NEWPORT — Camp E Ma Henwu, the youth counseling facility operated by Eckerd Youth Alternatives Inc. and surrounded by forestland at the end of Sam Hatcher Road, will be closing soon due to expected cuts in state funding.
Details were still being worked out at presstime but the facility, which opened in 1979 and currently serves 55 youth, is one of about 40 programs for troubled and at-risk children operated in North Carolina and eight other states by the nonprofit Eckerd organization of Clearwater, Fla.
E-Ma-Henwu is one of seven camp programs and one of two Eckerd expects to close.
“It is going to be a very sad day. We regret this program is closing due to budget cuts at the state level,” said Eckerd spokesman Karen Bonsignori. “E Ma Henwu has over the years helped thousands of at-risk use turn their lives around.”
Camp E-Ma-Henwu serves troubled boys and girls ages 10-16.
Keith Walker, director of East Carolina Community Development Inc. of Beaufort, is a former counselor at the camp. He said the experience was a launch pad for many counselors’ careers and had a profound positive effect on thousands of troubled teens.
“It has changed the lives of countless kids and adults,” Mr. Walker said. “And there are a bunch of folks who owe their careers to starting out here.”
Ms. Bonsignori said the decision to close the facility was “extremely painful” but the facility can’t be operated with the expected loss of state funding.
“We still do not have official confirmation on the exact amount that our budget is being cut, although we do expect it to be at least $2.5 million,” Ms. Bonsignori said. “In arriving at a decision on which programs to close, we tried to arrive at a closure option that would have the least negative impact on the greatest number of families in North Carolina.”
E-Ma-Henwu means “their true self” in the Muskokee Native American Indian language. The camp setting is an outdoor therapeutic program that provides individualized academics and treatment.
“The outdoors is utilized as part of that therapeutic process,” Ms. Bonsignori said.
She the program involves traditional education classroom sessions but the focus is on “experiential education.”
According to the organization, that includes hands-on learning, small peer group living, counseling and family services, and adventure activities such as the ropes course, canoe and backpacking trips.
The camp has about 44 on staff that Eckerd will be helping to apply for other positions. The 55 youth will be transferred to other programs.
“We are going to work diligently to make a smooth transition for staff and we’re working with (N.C.) Department of Juvenile Justice and other agencies to find appropriate placement,” Ms. Bonsignori said.
Eckerd has made no decisions on what to do with the land hidden deep in the pocosin southwest of Newport.
“We are looking at all options currently,” Ms. Bonsignori said.