ELMORE - T.J. Mauer has one goal at Elmore Academy: "to turn these kids around."
Mauer has been the acting facility administrator at Elmore Academy for a few weeks, but for years he's been with Youth Services International, which operates the youth academy. He currently serves as regional vice president for YSI's Midwest region.
Mauer is no stranger to Elmore Academy. He's been in and out of the area as regional vice president and has every intention of staying in the loop when his stint as acting administrator is done.
T.J. Mauer has taken the reins at Elmore Academy.
"I will always be a fixture here," he vowed, adding that his departure "will be no time soon."
Mauer took the reins after key academy personnel - including the facility's administrator, assistant administrator and operations manager - were let go.
"There's no ill feelings to any staff no longer here," Mauer said. "Elmore is just moving in another direction; turning a new leaf, so to speak."
Part of that new direction is addressing concerns of local officials. A year ago, Faribault and Martin county officials removed all their youth from the facility, citing supervision as the reason.
Elmore Academy is a facility for at-risk teens ages 13-19. Teens are referred from all over the state, including Hennepin and Ramsey counties. Their offenses can range from truancy to "those who've committed serious crimes," said Peter Odgren, an assistant county attorney for Martin County who specializes in juvenile cases.
"I'm listening to the concerns of the local counties," Mauer said, adding "huge changes" have already been made.
For instance, the prone restraint is no longer used, Mauer said. The prone restraint is when the juvenile is face-down on the floor. It has been replaced with a two-person supine, which has the juvenile in a face-up position.
"The physical intervention from a year ago has been reduced by 70 percent," Mauer said.
Mauer has also instituted changes in the staff and how they're trained.
Applicants now undergo a more thorough background check, Mauer said. Applicants who have a felony charge pending will not be hired. Once the charge is resolved, they could be considered in the future, but they will not be employed while the case is pending, as had been done in the past.
"All new hires have to have my signature prior to the hire," Mauer said.
Once hired, training will be emphasized, he said.
"Now we prepare the staff to give them a better understanding of the (career) field they're choosing," Mauer said.
He wants to listen as well.
"I'm going to continue to meet and reach out to community partners to see what services we can offer," Mauer said. "Spend more time talking to the counties: What do their kids need? What can we do to continue to grow and change with our clientele?
"I've always been someone who runs programs transparently," Mauer said. "If there's an issue, we'll deal with it accordingly."
Progress has already been made and officials have noticed.
"A lot of issues that were brought up are being taken care of and we're going in the right direction," said John Roper, Faribault County Commissioner. "I've always been a proponent of YSI."
Mauer's first priority remains the juveniles and giving them a better life.
"We're building rapport and relationships with these kids," Mauer said.
He's also added substance abuse education, with licensed chemical dependency counselors to conduct classes, and therapists who do aggressive replacement therapy. Staff teaches the juveniles basic life skills, including managing a household, resume writing and job skills. The nursing department teaches healthy living, basic hygiene, and they talk to the kids about medical tests and annual physicals.
The kids need to be taught such basics because they haven't learned them at home, Mauer said.
"We're no longer raising our children like we were raised," said Mauer, who's married with two small children and a stepson.
In his career, he's worked with inner-city kids in Florida and found they needed a solid base if they were going to make it outside the facility.
"Ninety percent were from broken homes," Mauer said. "If not a broken home, substance abuse - you can go on and on."
Mauer, a native of the Upper Midwest, wants to instill those hard-working values in the juveniles. He is looking to have them do some work in the community, and with local school children, such as reading to students in the lower grades. It's not just about learning to work, it's about accomplishing something, he said.
"My kids come back feeling so good about themselves," Mauer said.
He knows a lot of the kids can thrive in the confinements of Elmore Academy, but he wants them to stay on the right track once they exit his facility.
"My goal is to save these kids," Mauer said. "Keep them safe and secure and make them valued members of society once they leave."