Visionquest Helps Change Path Of Troubled Youth

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That wagon train passing through Payson Thursday morning wasn't the version Hollywood actor Ward Bond made famous in the 1960s hit television series.

Rather, it was a VisionQuest train led by a man the teenage residents of VQ know simply as "Captain Neabors."

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While camping at the Payson Event Center for three days, the 33 teenagers in the VisionQuest rehabilitation program lived in tepees.

The 33 boys participating in the train camped at the Payson Event Center for three days before departing June 24 for Flagstaff.

The journey, which lasts three months, began in Elfredia and traveled through Globe, Safford and Wilcox before making the stop in Payson.

When the wagon train finally reaches Flagstaff, the teenagers will be discharged to a Quest group home in Pennsylvania. Another band of boys will then join the train for its three-month return trip to Elfredia.

Although VisionQuest is a nationwide program with headquarters in Coatesville, Pa.; its Western Center offices are located in Elfredia and Tucson.

As a 14-year employee of VisionQuest, Neabors has led countless wagon trains along the Elfredia/Flagstaff trails.

"They are all challenges, everyone of them different," he said.

The teenagers in the VQ wagon train are usually wards of the court who --ad they not opted to participate in the experience -- could have been incarcerated.

The youths are referred by judges, attorneys, caseworkers and probation officers.

"The wagon train is the opportunity for the boys to turn things right," Neabors said.

The wagon train gives the at-risk youth the extraordinary experience of traveling via horseback and covered wagon. The wagon trains usually consists of eight mule-drawn wagons that travel about 15 miles each day and periodically make two- or three-day rest stops.

Residing in tepees set up at each stop, youth and staff sleep, eat, attend school, care for their animals and work toward their treatment goals within the confines of the train.

During the experience, they have the opportunity to deal with past problems and build a foundation for a responsible future.

At 5:30 a.m. Thursday, the youngsters were scrambling to take down the Payson camp and prepare for the trip to their next stop.

"Everyone should see them working as a team. It's impressive," Neabors said.

For many youths the wagon train is the beginning of a new direction in life, Neabors said.

Although he admits he faces many frustrations, he contends the job has its rewards when each wagon train ends.

"It's fun to see how much they change when they first come in and from when we send them off," he said. "They are not used to anyone holding the boundaries on them. When we do hold the boundaries and be firm and fair, they begin to learn and grow."

Neabors said he was sure the VisionQuest Wagon Train approach is successful in reducing recidivism and helping at-risk youth be more productive.

"The Rand Corporation did a study and our success rate was about 72 percent," he said. "That's very good in this work."

After the train ends and the wards are sent to the group home, they eventually are rewarded with weekend home passes.

"We want to ease them back into the community," he said.

While in the group home, they are monitored, counseled and taught fundamental life skills. If the teens continue to abide by the laws and progress, they are eventually allowed to return to society.

The wagon trains have been a part of the VisionQuest treatment program since 1976.

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