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Pacific Lodge Helps Troubled Boys Cope With Chaos of Life

April 07, 1988|BARBARA HOPFINGER | Hopfinger is a Canoga Park free-lance writer

Pacific Lodge Boys' Home in Woodland Hills is surprisingly peaceful. The carefully landscaped and wooded grounds--9.5 acres on Serrania Avenue south of Ventura Boulevard--offer residents opportunities for solitude. The boys who live in cottages or group homes spend their days in offices, schoolrooms, and dining and recreational facilities that resemble those of a private boarding school.

But the boys who live at the 62-year-old lodge aren't there to prep for top universities. They have been assigned to the facility because they have committed a crime--usually a misdemeanor--or because their families are falling apart.

Jeff (the names of all the boys have been changed), a recent arrival, was confined to the lodge for violating probation on a burglary conviction. Sitting under a tree, reading Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," he seemed older than his 14 years.

"My mom is an alcoholic and a drug addict," Jeff said. "My dad threatened to kill me. I don't like the lodge. I'd like a family. Not a 'Hello son, hello mom, hello dad.' But a mom who fixes meals regularly, helps you with homework, and lets you pick your own clothes and music."

Six months before he was sent to the lodge, Jeff was sitting in nearby Serrania Park with friends from Taft High School, looking across at the facility and feeling sorry for the boys there. "Now, look at me," he said.

Juvenile offenders who are not reprimanded and released after being named in a petition alleging an offense are confined to Juvenile Hall. Within 30 days, they are either put on probation or sent to a public or private institution. If the home structure is fragile or there are no community resources for the youngster, long-term placement is considered, said Ed Young, who supervises juvenile investigations for the San Fernando Valley Office of the Los Angeles County Department of Probation.

Pacific Lodge "has a long history of success and a good reputation based on the high quality of casework offered," Young said.

Frank Linebaugh, 40, Pacific Lodge director of admissions, interviews boys at Juvenile Hall to determine if they will "fit" in his facility. Six boys are eligible for every opening, Linebaugh said. He said he gets a feeling in talks with the boys about their potential for success. And, he added, "I'm usually right."

The 84 boys at the lodge--a private, nonprofit institution governed by a volunteer board of directors--represent almost every ethnic group in Los Angeles. Their parents are bankers, deputies, doctors, factory workers and the unemployed. Many of the boys are confined for substance abuse.

"I get so frustrated for the boys," said James Lester, 36, a caseworker with a graduate degree in psychology from Cal State Northridge. "There are so many obstacles in their lives I can't change. Their homes are filled with inconsistencies and family problems."

Paul, 14, is a runaway referred to Pacific Lodge by the county Department of Children's Services.

"My father abused my sister," he said. "I'll never forgive him. I used to do well at school, but I had so much to do in my home. I had to take care of my brothers and sisters.

"I've been in four foster homes," Paul said. "One in Oregon was really good. But my mom wanted me back--or needed me. I've only been here four days. It's nice. I like everyone here. I bet I have to stay until I'm 18, unless my mom wants me."

According to lodge director Richard Hill, 51, a graduate of Yale Divinity Schoool, 82% of the boys are from homes headed by a single parent, another relative or a sibling over 18.

The state, which in 1986 estimated that it cost $2,215 per boy per month to care for the juveniles, paid Pacific Lodge $1,884 per month during that year. The rest of the money came from such sources as a direct mail appeal and corporation and foundation grants. In addition, such local organizations as the Fortune Hunters of Woodland Hills help the lodge by providing rides to medical and dental appointments.

Much of the program support at Pacific Lodge comes from the boys themselves. Program director Carl Pytlinski, 49, a staff member since 1969, described the peer-group process that uses successful boys to influence newly placed juveniles. At four group meetings a week, for example, the boys of Sauble Cottage evaluate each other's behavior and often raise or lower the ratings of their peers. Higher ratings bring privileges, including attendance at off-campus events, movies and home visits.

At one such meeting, seven boys were seated in a comfortable room off Sauble's living room. New overhead fans--a gift of the Woodland Hills' Women's Club--and several worn couches and bookcases surrounded the circle of chairs.

Pat Jarvis, 27, a resident counselor; Steve Lendzion, 31, Sauble Cottage supervisor, and caseworker Dayle Sigmund, 32, joined the group.

Lendzion asked the boys if they knew why they were at the group meeting. They answered in unison: "To bring out the facts."

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