Alumni Questionnaire ← Back to Index
Julie (Owens) Pogue:
What is your name?
Julie (Owens) Pogue
To which institutions were you sent?
Escuela Caribe, Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic
How old were you?
16 to 17
When were you enrolled in The Program?
October 1983 to August 1984
In which house(s) did you live?
Starr, my entire stay; did move “on campus” after going off points
New Horizons had a simple behavior-modification system to both motivate and discipline its students. Points were doled out on a daily basis for everything from your attitude to work ethic to how you treated others. The more points you earned, the faster you climbed their six (6) “levels” which dictated how much freedom and privileges a student possessed. Zero-levels students couldn’t even walk from room to room in their homes without permission, while 5th-level students enjoyed the freedom to walk through town unsupervised. It didn’t take me long to figure out that compliance definitely worked to my advantage. As such, I moved through the rank of levels relatively quickly. Though it was rare, students who remained stable on 5th level would eventually be moved “off points,” meaning their behavior/attitude wasn’t subject to the daily point system any longer. When I left the DR, I was not only “off points,” but I also had moved “on campus.”
In the late 80s, Escuela Caribe had two (2) separate properties. The mountainside (where the school remained until it closed) held most of the student housing. We traveled daily through the town of Jarabacoa to attend the school campus. Students who were unusually successful and “off points” could eventually move out of the student housing to the location on the school campus. This was a huge accomplishment and privilege as I was able to live in my own private room with electricity (something the on-campus houses didn’t have) with minimal supervision of the few staff members who also lived at the school building. This also allowed me the opportunity to concentrate on my schooling; I was able to graduate a full year earlier than I would have in the States.
What was the highest level you attained?
Please describe the circumstances that got you sent to The Program:
Drinking, drugs, threatening suicide, running away, promiscuity, ultimately expelled from public high school
Please describe instances of abuse you experienced while in the program, if any:
Describe abuse of other students you witnessed, if any:
There were 2 situations as a student that I remember. But I’m still not sure, all these years later, if they’re “abusive.” The 1st involved a boys’ house in which one student was “bringing the whole house down.” The solution was to allow all the boys in this house to enter a boxing ring with boxing gloves so that the problem child could take out his anger on his housemates. Very military-like “solution,” but the poor kid, Ron, had a black eye and other bruises after this exercise. The 2nd was cutting girls’ hair as a consequence. Pretty mean and very traumatic for the affected girls.
I stand by the belief that most (not all) teachers, house parents, and administrative staff were there because they wanted to make a positive impact on their world. I know that they all definitely do not agree with “The Program,” and some left earlier than planned for this reason.
My perspective now may not be understood by many students. With age, parenting seven children, being a grandma for the past almost-20 years, and life’s seasoning, I think I see New Horizons more realistically for both its good and bad. I think Gordon Blossom, New Horizons’ founder, wanted recognition, power and respect. He was building his “empire”. Testimony of his family bears out that he was a vile, power-hungry pedophile, so I don’t have any delusions about what kind of awful man he was.
Most staff members, however, were very young, in their early to mid-20s. A lot of them hadn’t decided what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives and New Horizons seemed like a good one- or two-year commitment for mission and/or social work. Recruited by Blossom in the name of serving Jesus and paid a mere pittance, many of them were naïve and fresh out of college, some were young newlyweds, and they worked just as hard, if not harder, than the students.
I cannot imagine the pressure on them to emotionally and physically care for and nurture a group of hurting teenagers twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, with a couple days off every few weeks. Teenagers are self-centered and hormonal with underdeveloped frontal lobes. They are often wearisome even when you can get away from them. I remember my House Leader (a third adult who lived in the home and assisted the house parents) had a mental breakdown shortly after they moved the thirteenth girl into our house. It was too much for her.
In retrospect, I think the students weren’t the only “victims” of Pastor Blossom. Were there staff members who abused their absolute power? No question. The vast majority of them, however, had good hearts and were there because they wanted to do good things and work with kids. A lot of them will tell you today the reality after they arrived in Jarabacoa was as much a shock to them as it had been to me. Does this condone the abuse other students experienced? Never! But, it does help me understand what was being demanded of them and how it was a ripe environment for all sorts of unexpected damage to everyone involved.
Do you have any good memories of The Program? If so, what are they?
LOTS of good memories! Beach time. Laughter. Life-time friendships. House trips. Experiencing a different culture. Learning a new language. And... for the first time in years, I felt “safe” from myself.
Overall, my memories of Escuela Caribe are very positive! Though I was rebellious, I went to that school with a deep belief that those who worked there did so to help the students. To help me. And I knew I had been on a path of self-destruction. So, I settled into the perceived safety of the rigid structure relatively quickly. Not that it was easy! But, I did it! I followed (and broke) ridiculous rules, I paid my consequences for poor choices, including swats with “Mr. Brown,” I studied and finished high school a year early, I climbed Pico Duarte, I learned that not every staff member was perfect, and I worked harder physically than I ever had before or have since. Sweat-pouring, muscle-cramping work. All those accomplishments alone gave me a deeper sense of self, the ability to adapt, and the pride that comes from doing and experiencing things you never knew you had the fortitude to endure.
Then you add the rare privilege as an American to live among the citizens and culture of a third world country. In a country as backwards as it is beautiful. Its people generous and loyal and hardworking and gracious. To see so much of the Dominican Republic while on “house trips” with people I grew to love and with whom I made lifelong memories. To see the country’s beaches, travel its dirt roads, navigate its rough terrain, climb its mountains, and go swimming in its pools, rivers and waterfalls. To know what it’s like to sit waiting in a hot van as the local farmer moves his herd of 20 cows through town. To shop in markets that would never pass the tests of the Food and Drug Administration in the US. And to enjoy bartering that rivals Jamaica’s! To eat rice and beans and chicken and fried platanos and not have American delicacies like M&Ms and diet soda. To know what it’s like to have to boil your water before you can drink it. To not be able to flush your toilet paper. To learn at such a young age that electricity really is a luxury that millions of people live without. As is television. I remain grateful to this day to living for a year in Jarabacoa, Dominican Republic.
What continues to be my most positive memories of Escuela Caribe, however, are the relationships I made. Many of the girls I lived with have become life-time friends. There is a unity in your collective vulnerability as students, and as housemates, that created a deep intimacy not found in my public school back in Indiana. To live with, sleep with, eat with, work with, and play with the same people…to suffer the same humiliations, to celebrate the same conquests, to experience the same culture-shock, to giggle at night together before falling asleep, to know each other’s struggles and challenges… all of this bonded me with others in a way that is hard to describe to those who weren’t there.
I also built and still maintain extremely positive friendships with many staff members. 35 years later, we are peers. Not staff and student. We reminisce about our shared experiences in the DR and what it was like for them. I’m fascinated by their stories and perspectives. And I have deep admiration for many of them, for the way they have continued to love others and live out their beliefs.
There are both staff and students with whom I celebrate the births of new grandchildren, share old DR pictures, get together for a beer when proximity allows, and keep up with where they’re at. I’ve hosted a mini-reunion for both staff and students at my home. I even took my husband and teenage daughter to Canada several years ago to meet one of my best DR friends (another student) and her family. Our love for each other has stood the test of time, and we text and share in our families’ lives all the time. I’ve visited my Dominican friend who worked as a translator for the school in New York City. A couple times. Our daughters, who are very close in age, stay in touch through social media. My friendships with all of these people have helped me process my experiences at Escuela Caribe, formulate educated opinions about what was really going on, and deepen my understanding of the entire institution. And I love all of them! My life has been richer and fuller through the years because of my DR relationships.
What is your overall impression of The Program? Did it “help you”?
I think “The Program” probably saved my life. I was extremely self-destructive and behaving in high-risk activities. It was definitely a shorter-term fix to curbing these behaviors as I continued to struggle once I returned to the US. As a side note, I used many of their techniques in raising my children (6 children, 5-year spread in age)—5 of whom are special needs adopted kids. For example, we rotated chores among the kids, “confiscated” personal belongings that were left out at night and “charged” the kids out of their allowance to get them back, etc. My time in the DR gave me the organization and management skills to run a home with lots of challenging children under one roof. That being said, my biggest concern over this boarding school is the cultural/family problem that remains unresolved. Parents need to be able to provide the structure and safety teenagers require. This isn’t someone’s else responsibility. The fact that my dad and mom “gave up on me,” probably out of desperation, sticks with me as a tragic hole in my heart. Their solution caused great financial hardship on my whole family, which undoubtably had a huge impact on my younger brother and sister, too.
What do you think of the quality of education you received?
Adequate, but not what I would have received in the States.
How old are you today?
Did you go to college after attending The Program? If so, what degrees do you have?
I have B.S. degrees in Business Administration and Psychology.
What is your profession?
I run Union payroll for Johnson & Johnson. Just celebrated 30 years.
Do you consider yourself a Christian today?
What effect did “The Program” have on your faith?
Overall, very little. My faith has grown and evolved through the years and probably has little resemblance to the faith I had as a teenager. I am far more open-minded and gracious than I was even 10 years ago. May I continue to become softer, less judgmental, and more loving as I understand Jesus’ life and His love for me!
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