been buried.

With my background of working in highly structured, intense therapeutic schools, I was amazed at some of the success stories of this softer approach. They have been successful with some boys who had failed in more highly structured and intense special purpose boarding schools. For example, T______ had been heavily involved with drugs and was depressed enough to have been hospitalized. He even threatened suicide when he heard he was being sent to Eastern Washington state. However, after one year at Shamrock Acres, he returned to his old high school, and this year has a 3.8 grade point, is playing in the school jazz band, and has remained off drugs and away from his old friends.

Shamrock Acres has successfully worked with boys with heavy drug problems, and those who have run away from home. The most resistant boy very quickly gets the idea there is something for him at Shamrock Acres. There is an occasional run-away, but they almost always come back.

There were 17 boys there when I visited, and Brian O'Donnel feels the capacity is 24.

They have a different twist in the animals for the kids to take care of. There are 10 Llamas, a couple Emus (a smaller cousin of the Ostrich), several Peacocks, along with a couple rabbits (the first black and white rabbit I've ever seen), two cats and two gentle dogs. I'll warn you of the Peacocks. They love to perch in trees overnight, right over visitor's cars.

Copyright 1990, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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