"It's just like life - you can sit there and hurt or you can get it done," said Cathi Neal, the camp director. Neal
is slim and energetic with a dark braid streaked with just a little gray.Her
tone is no-nonsense without being harsh.
"You've been helping him get in trouble all week long, why don't you help him now," she
asks the boy who has started climbing.Then she
tells both boys, "Don't show me, show you."
The late-morning sun beat down on the boys as they waited to see if this adult would give in like so many others before her
.Staff members stood with the belaying ropes wrapped around their waists, toes dug into the dirt, making sure the boys were safely and securely held in front of the first rung at least six feet from the ground.Fire ants made a meal of the other campers and staffers, most of whom were focused intently on the boys' progress.
Did they know how much the people on the ground wanted them to make it to the top?
Part cheerleader, part drill sergeant, Neal
evenly counters every "I can't" with a "Yes, you can."
..."We have empathy," said Neal, who is the director of Changing Course.
"Sympathy is when I feel sorry for you.Empathy is when I know where you're at."Neal
, the driving force behind Changing Course
, is candid about her
history of loss, rejection, drug use and multiple marriages to addicts and abusers.She
must have told the story hundreds of times, but she
still seems surprised that she
had the capacity to make so many bad choices. She's
protective when she
speaks of friends who have since become clean and sober and chokes back sobs when she
talks about what she
three children, now grown, through while "living the drug life."
Nine years ago Neal
made the decision that she
"was going to live" and began working a 12-step program.She
participated in Project COPE, or Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience - a Boy Scout program that combines a series of outdoor challenges requiring personal achievement and teamwork.
"Four days into the eight-day program I felt the difference," Neal
"Eight years ago God gave me a vision of what this place was going to look like," Neal
When the property came up for lease again this year, Neal
took a chance and made the call.Neal
said Grana was impressed with the Changing Course
program, enough so that he
offered favorable terms for leasing the property.Neal
will help market the facility for lease by private, corporate and non-profit events and, in return, receive a percentage of the proceeds for Changing Course
The facility is versatile and would suit a variety of events, including teacher in-services, outdoor adventures, hunting, trail rides, reunions, weddings and corporate team-building.
Neal hopes to turn the lodge into a year-round home for boys that could run in conjunction with other events held on the property, but that will take time and money.Changing Course
is a United Way agency and also receives compensation from area juvenile probation programs.Neal
said as a non-profit agency, Changing Course
funnels any revenue it generates back into the organization rather than into employee or investor pockets.She
has benefited from the "seeing is believing" philosophy.
"If it weren't for people who believe in this program and have given me what they could, I would have had to have gotten a full-time job a long time ago," Neal
said, who said she
typically works without a salary.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, campers are being put through the paces.In June alone, nearly 60 young people ages 13 to 17 - more than 20 of them female - have spent a week at the camp as part of their court-ordered probation.
said sometimes the campers challenge the veterans because they often know each other and are skeptical and want the truth.
"They (the campers) want to know number one, that there is some hope, that they can change and they can be different," Neal
admits that this effort is a mission for her
, one fueled by 30 years of bad decisions.
"I do it because I want the cycle broken.I don't want any parent to feel the shame of treating their children the way I did," Neal