For 30 years, TNOYS member Pegasus Schools has been working to heal and support abused, neglected, and adjudicated boys. Pegasus plays a unique if sometimes misunderstood role in youth services. The Residential Treatment Center exclusively works with youth ages 10-17 who have committed sex offenses, many of whom have suffered abuse and trauma themselves.
CEO Robert Ellis explained that he began Pegasus to help children overcome abuse, just as he did. Robert grew up in an abusive household and was able to escape his situation after being adopted by a family in Lockhart. He later went on to work at Darden Hill, where he developed a passion to help youth heal from troubled pasts.
Today, Pegasus Schools houses 170 boys at their sprawling 100+ acre campus in Lockhart, Texas. Youth residents come from all over the state, with about 75% originating from juvenile probation departments and 25% referred from CPS/DFPS.
Programs at Pegasus are designed to keep youth accountable without resorting to harmful, overly punitive measures. At an on-campus trauma treatment center, trauma therapists use multiple treatment modalities to help youth address the underlying causes of their sexual offenses. Critically, Pegasus Schools employs many licensed sex offender treatment providers (LSOTPs) who have completed specialized training in the assessment and treatment of youth.
A unique feature of Pegasus Schools is that it also offers plenty of outdoor activities to help youth build self-esteem, which is critical to their recovery. The large campus features a ropes course, fishing holes, a swimming pool, and many other outdoor features.
The success of this approach speaks for itself. Most youth who come to Pegasus are behind academically when they arrive, but 85% of them are at grade level by the time they leave. What’s more, data from Dallas county shows that 80% of the youth who leave Pegasus are in a less restrictive living situation within 5 years of leaving Pegasus. This typically means that youth are no longer in a facility and are either in foster care or back at home.
Despite their successes, a big challenge for Pegasus and the youth in their care has been overcoming stigma within the community. To help change the public’s perception, Pegasus youth take part in a highly successful community service program in which youth complete about 12,000 hours of service in Lockhart and surrounding areas every year. Thanks to these service projects, Pegasus Schools and the youth have come to be seen as a positive influence in Lockhart. As Robert Ellis explains,
“At every chamber banquet, the Mayor will stand up in front of the entire population of Lockhart and tell them that there are so many yearly functions in Lockhart that just couldn’t happen without the Pegasus kids. Now, when we walk down the street with the kids in the Pegasus shirts people come over to shake their hands and thank them.”
For many Pegasus residents, this reaction is the first time they have ever felt respected in a community. Robert explains that when most youth come to Pegasus, they are very apprehensive of the public at first due to stigma. Building the public’s trust is an important way for these youth to build self-esteem. As Robert observes,
“When we’re here in town, many of the kids are openly surprised by how many people come up and tell them what a great job they’re doing. When we get back to campus, we’ll do our groups and talk with the kids. A large portion of the time, that’s our biggest takeaway from the kids: how people see them… as a group of human beings and a positive influence in the community.”