Echo Glen Superintendent Don Mead shakes alumnus Elena Latham’s hand after her speech at the 50th anniversary celebration of the institution Sept. 20. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

Echo Glen Children’s Center celebrates 50 years of youth rehab

It’s been 50 years since Echo Glen Children’s Center began operating in the Snoqualmie Valley under the State Department of Social and Health Services as a juvenile rehabilitation institution.

On Wednesday, Sept. 20, the administration welcomed former staff members, alumni, city representatives and many community volunteers to a 50th anniversary celebration.

While it has classrooms, a gym and a lunch room, Echo Glen isn’t just a school. Don Mead, superintendent of Echo Glen for the past 22 years, explained that the 150-acre “medium/maximum” security facility is a place for minors who have committed serious offenses and have been convicted by the court, to go through a rehabilitation process.

“We may consider Echo Glen a training school for juvenile, delinquent boys and girls. These are youth who have committed serious offenses,” Mead said. Name it, he added, and one of the youth might have done it. “A youth who comes here might have committed a number of non-serious offenses or committed one or more serious offenses.”

Mead introduced the various speakers at the 50th anniversary event, including alumni who shared their stories of how Echo Glen helped change their lives.

Elena Latham, a former resident, arrived at age 14 and through her five-year stay at the institution, she gained the skills she needed to find success in the rest of her life.

“I had a lot of self hate, anger toward the community, toward society,” she said. “I was going through foster homes every few days, my adopted family gave custody to the state at a very early age… I don’t regret coming here because it has brought me to the person I am today. If it wasn’t for this place I would still probably be locked up.”

Treating problems

The youth at Echo Glen can spend a few months to many years at the facility, depending on their growth and development. Mead explained that, with the help of partnerships from regional organizations, the institution provides education, mental and physical health care, employment training and drug and alcohol treatment services.

“The services we provide are based on the problems that they have, both in terms of their offense-related problems a well as the emotional-related problems such as mental health issues that a large population comes with, and drug and alcohol problems that many of them come with,” Mead said.

One of the most important partnerships they have is with the Issaquah School District which runs the school and provides a full faculty for the program, Mead said. The school service has allowed the youth to receive a more focused education with small classroom sizes and has allowed alumni like Latham to receive their high school diplomas.

The facility also has vocational education training and job and employment related opportunities. Mead said being able to teach the students there the skills they need to work, how to write resumes, and how to do interviews is vital to their success after they leave the institution.

Echo Glen has come a long way since it was founded in 1967. Mead said a large portion of Echo Glen’s population in the early years was made up of “status offenders,” meaning youth whose offenses would not be considered an offense if they were adults, like truancy or running away from home.

In 1976, status offenders were precluded from being sent to juvenile rehabilitation institutions, which allowed Echo Glen to focus more on the treatment of children who had committed more serious offenses.

In a partnership with the University of Washington, Echo Glen implemented an evidence-based treatment called Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), developed by UW researcher Marsha Linehan in the 1980s. Focusing on the mental health, behavior, education, and life skills has improved the success of rehabilitation, Mead said.

“Everybody saw how well it was working, we decided to use the work here as a pilot for all of juvenile rehabilitation institutions and community facilities,” he said. “That became a turning point in our approach to doing treatment, now we focus on what has been described as evidence-based treatment… We started DBT and DBT became the pilot for all of the institutions and facilities for the state. It became known across the country.”

That treatment, focusing one-on-one with the youth living at the institution, was extremely important Latham said.

“One thing that really stuck with me was one-on-one with staff, the time they would take to make sure that I was OK,” she said. “They saw the best in me, they knew I could keep going.”

Visible results

For Mead, seeing results of treatment in alumni like Latham are part of why he continues to work in juvenile rehabilitation.

“Making a difference is the most crucial reason for doing what I do, actually seeing the results,” he said. “We are seeing the kind of outcome that we believe is transforming the way we do business in juvenile corrections, as opposed to locking them up because they are offenders and punishing them, we pay attention to their real needs and especially those developmental needs and we see the difference. That’s why I am still here, that’s why I still do the work, because there is still more work to be done.”

While Echo Glen celebrated the growth of the past 50 years, the staff also looked to the future and outlined their goals to expand and improve services such as drug and alcohol treatment and trauma-focused treatment.

Latham is looking to the future as well, she attends Bellevue College and will soon graduate with a degree in criminal justice. She has steady employment and participates a recreational soccer league.

“I came back to share what the staff had done for me, and for them to see the progress I had made. I want them to know if it wasn’t for them, if it wasn’t for the skills that they taught me, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said.

“The staff come here to work with you, to help you and change your life, and I am very thankful for that.”

Superintendent Don Mead thanks the staff and volunteers who put in time and effort to help the residents of the institution. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

Alumnus Elena Latham talks about her experience living at Echo Glen. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

Paintings done by Echo Glen residents lined the walls of the gym at the event. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

Former Superintendent Jim Giles speaks about his 25 years working at Echo Glen. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

The main office is the first thing visitors see once they arrive. (Evan Pappas/Staff Photo)

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