Executive Director of Youth Town
Story by Lyda Kay Ferree, The Southern Lifestyles Lady. Photography by Woody Woodard.
Dr. Pepper Pratt has been involved in ministry to students, couples and families since 1984. He has served as a youth pastor, pastor, psychotherapist in private practice and is currently the Executive Director at Youth Town of Tennessee. Pratt is a graduate of Union University (BS in Sociology), The University of Memphis (MS Counseling and Community Agency), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MA in Christian Education/Family Ministry) and Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary (Ph.D. Biblical Counseling). Pratt has also worked with athletes in performance training locally and mission work around the world including several Olympians and the Dominican National Team in soccer.
Pepper’s passion comes out in seeing people develop into who God has made them. Whether an athlete on the field, a teenager who moves into a sober life or a couple who rediscover each other, he knows that God has uniquely valued them and sown the seeds of His Glory into their lives. As they step in to Sonship and Daughterhood, Pepper knows that there is untapped potential in their lives.
Personally, Dr. Pratt loves fitness, fishing and all forms of adventure. Married to Karen since 1987, they have two sons who walk with God and have connected with two beautiful and godly women. They also claim a harlequin Great Dane and a young Golden Doodle as a part of their family.
VIP: Share a short history of Youth Town.
Dr. Pepper Pratt: The Watlingtons and the Kimes were very instrumental at the beginning of Youth Town which began with some families out South who had a reputation for helping kids who didn’t have a place to live, and they often took them into their homes. Richard Swain of Pinson was the first board president, and Hubert Williams of Medon was on our original board until his death last year. At some point they realized that they needed a place to do this. They purchased land. That is how it got started at the Pinson location. Within the first two to three years the Rotary Club of Jackson got involved and helped build some of the buildings that we still use out here.
On our original board were Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins (we have some vintage photos of them). At some point (probably in the late 60s or early 70s), the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association got involved. At one time all 98 counties in Tennessee were represented with the sheriff of each county. Each county gave $1,000 a year for housing and caring for kids who didn’t have a place to live. That is who we were in 1962-1998. In 1998 there were some changes with the state of Tennessee. Most at that point were all in state custody. The state asked us for a group home to be a treatment model of mental health and behavioral services. We made that change in 1998 and from 1998 until 2004 we collaborated with the Carl Perkins Center and Pathways. We offered residential treatment to the Carl Perkins Center with home-based services when they left. That was very effective.
In 2000 we implemented Judge Christy Little’s Boot Camp called “Youth Challenge.” It ended in 2013. It was funded by a federal block grant, and that funding expired. We knew it was going to expire. It was a great program and had a lot of favor in our county. It focused on younger kids who were first time offenders. It was an attention-getter. It gave them structure and helped motivate them to never come back. It worked, so that was a good thing.
In 2004 we had another flagship. We opened our facility to anyone who wanted to come to Youth Town specifically for substance abuse treatment and have done that since. The large majority of our kids (90 percent plus) are from Tennessee. In 2013 we went from 24 to 32 boys’ beds, and then in 2015 we opened a program for girls. We have 12 beds in a place we call Eden in Beech Bluff.
VIP: What is the mission of Youth Town?
PP: Our mission statement at Youth Town is a residential treatment center that offers professional treatment for co-occurring disorders (substance abuse, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder). It often is paired with the use of substances. We offer a professional residential treatment center through services that are adventure-based, gender responsive, family focused and Christ-centered (non-denominational). A very important part of our treatment is involving the families because they are all going home to their families. The average length of stay at our center is 75-80 days.
VIP: When did you become Executive Director of Youth Town, and what aspect of your professional career assists you in your work at Youth Town?
PP: I became Executive Director of Youth Town in 2013. From 1989 until 1991 I was a youth pastor at North Jackson Baptist Church. I began private practice around 1993 and continued until the present. I was much more limited in private practice when I worked full-time at Youth Town. I was program director from 1998 until 2003. I made the change from a group home model to treatment model. Nick Pappas is in a development capacity.
VIP: What is the current enrollment at Youth Town, and what ages do you serve?
PP: We have 32 boys and 12 girls. Their median age is 12 to 17. Our median age is the older kids who are 15-17 years old.
VIP: Talk about the curriculum offered at Youth Town.
PP: The mission is to help local teenagers who have been in rehab for drug or alcohol abuse to experience a rehabilitation program in a group setting centered around Jesus Christ. The programs at both of our facilities are cutting-edge in working with kids, with gender-responsive approaches to each. And that’s more than delivering the basic services of a treatment facility.
We have evidence-based curriculum. The program for boys is called “Living in Balance” and the girls’ curriculum is called “Voices.” The good part of our curriculum is that we’re not making this up as we go along, not just using our training. We’re using a curriculum that has already been tested and tried and proved to be effective through research. In addition to that, all of our counselors who were in therapy with the kids are licensed counselors. We have assembled a team of clinical folks who are extremely talented and have a vast amount of experience. Some are licensed professional counselors. Others are licensed social workers. We have 6 licensed therapists, and we also have a fantastic psychiatrist who comes to Youth Town one day a week.
Seven days a week the students attend classes. Every child goes through an extensive assessment process and has a customized treatment plan taking into consideration all of their activities ranging from family to drug abuse or other kind of mental health issue they might have. We consider vocational interests and goals, and we screen for suicide and other types of psychosis. We have our own in-house school. For a while we partnered with the Jackson-Madison County School System. In 1998 when we shifted more to a mental health treatment we partnered with Jackson-Madison County Schools. Youth Town is a non-public school, but the Department of Education approved it. We are a church-related non-public school.
VIP: Are there daily extracurricular activities offered?
PP: We have a ropes course and an adventure-based program. On our property is a 30-acre lake and 250 acres of land that we make use of including kayaking, canoeing, and a three-mile walking trail. Mrs. A.V. Patton donated funds for a gymnasium in the late 60s/early 70s, and the gym is named for her. The students play basketball and work out in the gym.
VIP: How long are the youth at Youth Town?
PP: It depends on the students, their needs and their progress. Typically it is a 90-day program. We are constantly in an adversarial relationship with insurance companies to convince them that the child needs to stay longer. We have dozens of kids who don’t have the ability to pay every year. Funds are donated and we get some grant funding.
VIP: What are your current needs at Youth Town?
PP: Families, facilities and the future (the 3 Fs)! Our top need is to help families. We need to add facilities now. We want to get the new girls’ program up and growing. We need a clinical building at Eden, our girls’ campus. Our staff is working out of a trailer. We need a nice clinical building for doctors, nurses and case workers. We need workout facilities for our boys. We have a gymnasium, but some of the weight equipment needs to be updated. We have 18 buildings on our campus. So we always have ongoing facility needs, heating and air needs. We had to replace a walk-in cooler for our cafeteria that cost us $10,000.
VIP: What are your dreams for Youth Town?
PP: We have some dreams of 1) being able to add an even stronger family component, have a family weekend and house families on the campus (would need more facilities and 2) dreams of adding a long term boarding school for kids who want to commit for a year and possibly have some vocational training while they’re here that would launch them into a world of work. But all of these projects require money.
VIP: Tell our VIP readers about Eden. When was it established and how many young women are there at present?
PP: Eden opened in August 2015 in Beech Bluff. At present there are 12 young women there. The residents number from 10 to 12.
VIP: What percentage of attendees at Youth Town return?
PP: Less than 10 percent, but it’s hard to track. We check by phone with kids at 3, 6, 9 or 12 months.
VIP: What counties does Youth Town serve? Only Madison County?
PP: All counties everywhere. We usually have 1-2 kids from out of state. We have kids from California and surrounding states, Kentucky and South Carolina. They find us online and are looking for a Christian-based treatment facility.
VIP: Talk about your fundraising efforts.
PP: On Sunday, February 11 Youth Town hosted a Storybook Date Night fundraiser at the Barn at Snider Farms in Denmark where the guests heard about the mission of Youth Town. A LEGACY for LIFE Golf Tournament benefitting Youth Town will be held on Monday, May 7 at the Jackson Golf & Country Club. Tee Times at 8:00 am and 1:00 pm. For information call Nick Pappas at 731-467-0811 or visit the Youth Town website: www.youthtown.net.
What to Know
P.O. Box 1385, Jackson, TN 38302