By Robert Lucke
Ask some folks in the north country and they will tell you that the Anchor Academy for Boys is a real good neighbor. Need help? Thirty-four boys are there to work for free or for a donation to their church, the Hi-Line Baptist Church.
Dennis McElwrath is the ramrod of the academy.
"Since we came here we are just getting settled and hope to have most everything in place for winter," Brother Dennis, as he is called, said. "We have 34 boys here right now and they range in ages from 13 to 17. We do not advertise for boys. If we did we would have hundreds. Our ministry is word of mouth."
These are troubled boys who show up at Anchor: 80 percent from broken homes and most have been in serious trouble. They have to pledge to spend a year at Anchor and in that year most see their lives change.
"Our goal is to be able to get our students' lives turned around and to help them live in harmony at home. They are social misfits when we get them and we work to make them socially acceptable," McElwrath said. "We work on character building, discipline, and teaching them how to work. In fact they do most of the work out here. That costs more because they might drop a sheet of Sheetrock or something but on the other hand when they have put up the Sheetrock, taped and painted, they are not nearly as inclined to punch a hole through it."
Anchor's approach to changing lives is different from other correctional schools.
"In most correctional schools it is the students against the guards. Here we get the students on our side and they help in correcting the behavior of new students. That makes a great difference," McElwrath said.
"We teach them to do things and to take pride in things," he said.
Ten staff members live on campus, cook the meals, and basically are with the students 24 hours a day. The students attend school each day and each works at his own level.
In some ways the campus of of the old Havre Radar Base is great for a school campus. There are dormitories, a cafeteria, kitchen, tennis and basketball courts and even a water slide that the students built by hand this summer.
The boys are good neighbors to the surrounding community. And the neighbors have been good to them. McElwrath said that the Velks and Couchs have been very helpful.
But that is not nearly all there is to Anchor Academy for boys.
The boys are encouraged to give their lives to Jesus Christ and to sing about it as long and as loudly as they can. And in the singing department they are no slouches. Last year they toured East Coast states. This month they will head on their bus to Washington, Oregon and California for performances almost every night they are away.
Phillip, a 17-year-old from California, talked about his life before Anchor and now.
"I have been here for over a year. This place has changed my life. I was into drugs and my main goal was to ride bikes, smoke pot and do drugs. I came here and let God into my life and now I want to graduate and go into the Air Force and become something," Phillip said.
Phillip actually went through the program, went home, then came back again.
"I came back to help out. I knew they were low on staff and I knew how guys helped to change my life so I thought I can help to change someone else's life too. It is great. I think the Lord is leading me to come back. I trust in Him," Phillip said.
He said that not all boys are successes like he was.
"Some just do not make it. We pray for them really hard," he said.
Adam, 14, is from Florida. He was from a broken family and related a history with drugs.
At Anchor Adam got his life in order quickly and was made a crew leader for the academy.
"This was the best thing that has ever happened to me since I was saved. I was deeply into drugs. All that I could afford anyway. I would probably be dead by now if I hadn't gotten here. The Lord gave me a chance to recover."