Family Foundation School / Allynwood Academy
CLOSED (August 2014)




Marisa (Mitnaul) Diaz

I attended FFS from August 1999-December 2001; my sister Deanna attended from February 1999-August 2001. I don't think I have anything new to add to any of the previous testimonies, but will share some of my experiences, none-the-less.
I arrived at FFS after being told I was going to visit my sister, who had been at FFS for about 6 months at that point. With the exception of some unnecessarily poor grades due to horrific school attendance, I was not a "bad" kid or a "troubled teen."
The intake process - which has been described a couple of times already - was humiliating, violating, and just unnecessary. I think I was one of the "luckier" students, in that I was placed in family 2 (eventually became family 7) w/Bob and Susan Runge as family leaders, and some of the "nice" staff members (Jim K., Frank, Larry Patriso). Eventually, I was moved to the new family 8, with Mary Hanstein and Neil Dolan as family leaders. Mary seemed to have a particular disdain for my sister and I, which made family 8 much worse for me than family 2/7.
Imagine my confusion as I walked down the hallway after the wretched intake process, saw my sister, said "Hi" and heard her cold response - "blackout." I was not permitted to speak to my sister for 6 months. On several occasions, she was summoned from her family to come down to mine where the staff in my family attempted to get her to "turn on me"; they were unsuccessful.
At one point, I was placed on a work sanction (can't remember why). For several days, I was forced to carry buckets of rocks up and down the road. One day, it started raining. I was placed in the gym with another girl on a work sanction and told that we had to finish cleaning the entire gym floor - with toothbrushes - in order to receive lunch.
My sister was always a picky eater. Each time we were served the Ruben sandwich, it took her a minimum of 4 meals to be able to force it down her throat. Having likes and dislikes was not an option. I had a particularly hard time with the Fritata (egg lasagna thing). On one occasion, I was served that same fritata for 9 meals straight (over a course of 4 days), until a decent staff member was working and finally allowed me to throw the damn thing away.
I also suffer from several food allergies, and was forced to eat foods that caused me what I now know as the beginnings of anaphylaxis (swollen tongue, swollen soft palate, itchy throat). It was not until my mom got in touch with my family leaders that I was finally able to stop eating these foods (particularly blueberries).
At one point my sister was placed in the corner on family blackout because she refused to go to Confession; we are not Catholic.
While at FFS, I had experienced some health issues with fainting. On one occasion, I fainted during AM chores, hit my head on the edge of the bathtub, and was found unconscious by one of my dorm-mates. Not only was I not taken to a doctor, but my mother only found out 2 days later when my sister made her weekly phone call home. Of course my mother demanded that I be taken to a doctor immediately, where I was initially diagnosed with a concussion, and later diagnosed with a (minor) heart condition. On another occasion, I injured my hand (I can't remember how) and was not permitted to see a doctor for several days, despite extreme swelling. It was determined a couple of days later when I was taken for an x-ray that I had a broken finger.
I witnessed grotesque amounts of verbal abuse, mainly from staff members. There was one student in my family - a very young girl (only 7th grade at the time) who was routinely and ritualistically humiliated in front of the entire family, including her older sister. I was constantly called "spoiled" and "snotty" and my sister and I had to tend to the family's pigs for the entire season.
At one point, my grandfather's 80th birthday was approaching. My sister and I were scheduled to go on a "family visit" in order to attend this party. When report cards came out, a student in my family had - again - failed her classes. Mary Hanstein decided at that time that if this girl did not pass her classes the next month, my sister and I would be held responsible, as we were her new tutors. So, when the next month's report cards came out and the girl failed her classes, WE were placed on family blackout and not permitted to attend our grandfather's party, while this girl got off scott-free.
While on breakfast crew, I witnessed Woody literally pick up a young boy (from family 5) and THROW HIM down the hallway, simply because the boy wasn't moving quickly enough for Woody's liking.
My sister was forced to have her hair cut into a short "boy style". A friend was forced to have her hair cut on three separate occasions. Students were routinely forced to wear ratty old clothes while on a "poverty sanction". We were often punished by not being allowed to use anything but bar soap and shampoo during our (4-minute) showers - no hair conditioner, lotion, shaving cream, etc. -- A NIGHTMARE for someone with painfully dry skin!
Early on in my stay, one of my dorm-mates was diagnosed with scabies (skin mites). The entire dorm was forced to apply a prescription ointment to our skin. Due to my allergies, I had a terrible reaction to this ointment. Had I been seen by a doctor - or even been permitted to READ the list of ingredients on the package, I would have known not to use this ointment.
The most disturbing situation for me while at FFS involved another student who clearly had serious emotional/mental issues. For 3 months, this girl was moved in and out of isolation. She spent 23 out of 24 hours per day in the isolation room, and the girls in our family all took turns sleeping on a mattress outside of the isolation door. For one hour per day, she was picked up and thrown outside (in the snow) for some "fresh air". She routinely urinated on herself - her dry tuna sandwich, etc. She banged her head on the wall so hard the she left blood stains on the white walls. Finally, after 3 months, I accompanied Darlene (family 4 staff member) and two other students as we took this girl to the psychiatric hospital in a town about an hour away. I still wonder what ever happened to that girl.
A few weeks (maybe months?) before my 18th birthday - which happened to be when I was supposed to graduate (June 2001), my parents were informed that I would not be permitted to graduate because I had not "completed the program". I was stuck. My only choice was to stay, take random college courses and "life skills" classes and graduate in December (6 months late) or to walk on my 18th birthday, and have my transcripts withheld (or so I was told). I stayed, and managed to fly under the radar for the next 6 months.
My mom passed away unexpectedly in August 2008. A few months before she was killed, she had begun to uncover the truth about FFS. She called me in the middle of the night one night crying and begging for my forgiveness for having sent me to FFS. She - like most of the other parents - had no clue just HOW bad the experience was for my sister and I. She was actively involved in the Parent's Network (I think that's what it was called) and even helped the school in "recruiting" other families by speaking to prospective clients and helping to convince them how wonderful FFS was.
Unfortunately, I could go on and on and on. I feel a deep sadness for those fellow students whose emotional growth has been stunted as a result of the trauma incurred while at FFS and can only hope that the practices at FFS have changed since my days there.