Family Foundation School / Allynwood Academy
CLOSED (August 2014)




Andrea DiGenno

My name is Andrea DiGenno. I attended the Family Foundation School from June 1998 to June 2000. During which time i witnessed my peers being abused mentally and physically as i endured the same.
When i got to the family school i was heavily involved in drugs was emaciated and unable to think clearly and rationally. I was taken from my house by two bounty hunters who hand cuffed and shackled me in my pajamas and took me into their car only to drive two and a half hours away to the foothills of the catskills to the elusive Family School. When i arrived i was gawked at, laughed at and questioned like a war criminal. My clothes were all taken away, while i was asked if i was a whore. My lack of self esteem at the time had made me feel like they were right. My parents were told not to speak to me, signed the papers which handed over my life to these supposedly trusted people and left. I did not speak to them for at least a month.

During my first few weeks there i was told i was nothing special, was nothing more than a blow up doll used and thrown away like a tissue. I was a whore and my birthmother was the same. If i wasn't careful i would finish her cycle. These verbal put downs were displayed in front of groups of girls as well as boys, men and women who were requested and encouraged to add their sentiments on the situation. These sentiments were only allowed if they were in the same vein as the leaders of these groups I was forced to eat food i was allergic to and had never eaten before. If food was not finished at one meal it would be finished at the next as well as the meal served at that time all while being forced to face the wall in the corner. I gained 60 pounds in five months which is by no means healthy. My clothes did not fit anymore and but since they had denounced me as vein and way too into my looks, i was not allowed ANY new clothes restricting me from being comfortable for months. Being called fat and being ashamed of my looks, I was not allowed to wear minimal makeup like the rest of the girls and all my hair was cut off. They had allowed me to keep my hair for a part in a play and cut it the day after the play was over. As my size grew my insecurity followed suit.

At three months there i was forced to scrub human feces off planks of wood used to keep a dock in a cow pond as my sanction for standing up for myself. These are only a few of the things that happened to me. I witnessed people being restrained by staff and students with extreme force. I witnessed staff yelling in students faces about their issues as if they were no less then petty drama made up by the students. These issues included rape, molestation, abuse, death and many other serious problems that can NOT be dealt with through intimidation.

We were told we were evil, children of the devil and our only salvation was following their rules and worshipping their gods. Religion was forced upon EVERY child and was expected to be followed. Leaders of staff were molesting children and blaming other students for these situations. Some students were taken on outings and touched by a specific highly trusted staff member. Upon return said students blew the whistle to their parents resulting in their immediate removal from the school as not to infect the rest of the population with their propaganda. I as many other female students experienced blame for the students removal. If we werent such whores these boys would of been able to continue with their program instead of leaving. As the years went on we realized that if we didnt become fake and participate in the abuse we would never leave. I was left back upon arrival and told i couldnt leave until i turned 18.

At 18 i tried to leave and i was put in isolation my sneakers taken and NEVER given back. They were lost i was told. So i spent the last year of my stay being snubbed and trying my hardest to achieve their standards of excellence. I participated in yelling at and restraining other students, I made speeches and participated in the schools propaganda at family days telling other parents about the success this school had afforded me. All of which were lies. I was dying inside an empty shell i was made to believe was filled by love honesty respect and unselfishness our schools motto. Things none of us had experienced while their. The only people who loved us, namely our parents we were on a once a week speaking basis with. A privilege that depended on wether or not we did our home work everyday for 8 classes or more.

We were given approximately 2-3 hours a day to finish our assignments many of which were forced advanced placement which we got no special help for. Our passing grade was raised to 85 and if our group didnt all pass at this grade we were not allowed ANY extra food. We were also forced to run a mile every night right after dinner before we could start our homework. This cut our time down by sometimes 40 minutes as we had to wait until every last person was done, in all weather conditions. Normal treatment was celebrated. No one was honest with us or our parents. While we lived a daily lie our parents were constantly manipulated by the school, being told we needed more help more structure more discipline and more work before we were even close to ready to come home. Leaving became an impossible task looked at as almost the holy grail.

There was no respect for our needs. I as well as many others were held from using bathrooms only to result in the soiling of themselves and the embarasing nature of the circumstances. As for being unselfish, we were forced to confine our selves to small spaces, shower for only 4 minutes in sulfur water and live in unsafe conditions. This was called being selfless by the staff and senior members around us. During winters the dorms had no heat and I myself as well as many others became very sick. With a 103 fever and bronchitis i was forced to participate in ALL daily activities including school, work and chores. Only to have my sickness relapse 3 times during the same winter. I developed asthma and was not produced an inhaler.

During my stay i developed a rash and was seen by the school doctor and was told that i had developed an std. With no blood taken and no second opinion i was lead to believe this lie for over two years only to find out it was an infection from a dirty razor. But all of the physical suffering pales in comparison to the mental anguish i have survived over the past 8 years since i have graduated. Failed relationships, jobs and leaving college all due to my lack of trust. I have been successful at helping myself through medication and therapy but do NOT under any circumstances believe that my lack there of was caused by not working their "program". Out of my class of 40 no one is sober, and many are dead. Not only do i believe their is a better way for children to be rehabilitated from their afflictions but i also believe their is a way to get over the abuse me and my fellow classmates endured at the Family School. I take full responsibility for the hurt i caused my family previous to my stay at this school, with my drug use, defiance and arrogance, but mostly i take responsibility for my recovery from what happened to us in this institution. I believe there is a much better way, and this school does not deserve the right to punish children for their lack of knowledge or their psychological problems any longer. I am now 6 months pregnant, sober and starting my life over. I life i believe i deserved and could of had long ago.

I say none of this for pity or selfish gain. I say this to STOP INSTITUTIONALIZED CHILD ABUSE. If you or anyone you know has been through this school or one like it please contact a local support group or the groups as follows. Please, you are NOT ALONE. Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth http://www. cafety. org

If you want to get involved or are just interested in helping yourself contact CAFETY. ALSO... Submit your stories to the LIONHEARTED CREW. Lionhearted Crew is a community of survivors just like us... please share your story!!!

Submitted By: Andrea digenno