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The "Octagon" at Abraxas LDP

At the Leadership Development Program(LDP), we try to make every activity beneficial and meaningful to experiences and situations our youth will face in the future. The “Octagon” is not just a physical fitness element that was built to provide strength and conditioning opportunities at the program, it is also a mental fitness challenge that promotes competency development in a variety of ways.

To start, the obstacle itself was built using the ideas, skills, and work of numerous youth at the program. For about a month, a group of kids teamed up with Experiential Learning staff, Dave Sucke, Rory Sanders and Skylar Wagaman for a service learning project to create a concept and build what is standing today. Planning, digging, nailing, reconfiguring, communication and collaboration were all used in order for the construction to occur. When finished, the youth were able to stand back and witness their creation that would become a permanent fixture at LDP for years to come.

The element contains eight basic stations (two each of pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups and dip bars). After its creation, ideas continued to come and activities for developing youth flourished. Not only is the “Octagon” a routinely used element for weekly physical fitness, the staff have used it with kids to promote teamwork challenges and teach kids about different leadership traits that they are working to develop.

Within its framework – The Mental Challenges include:

  • Pull–up bars – Patience is taught by helping kids recognize that progress takes time but through continued effort it will occur
  • Sit–up stations – Endurance is taught by never quitting when faced with obstacles even if situations or adversities do not change
  • Dip bars – Integrity is taught by reminding kids that by cheating yourself and not following through entirely – failure will occur
  • Push–up stations – Responsibility is taught by stressing accountability with all aspects of your behavior (form) in order to achieve success.

Although explained as both a physical and mental fitness challenge for youth, it is also fun. The kids look forward to their activity at the “Octagon” and what challenge will be presented by staff. They leave the activity exhausted and feeling accomplished in more ways than one. The obstacle which just started out as a small idea has since provided community service learning, leadership development, team building, and an experience that will be remembered.

As LDP staff often remind our youth, if you experience a challenge, you can experience change and it will lead to experiencing success.

Animal empathy course earns rave reviews from students and community

The first Animal Empathy Class in the Abraxas Open Residential Firesetting and Sexual Behavior Treatment Program was at great success! The class was developed by nurse manager, Amy Randt, to provide appropriate and positive interactions between youth, animals and the public. The 12 week course was a combination of classroom work; hands on training, virtual pet care, community activities and field trips.

Students were taught basic dog care, behavioral training, scent and obedience training. They were given “virtual pets” for which they were responsible for their daily care and the challenges that came with pet ownership. Staff became very involved as pet sitters and dog wardens! The residents also had weekly visits by two of Ms. Randt’s dogs and were able to have hands on training with real live dogs.

They learned social responsibility through multiple community service projects. The youth had numerous ppositive interactions with community groups and animal rescues through volunteering and completing animal centered projects. A pit bull rescue came to speak to the students about dog fighting and animal abuse. In turn, the boys made individualized dog treat jars for the rescue's numerous dogs. Residents also made cat beds for a local cat rescue they later visited. They attended a puppy obedience class to observe real time training.

The final piece to their experience was an all-day project at a local SPCA to move 20,000 pounds of dog food and clean the storage shed. All of their efforts were rewarded with T-shirts from the each of the rescues and shelters, which the wear proudly on the unit.

The boys benefited by gaining knowledge of animal care, behavior and animal handling skills. They developed empathy skills and team work. Students built much needed self-confidence through public speaking and positive interactions with the community. The program also gained positive community exposure through volunteerism and charitable projects. All outside entities have asked our youth to return for future projects.

Abraxas was asked to present

The International Association of Arson Investigators, Illinois Chapter, Buxton/Mazzone Southern Zone Training Conference on May 20, 2016. Abraxas representatives presented an interactive live video conference with several juvenile firesetters at the program, who agreed to tell their stories and answer questions regarding what brought them to treatment at the Abraxas Firesetter Program. The representatives at the training were very appreciative to have the experience to interact with the youth. Many of the participants enjoyed the opportunity to ask questions and have real life answers to their questions. Participants at the conference remarked that the experience has helped each of them to gain a better understanding of the juvenile firesetter. Our residents were very honest and forth coming with information when presented with questions and each did an amazing job presenting.

Abraxas I held what may be our first annual "Abraxastock"

National Recovery Month

Residents who chose to participate in the program sang various songs and then all were entertained by music teacher Darla Weckerly's band. Long time staff Mike Matson also performed an Elton John song and totally awed everyone. The concert lasted about 3 hours and a great time was had by all!

National Recovery Month

Knitting Hats for Babies

Girls at Abraxas I are loom knitting hats for newborn/premature babies. Our goal before delivering them to a local hospital is 100 hats. We had a small tea party celebration when we reached 50!

Abraxas I Participates in the Oil City, PA Summer Recreation Basketball League! Go Tornados!

Abraxas I has entered a team in the Oil City Summer Recreational Basketball League. This has been a great opportunity for our youth to showcase the interpersonal skills they have learned at Abraxas I, while competing with local high school teams on the hardwood.

To make this happen, a ton of support from the rest of the campus has been required, and team members and students alike have stepped up to the task. The young men involved have responded well to the challenges that have been placed in front of them. The team has shown a great a deal of sportsmanship during competitions as well as in practice. Most importantly the guys have acknowledged and embraced the fact that they represent Abraxas I in the local community and understand the importance of “proving” that they can act responsibly while having a good time.

The team thus far has been very competitive playing against teams that practice together year round. We dropped the first contest against a seasoned Slippery Rock team by 12 points in a game that was much closer than the score seemed. In our second game we lost a close one to a last year’s playoff team, Keystone 40-36.

Despite the losses, the guys have remained positive and motivated. We were able to win our first game against Venango Catholic by a score 42-22.

Our participation in this league once again proves that when you provide kids an opportunity to succeed, they will take the opportunity and make the most out of it.

Abraxas WorkBridge introduces The WorkShop

Providing community service opportunities through a meaningful STEM experience.

The WorkShop is a collaborative project to expose youth to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Having secured a grant through the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, Abraxas WorkBridge will be engaging youth in an eight week course that will expose them to Community Service, Career Presentations, Certifications, and Victim Awareness.

Specifically, we will be teaching youth basic metal working, MIG welding, sandblasting, and powder coating in order to fabricate a much needed addition to the Animal Friends kennel system. Beyond the practical work experience, our youth will be participating in community service hours for Animal Friends so that they can observe the tangible impact that their new skill set has upon the organization and the community that it serves.

We will be collaborating with Animal Friends, a no-kill shelter located north of the city that offers a wide range of valuable services to companion animals and pet owners of Pittsburgh. They have a need for additions to their dog kennel system. Our youth will fabricate to spec a much needed kennel cap for up to 25 kennels at the shelter.

The kennel caps will be fabricated at the Techshop, a modern, comprehensive workspace located in Bakery Square. Members have access to a range of tools, machinery, and immersion into maker culture. By the end of the program, the participants will have...

  •   training for basic metal working, MIG welding and powder coating
  •   OSHA10 certification
  •   career and trade exposure
  •   completed 50 hours of community service

After completing training, the volunteers will cut stock, weld together the components, deliver the weldment to be hot dipped galvanized, and then install the completed project on site at Animal Friends.

We are looking for youth who meet the following requirements: Youth must be between the ages of 16 and 18 and be willing to commit for the entire eight week program, six hours a week (2 three hour sessions.) They must agree to a short home visit for assessment and the Casey Life Skills test. They must have consistent open availability on a weekday evening and weekend morning and be enthusiastic about learning hands on skills.

This is an exciting time for WorkBridge. Potentially over the next year we could have up to 40 youth participate in The WorkShop; exposing them to STEM.

Abraxas WorkBridge has provided community-based programming to juveniles since 1993. These services include competency development to prepare them for employment, and partnering with the community to provide job training, educational remedial services and employment sites. We have developed and expanded a successful workforce development program to meet the needs of youth, regional workforce investment initiatives, community businesses and non-profit and public entities.

Current program services include the following: Job seeking skills, such as proper completion of job applications, interviewing techniques and appropriate dress and attitude for interviewing; Job holding skills, such as the importance of following company rules and regulations, punctuality and discussion of scheduling procedures, adhering to the dress code and following personal hygiene policies, customer service skills and conflict resolution and problem solving techniques; Job readiness, to include employment counseling about job interests, scheduling of interviews, interview assistance, follow-up on job leads and monitoring of work performance; Monitoring at the job site, such as employment counselor site visits, performance updates and review of job skills; and, Assistance and Support Services, including the purchase of bus tickets, obtaining identification cards, providing internships, apprenticeships and mentoring opportunities and GED linkage and referral.

Abraxas I Grandparenting Program Provides Lasting Impact for Youth and Adults Alike

For some time, students in Dakota Dorm at Abraxas I have been participating in an activity referred to as “grand-parenting” at Snyder Memorial Nursing Home, also located in Marienville, PA. Each week, these young men assist the elderly residents in playing BINGO. Although this activity serves as community service hours, it has taught our young men to actively engage with an older population and demonstrate empathy for residents who have ailing health issues. Typically, BINGO lasts for one hour. Each youth that attends sits with a resident and assists them as needed.

As the weeks have progressed and familiarity has grown, some residents have become quite fond of the young men who assist them. The residents have commented on our students’ “warm smiles and their willingness to help” as some of the reasons they look forward to “their visitors” each week. In turn, some of our young men have also grown fond of particular residents, resulting in a lasting memory and relationship that, perhaps, could mimic memories of their own grandparents.

Braden T and Aaron W, of Dakota Dorm, have participated on a weekly basis. Both have come to love the opportunity and have been specifically recognized by the staff at Snyder Memorial as being “role models”. Braden and Aaron look forward to “grand-parenting” each week because, “we like helping and interacting with the residents because they probably don’t have much to look forward to”.

Recently through the supervision and instruction of Nickie Irwin, Dakota Dorm Treatment Supervisor I and Jeanne Godlesky, Community Services Supervisor, the Dakota students decided to add a little to the season of giving and produce homemade wreaths for the Snyder residents. During on-going groups within the dorm, each youth completed a Christmas wreath made of fabric to give to the residents to hang on their doors. The wreaths took approximately 2 to 3 hours to assemble and many students found the craft to be therapeutic in nature. This project provided our kids an opportunity to participate in the real meaning of the holiday season – giving to others and expecting nothing in return.

The relationship that Abraxas I has formed with Snyder Memorial has proven to be an example of the importance of developing in-community opportunities for our youth while they are in placement. More importantly, it has allowed some of our residents to strengthen their abilities in forming healthy relationships and understanding that their kind gestures, either big or small, can make a huge impact on others.

Six Successful Years of Wreath Making Projects at LDP

The Leadership Development Program kicked off its 2015 holiday season with the sixth annual live wreath making project. It was a very successful year with program youth earning over 350 total hours of restitution and community service time while learning the skill of making live wreaths and holiday centerpieces.

Leading the project from the LEAP Department at LDP was Mr. Benjamin Brug, Treatment Supervisor and Ms. Heidi Lake, Activities Counselor. All proceeds went directly to improving the greenhouse restitution efforts at the program. Live wreaths were also distributed to local organizations such as the South Mountain Restoration Center where program youth actively participate in community service projects.

Youth who participated learned about the importance of giving back and enjoyed becoming a part of what has become a tradition that many local community members have come to look forward to each year.

Sports Illustrated captures more than just football at Abraxas I

National magazine and online publication, Sports Illustrated, recently covered a story about Abraxas I's cooperative sports agreement with local Sheffield High School's football program. SI.com plans to feature the story in the upcoming season of their online segment "Underdogs-Inspiring Stories in High School Football." Click Here to visit SI.Com's Underdog website.

The local newspaper "Times Observer" featured the coverage as well. Used with permission by Times Observer.

Breast Cancer Kickoff at LDP

The Leadership Development Program Clinical Team is promoting Breast Cancer Awareness and Support for the month of October. All month long LDP youth and staff will conduct activities and events to support Breast Cancer Awareness - the 7th year running!

Abraxas I Celebrates National Recovery Month

National Recovery Month

According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, “Recovery Month is a national observance held every September to educate Americans that substance use treatment and mental health services can enable those with a mental and/or substance use disorder to live a healthy and rewarding life. Recovery Month celebrates the gains made by those in recovery, just as we celebrate health improvements made by those who are managing other health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease. The observance reinforces the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can and do recover.” (www.recoverymonth.gov/about)

At Abraxas I, celebrating recovery crosses all facets of our program. We focus on helping residents overcome their treatment needs in the hopes of going on to live successful lives. And recovery can impact our employees too. Whether we’ve overcome our own struggles, or recognize the need for treatment in our loved ones, celebrating recovery can help reinforce the benefits of treatment and an individual’s capability of making changes in his or her life.

To celebrate Recovery Month, Abraxas I hosted a creative expression contest. Over half the residents participated in the contest either through written expression or poster. Judging was based on the connection to the 2015 Recovery Month Theme - Join the Voices for Recovery: Visible, Vocal, Valuable! - and the mission of National Recovery Month. Prizes were awarded to the top three winners in each category. In addition, individual dorms decorated bulletin boards throughout the month to express what recovery means to them.

Thank you to Beth Wiser & Jim Bailey (English Teachers) and Brenda Swonger (Art Teacher) for helping contestants with their submissions!

Abraxas I is Getting Ready for some FOOTBALL!

Abraxas I / Sheffield HS Announced the 2015 Football Roster and it includes 16 Abraxas students from across Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia. All five boys dorms on campus are represented!

2015 marks the 18th year for the Abraxas I and Sheffield High School football co-op.

And come on out to cheer on the Wolverines!

Building & Maintenance Trades Are Back at Abraxas I

After a few year hiatus, students in the Abraxas I Arlene Lissner High School once again have the opportunity to participate in “hands on” vocational education training through the revived Building Trades and Interior Building Maintenance classes.

Students in grades 10 through 12 may request this class as an elective. The selection process is competitive, as a competency based interview is part of the screening process to participate.

Students will learn surveying, masonry, carpentry, wiring, plumbing, blueprint reading and kitchen design in Building Trades. Classes will be held two periods a day, five days a week for 10 students per session.

The Interior Building Maintenance class also runs two periods a day, five days a week, with 10 students, and provides students with the opportunity to learn/gain practical work experience in various aspects of Building Maintenance. Students will learn floor care and maintenance, drywall covering/prep/repair, painting, power cord and small equipment care and maintenance along with managing supplies and equipment.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes

Residents at the Abraxas Youth Center recently participated in the local Women In Need organization's 3rd annual "Walk a Mile In Her Shoes" event. The goal of this international men's march is to stop rape, sexual assault, and gender violence. Participation in the march helped students to understand the power of "community" and the positive impact they can have on others.

From Seed to the Dinner Table

Since early spring, LDP staff have been teaching students through Experiential Education classes how to plant a variety of vegetables right here in our own backyard. Potatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes and more are ready for eating and will be served to our youth and staff through the rest of the season. Our students have enjoyed learning how to grow their own food and care for it and now get to see and enjoy the value of their efforts!

"The Shed" at Abraxas LDP

Experience CHALLENGE, Experience CHANGE, Experience SUCCESS


At the Abraxas Leadership Development Program there are many opportunities for learning. For starters, there is the Learning Center where we go everyday to receive our standard education. We cover your average school day subjects such as English, Math, Science and Social Studies. Then outside of the classroom, a different kind of knowledge is gained. A type of knowledge that goes way beyond the text books in History Class or the variables in Algebra. Its called the LEAP program.

LEAP stands for Leadership Experiential Adventure Program. It is a program here at LDP that offers residents a different type of education that tests way more than just their book smarts. Recently, myself and seven other residents at LDP were introduced to a unique and very experiential type of activity. One that I personally will forever value, and will certainly never forget.

We were taken outside to the LDP greenhouse; a peaceful and serene area where a beautiful garden grows in the background. We stood together in silence listening to instructions, staring at a big pile of rocks in front of us. This seemingly useless area of rocks turned out to be the spot where the eight of us would build and assemble a garden shed.

I know when I started working on this project, I was completely clueless, I had no idea where to start, or even how to start. My knowledge of the work we were doing was close to non-existent, and I can definitely say I did not feel beneficial to the group. I couldn't quite grasp how a first time builder could possibly be of any use to such a complex project.

But after a few short hours, or even minutes, I saw just how capable I was. Slowly, my fellow residents and I began to learn new and amazing things. We truly experienced a different kind of learning that a classroom or text book could never provide. I have learned a vast amount of knowledge regarding tools, building and construction. Everything I learned out there in that garden will stick with me for the rest of my life, and will surely be significant to me in the near or distant future.

What I learned while building this shed and working outside for hours with the same group of people was how to be a leader. I honestly learned what a leader is. For those who don't know, a leader isn't the super star builder, or the guy who knows what he is doing 100% of the time. A leader is someone who can be a part of a team. Leadership is not always about being right and knowing more than everyone else, it's learning to accept feedback and taking the right steps to become better. That's what me and my peers learned. We learned to help each other when we were down, and how exactly to get stuff done even when it seems impossible. We were told what to do and how to do it and then given the opportunity to give it a shot. We made lots of mistakes. We may have had to start over and try again, but one thing we didn't do was give up.

If you ever have a chance to visit Abraxas LDP, you will notice a garden and a greenhouse to your left as you walk in. Just beyond this green house, there is newly erected and ready to use shed. Normally a shed may just look like, well, a shed. A few pieces of wood put together with a door in which people can store whatever they might need. But if you give it a closer look, you will see more than just wood and the soon to be paint covering it. Beneath the shed walls will always be more than wood, screws and nails, it will be teamwork, determination and care. Thanks to LDP, we will go home with more than we arrived with. We will leave LDP having experienced real teamwork and now know the meaning of leadership.

Fish stocking program teaches kids valuable lessons

Abraxas I has partnered with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to stock local streams with trout for the past 13 years! This season included 20 days of stocking, 64 A1 students performing a total of 781 community service hours by stocking 19 streams in Forest, Warren, McKean, Elk, Jefferson, Venango and Crawford counties with approximately 59,000 trout! In addition to earning community service hours each youth receives a conservation award patch and certificate from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Through our work with PAFBC, we have also received an Institutional Fishing License which enables us to take our students fishing.