Camp receives $100K grant

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 21, 2005

“We feel very fortunate and grateful to the Governor for recognizing our need,” said Ocie Acoff. “In this time of cutbacks, funds are very low. We would also like to thank Senator Hank Sanders and his office because he was very instrumental in keeping us afloat.”

Acoff, the Executive Director of Camp Perry Varner Educational and Training Facility (VET), recently received two grants from the Governor’s office totaling $141,741.

“This program is geared towards reaching juveniles with minor disciplinary problems and aims to change their behavior before they commit more serious offenses,” said Governor Bob Riley during a public statement. “I am pleased to assist this program that has already made a positive impact in the lives of so many.”

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“The grants will allow Camp Perry Varner to continue to provide services for outlying counties,” said Acoff. “It will also help me maintain a guidance counselor, tutors, some staff, and some supplies.”

Operating under the guidance of the Dallas County Commission, VET has served young men aged 12-18 from Dallas, Lowndes, Wilcox, Perry, Hale, Marengo, Butler, and Pickens counties for the past five years.

“Most of our kids come here from broken homes and have other problems,” said Acoff. “They are usually referred by the juvenile court, but we also take independent referrals from family members.”

“We look for kids who are first time offenders, skipping school, things like that,” he said. “However, we have been receiving other kids that the program is not designed for. But, we have been experiencing success with them, so that’s why I don’t turn them away.”

During their eight to twelve week stay, young men benefit from VET’s education, counseling, therapy, physical training, and spiritual programs.

According to Acoff, VET has certified teachers, teacher’s aides, guidance counselors, and tutors.

In addition, volunteers from Ward Chapel AME Church come in on Saturdays and Sundays to conduct Bible studies.

“The certified tutors come in at night from about 4:30-8:30 to help them with their math and reading skills,” said Acoff.

VET also has volunteers from the community who assist with public relations, administrative duties, and work directly with the young men.

“Whatever way I can help the young people and staff here, I will,” said Effell Williams, pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church and VET volunteer. “I think this is the perfect fit for what we’re trying to do in the community as a whole.”

“I’m familiar with Acoff and what he’s doing with the kids,” said volunteer Michael Rawls. “I will support that in any way that I can.”

“People get a misconception of us because we’re adjacent to the Dallas County Jail,” said Acoff. “They look at us as a punitive facility, but there are no bars and no type of restraints. We don’t even have a time-out room.”

“Boot camp is basically military oriented – that in your face type method,” he said. “We don’t allow staff to get in kids faces. We are here to educate and train young men.”

He does however, admit that the facility has the “slight flair” of a boot camp.

The young men, who are kept on a strict daily schedule, wear uniforms, must complete physical training activities, maintain the grounds of the facility, wash their own clothes, and are trained and certified in both First Aid and CPR.

“We are contemplating going residential, but the County Commission has not made the decision because they need to review the information,” said Acoff.

According to him, if VET goes residential, the young men will no longer have to wear uniforms, and the facility will be able to provide more services such as on-campus doctors, social workers, and psychiatrists.

“I would like to look at the possibility of developing something for females, and also the possibility of an alternative school,” said Acoff. “There’s a tremendous need for that, because kids who leave here might not be able to go to regular school for whatever reason.”

“We are available for community projects such as cleaning up,” he said. “We have in the past cut grass at public schools, set out shrubbery, cleaned rubbish from thoroughfares, and helped out with projects for Habitat and Salvation Army.”

“We try to build men, one child at a time,” said Acoff.

For more information about VET, or to schedule a community service project, please contact Acoff at (334) 877-0629.