I would like to thank you,Mr. Cook, for putting the closure of Taft in a light that does tell the employees they have done a good job and that what they have worked to do with the Taft students has not been in vain. This is more than our Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner, and Governor have done.
For Laughing Boy--The employees at Taft are not asking for something bad to happen at another YDC. We are simply stating what we fear will happen because of the type of behavior that sent the boys to Taft. You need to come to Taft and observe the employees working with the students. The abuse and frustration and body fluids hurled at us daily do not deter us from working with these young men until we get them to a state of mind where they can accept what they are and move forward. It is because of the standards we believe in that we are able to do this every day and every night. We believe that we can make the student better than when we rceived him. These students are used to people giving up on them especially family or those close to them. The staff has to work hard to build that bond of trust. That takes time and the Taft seasoned staff has that kind of courage. Staff at the other YDC's are rarely there long enough to know the kids let alone work with them. The statistics prove us right, but when the students call us to check on us we see that "light" has been passed on to them. No, they don't all make it, but enough do to keep us going.
We are frustrated that our work has been and is taken so lightly. We take our work seriously and value what we have done. It is too bad that others do not see the value of our work for the sign of the almighty dollar. I hope I get to hand the "pink slips" to those who so richly deserve them. Receiving one when you have worked so hard and sacrificed so much to do your job to the max is embarrassing and humiliating. I just hope I get to return the favor.
Thank you, Mr. Cook, for finally saying what needs to be said about Taft Youth Development Center. The staff really needed a boost and you gave it. They work with what some have said are the worst offenders in the state, but many of these students are salvageable. They just need the "right approach,"and the seasoned Taft staff seems to know how to do that best: 100% GED graduation rate, state test scores are comparable and some surpass public high schools, fielding a football team who can hang together an entire season without being paid, students who finally are not ignored but are valued for what they can do---these are priceless. I doubt if Ms. O'Day and Gov. Haslam know what that means, but here goes my definition for staff: the check is not the issue, but coming home at night knowing you have done your very best to take care of each student; getting the results of the GED test and doing "high fives" with students; seeing these "bad boys" mature into the "young men" of Taft; watching them begin to think on their own with positive thoughts; and feeling that "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." As any staff member will tell you, this is hard work. But the result is worth the effort. The recent graduation at Taft was one of the most emotional events in the lives of the graduates, staff, and guests. It was there a mother told a story of her son's treatment at Taft, and I don't think there was a dry eye in the room. Yes, even Buford Pusser would have cried.
Your article made the staff think about the things they do without effort because it is what we do, what we want to do, and what we must do to work with these young men. They may be rough and they are certainly tough, but they do have feelings. This is what the staff seeks and has witnessed the changes in their lives. That is the goal--the positive outcome of the stay at Taft. It is our dream, it is our hope, it is our mission.
I thank you, Mr. Cook, for putting this story in print and reaffirming our belief that our work is worthwhile.
Anyone who is interested in what may be coming your way with the possible closing of Tafdt should read about the shutting down of the Rader Youth Center in Oklahoma. It is so parallel to the closing of Taft.
Yes, Annie. Graduations at Taft have always been held without the Nashville crew's blessing. They were only invited after everything was planned. This one was different because we had the administrative presences sneaking around and calling someone--we never were told who. Graduations at Taft are wonderful and ceremonious occasions for both students and their famioies. Mamas cry and hug their sons because this is the one good thing in their lives. No families were notified because the principal was told to put all graduation plans on hold by the administrative presence flavor of the day. And that's the real story.
Commissioner O'Day and her sidekicks have tried to convince anyone who will listen to them that Taft is not a fit institution. Some of the buildings are old but in excellent architectural condition. The new school, security complex, and the counseling center were intended to be the start of an upgrade for the institution. Anyone who visits Taft will soon learn that the institution has one of the finest work forces in juvenile justice. The concept of teamwork is instilled in each employee the minute he or she is hired. That concept is emphasized in any dealings with each other as employees and in the dealings with the student of the center. This concept is not even introduced in the other facilities nor is it in practice. The reason for the success of Taft is this philosophy and its being carried out in the day to day activities.
The graduation at Taft was recently put on hold for who knows what by "someone" in Central Office. The real victims of this decision are the students who will not get to participate in the ceremony. The ceremony may not mean much to most people but to those 8 students and their family members it is many times the only family who has ever graduated from high school. It is a day to give praise to their son who has done something right. Two of these 8 young men and their families will not get this chance because "someone" wanted to make some kind of statement. What it is no one knows or will say!
The reputation of Taft will still remain as the best for what it does and for what it does for these students who enter its doors labeled as some of the worst juvenile offenders in the state of Tennessee. The employees of Taft just take each day in stride and work with them all. These students and their families will tell anyone who will listen that if they had not come to Taft, they would not have been successful in their program or have achieved what they have done. The success lies in the stories of its employees and its students. Governor Haslam, Ms. O'Day, and Mr. Dawson need to be listening. Keep up the good work!!!