Abundant Life Academy (2000-2014) Kanab, UT/Milford, VA
Christian Boarding School
History and Background Information
Abundant Life Academy was a behavior-modification program that opened in December of 2000. It was marketed as a Christian Boarding School for troubled teenagers (12-18) who are “entitled”, “selfish”, “self-centered”, or “self-engrossed”. According to ALA’s archived website, the teens at ALA did not need mental health treatment, they needed “the reality of Jesus Christ in their life”. The program’s maximum enrollment is presently unknown, and the average length of stay was reportedly between 12 and 18 months. The cost of the program’s tuition was reportedly around $4,500 per month ($55,000 per year).
Abundant Life Academy operated roughly 7 programs located throughout the United States, Mexico, and the Czech Republic. The first ALA program was started in Mexico, followed by the Czech Republic, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, and Georgia. More specific information regarding ALA’s location can be found below.
Abundant Life Academy did not describe or market itself as a therapeutic program. They did not treat mental illness, nor did they provide any methods of evidence-based therapy. Their archived website actually stated, in part, “Abundant Life Academy does not offer any mental health service. As a matter of fact, we believe that providing therapy to entitled kids only feeds into their entitlement. Instead of teaching our kids to be responsible, and hold them accountable for their actions, we label their negative behavior calling it “bipolar”, or “oppositional defiance disorder”. In doing so we give them excuses for their behavior… Basically, a majority of the kids who are diagnosed are really just very immature. How can you prescribe a drug or provide therapy and expect to overcome immaturity. We are all fooling ourselves.”
Founders and Notable Staff
Craig Rogers was the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Abundant Life Academy. Himself a troubled teenager, he eventually steered himself straight through his faith. He went on to earn a BA in Psychology and a minor in Chemical Dependency Studies from California State University, Sacramento. He then worked as the Program Director of Positive Impact in Bahia de Kino, Mexico. He also worked as a Social Worker Supervisor at Rite of Passage of Nevada from 1998 until 2000. He co-founded ALA in December of 2000 along with his wife, Wendy, and served as the program’s Executive Director, CEO, and Director of Marketing until September of 2011. He is also rumored to have been involved with the notorious and confirmedly abusive WWASP organization, but this is unconfirmed. He currently works as the Executive Director of Digital Marketing at Wingate Wilderness, where he began working in November of 2011.
Wendy Rogers was the Co-Founder of Abundant Life Academy. She became involved with the TTI through her husband, Craig. She earned a BS in Physical Education/Dance from California State University, Sacramento. She then worked alongside her husband as the Assistant Program Director of Positive Impact in Bahia de Kino, Mexico.
Paul Branning purchased Abundant Life Academy in 2012 and took over operations of the program until its closure in 2014.
Penny Frank worked as the Executive Director of Abundant Life Academy. Prior to this, she worked as a Therapist at the reportedly abusive SunHawk Academy from 2000 until 2002. She also previously worked at a variety of unknown TTI programs.
Greg Hitchcock was a Board Member/Corporate Officer at Abundant Life Academy. He also worked for ALA’s referral/marketing arm, Zion Educational Systems.
David Aguilar worked at Abundant Life Academy in an unknown position. Prior to this, he worked alongside Craig Rogers at the reportedly absive Positive Impact in Bahia de Kino, Mexico.
Abundnat Life Academy was originally opened in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico under the name “Xtreme Faith Academy”. In 2003, ALA opened a second campus near Guadalajara, Mexico. Both of these programs were closed following a raid by Mexican authorities, where 17 American youths were removed from their care after they were found to be in Mexico without proper travel or residency documents.
In 2003, ALA expanded and began operating a program located at 220 N 300 W, Kanab, UT 84741, which was the former campus of the WWASP-affiliated New Beginnings Maternity Home. In 2011, the Kanab program was moved to a new campus at 948 N 1300 W, St. George, UT 84770, which was the former campus of SunHawk Academy. This program appears to have closed around 2014.
Around 2004, ALA opened a campus on a remote ranch near Ely, Nevada. It was reportedly called the “Hidden Canyon Ranch”. In May of 2005, CPS removed 33 teenagers from ALA’s campus in Nevada after receiving reports of child abuse and neglect from parents and survivors.
Czech Republic (?-?)
ALA also operated a program in the Czech Republic, but the specific timeline of this program’s existence is presently unknown.
ALA later opened a campus in Virginia that was located at 20500 Remuda Ln, Milford, VA.
It has been reported that ALA at some point operated a program in Georgia located at 236 Leadership Ln, Jesup, GA. No further information is currently known about this program.
Like other behavior modification programs, Abundant Life Academy used a level system consisting of four phases. In order to advance to the next phase, students had to admit to a minimum number of transgressions in front of their peers. They also had to complete essay assignments stating how they were to blame for being put in the program. Additionally, they had to participate in assignments with their parents on phone calls. The assignments were “Family Reconciliation” where the child apologized and admitted they were to blame for being sent away. They would not advance unless they said these things. The phases are reported to have been:
- New-O: When a teen arrived at ALA, they were placed on New-O for a minimum of 7 days. While on this phase, they were given no privileges and were essentially in isolation from the rest of the program. The teen was not allowed to talk to anyone except one designated student who would explain the rules. They had to be the first in single-file line at all events, and they would get served cafeteria food by themselves. They were not allowed to eat at the same table, as they were not allowed to be near the other students. This phase was also used as a punishment to teens who broke rules or were deemed non-compliant.
- 1st Phase: This phase lasted for a minimum of 4 months. There were no privileges on this phase. The student had to wear the uniform at all times, and they were only permitted to have one pair of shoes. They were not allowed any personal cosmetics or any personal belongings except a journal. They had no privileges in day-to-day events.
- 2nd Phase: This phase usually lasted around 3-4 months. The teens had some, but not all, privileges. They were allowed to have additional pairs of shoes, as well as books/gifts that their parents sent them. They were allowed to wear the school uniform sweatpants in the cafeteria, which was not allowed on 1st phase. They were expected to be a “Leader in Training” (LIT) on this phase. LITs had some authority over the other students. Mostly they would sit in on nightly “Leader” meetings with Leader students & staff.
- 3rd Phase: This was the most privileged phase, and it usually lasted around 3-4 months. During this phase, the teens were allowed to wear their own clothing on weekends and have their own cosmetics. They were expected to be a “Leader” status. Leaders would consult with the staff on what special privileges the students “deserved” for the week. How the weekends would be scheduled. How lower phase students should be punished. Leaders were also expected to keep the student community following the rules.
The teens were also forced to participate in group sessions called AFMs. If a student broke the rules, an Emergency AFM was made. These AFMs consisted of the condemned student having to admit that they did something wrong in order to move to the next phase.The AFM would take place in a horseshoe set up, where all the students would sit in a semi-circle and one student would be chosen to be in the “hot seat.” The hot seat student would have to share something they were struggling with and the students would give feedback on what they should do. At the end of the meeting, consequences would be given. Especially if the meeting was for breaking rules. Consequences usually involved being on “New-O” status for a week.
Rules and Punishments
The rules of the program revolved heavily around conservative Christian values. Any swearing, backtalking, “victimizing or blameshifting to staff” was prohibited. Sexual misconduct was punished severely. The program was reportedly extremely homophobic and extreme consequences were given for any hint of LGBTQ+ identity. The teen also were prohibited from communicating with the outside world, and children were not allowed to speak openly to their parents when they were on monitored phone calls once a week. If the teens said anything negative about the program, the call would end immediately, followed by consequences for the student for “lying, being rebellious.”
The most common punishment for an individual was being put on “New-O” which was isolation/silence treatment. Students would be dropped a phase level for a whole month and privileges and graduation date taken away. If an individual student broke too many rules, the threat was always being sent to wilderness programs. There were students during my time that were sent to wilderness for a few months, then returned to ALA looking horribly beat up.
Severe consequences would be inflicted if too many rules were broken. When this happened, all phases would be put on “Staff Run.” Staff Run was basically “New-O” status for all students 24/7 until the staff decided the students could resume their normal phase privileges. During Staff Run, the teens were forced to sit on the floor in silence at all times (furniture was not allowed). The teens were also forced to do exercises 3x daily for as long as the staff wanted, and they were not allowed enough time to take a shower after all the exercises. After hours of sitting on the floor in silence, they were allowed to go to bed at night. The staff would periodically lecture the teens about how bad the students had behaved to deserve this punishment.
The teens were also reportedly threatened with being sent away to other, “worse” programs. Some of these programs include Provo Canyon School, Diamond Ranch Academy, and Red Rock Canyon School.
Abuse Allegations and Lawsuits
Many survivors have reported that Abundant Life Academy was an abusive program.
In October 2014, four ALA staff members were arrested after they were caught on video tackling and assaulting a 14-year-old boy at the program in Milford, VA. The video shows the 14-year-old attempting to make a run for it, at which point the four staff members, Timothy Jordan, Jovanny Rivera, Carey Honea and Liam Galligan, tackled him to the ground. The staff members were arrested and charged with assault by mob and assault. However, in their hearing the staff members struck a deal with the Commonwealth’s Attorney and pleaded guilty to simple assault.
Abundanty Life Academy faced a series of closures throughout its existence.
The first ALA closure occured in 2004 after local authorities raided the ALA program in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico (also called Xtreme Faith Academy). The program was raided because they “did not comply with sanitary regulations.” The raid came less than a year after the raid on the notorious and confirmedly abusive WWASP facility, Casa by the Sea. Following the raid, 17 students at ALA were extradited to the U.S. after they found to be in Mexico without proper travel or residency documents. It appears that both of ALA’s programs in Mexico closed shortly after the raid.
In May of 2005, CPS removed 33 teenagers from ALA’s campus in Nevada after receiving reports of child abuse and neglect from parents and survivors. Because of this, ALA took the state to court and the jury found the state did not have reasonable grounds to remove the children from the academy. A judge also denied immunity from personal liability for Robin Landry, the rural head of the division’s Child Protective Services, who had led the move to remove the children from ALA. In 2009, the state requested a new trial and tried to secure immunity for Landry. Ultimately, the judge ruled that Landry was immune from civil liability after “Landry could reasonably have believed that DCFS was justified in removing the students from the [Abundant Life Academy] for their own safety.”
The final ALA program (Virginia) closed in December of 2014. The closure came after four life coaches were convicted of simple assault and several episodes of violent beatings were caught on camera in 2013.
12/12/2020: (SURVIVOR) “Abundant Life Academy, and other schools like it, created unlimited amounts of damage. The trauma and brainwashing sticks with every student into their adult years. It’s an incredibly unethical thing to do to any child, no matter what they may be going through with their parents. It weighs on my mind that no one in my “normal” daily life knows what the Troubled Teen Industry is and how big a crisis this is for children. I’m grateful I found the TTI Subreddit to see there are other people who care about spreading the word about these programs.” – Anonymous, (submitted directly to wiki)
2015: (SURVIVOR) “worst place ever made my life 1000x worse and Paul bruaning should be in prison for life that was not a place of god but the devil never ruin your kids life even more by bringing them near this place” – Matt (Google Reviews)
10/16/2013: (EX-STAFF) “When ALA was in Kanab Ut. it was ran down. I worked there for a short time, and I only saw it get worse. From decent food to know snack food for meals. Not enough staff members for students, and most of the time I got left alone with over 20 students. A staff member would bring her year old son in their and leave it to a student to take care of him while she disappeared. The owners never had money in the account every time I cashed my check it bounced. The program director and his wife were the only good head staff that worked there. The owner was stealing money from the school, he had 3 houses over looking the bluff , around 6 cars and no money. Parents paid alot to send their kids there and it did not reflect on where the students lived or ate… I loved working with the kids, and being there for them but this place was a disaster.. ALA is now under new ownership I do believe so no more of the old owners.. So take a deep look in to the new ALA and make your decision from there.” – Trust (Yelp)
5/20/2013: (PARENT) “We were having some problems with our daughter, but we weren’t exactly sure what was going on with her. We were recommended by another facility, that ALA was where she needed to be, and rushed her off to the facility for 6 months with only a 24 hour notice. Though we knew nothing about the facility we were told that it was a Christian based facility, and could help troubled teens. We were pushed extremely hard by the director at the time, Dave G. to sign the contract, though we did not agree to most of the terms, and stated to him that we were uncertain, and that we did not want our child at a facility for a year not knowing what exactly was wrong with her, and that we needed a better evaluation of her. We searched Google and Blogs about ALA and found horrible responses pertaining to the facility…. Though we were smoothed over by the director that everything was fine, and that they were a christian based company, and that she was in safe hands. After 3 months of our constant emails and countless phone calls for her to be tested and evaluated, we found that our daughter did not need to be at the facility after the evaluation. She needed to somewhere else, though we told ALA this and that had expressed to us that they could not provide the service needed for her, nor did they have the staff to do it. We removed our daughter from ALA after 4 months, because they could NOT provide the service that was needed, but strangely they are suing us for a contract that they could not provide. Our doctor stated to us ( It’s like having someone in a mental institution, though they DO NOT need to be there in the facility, the hospital won’t release you because they need the money) ALA IS A CROOKED BASED CHRISTIAN FACILITY, they are greedy, and when they recognize that they cant help your child, they still want you to pay……… The school promotes that they are Christian based, though I thought that Christian’s don’t sue other Christian’s…. Please choose another facility for your child, unfortunately the comment made by the gentleman before is correct in his statements” – Ashlyn (Yelp)
5/9/2013: (SURVIVOR) “I would give negative stars for this if I could! I was at ALA in 2007 and my experience was that there was no licensed psychiatric help, there were “life coaches” who did not display Christian principles (Mormon staff who does not know the difference between Christianity and Mormonism, former students that went there straight out of graduating because they had nowhere better to go, and would show up to work stoned…etc) When pressed about why the life coaches were not very helpful, Craig’s response was “They are not counselors, you shouldn’t take anything from them too seriously; they are essentially babysitters” At the time, the program was located in very rural Kanab, Utah. They continue to operate in Utah because these teen behavior modification places aren’t monitored there. Also, they were shut down by Child Protective Services in Nevada. They were also shut down by Mexican officials in their old program in Mexico. I believe that Craig Rogers has since sold this program so I cannot attest to how things currently are, but when I was in attendance, many of the “therapies” they mentioned such as equestrian were not going on. I would tell any parent to VISIT THE FACILITY before sending their child away, something many shockingly fail to do.” – Vanessa (Yelp)
3/15/2013: (SURVIVOR) “This place is horrendous. I was sent there when the Mexico location had shut down back in 2004. Then all their different locations shut down and all fled to Utah/Nevada. There were some amazing people that worked there but Craig and Wendy are crooks. There was a man named Franco trying to touch some of us girls. Other staff, mostly Craig, came back saying he was possessed and was fine and had him continue to work with us. We went weeks without clean clothes and some of the students were tormented by other students. I believe in God and I live for him but it was not because of the horrible place that was shut down after my 5 months of being there. Seriously, if your child comes out OK it’s because of prayer. Not because of the program. The things that happened, the way we were treated and the things Craig said and did make him a modern day monster. It has been years since it was closed down but I know they have been reopened since a few weeks after they were shut down. Take it from someone who went there and knows the students still receiving counselling to this day because of the things that happened there…..don’t send your kids there. If you ever choose to send your kids to a program, make sure you are diligent in prayer. I was sent away right after to a different place and it was shut down 2 months after I graduated for the same stuff. It’s so sad…….I still have nightmares of being sent back and it’s been years now…….” – Nicole (Yelp)
1/24/2013: (PARENT) “We trusted the school based on conversations with counselors. There was a significant disconnect in our conversations and the realities of the school. There are key questions to ask when dealing with a “Therapeutic School”: How many full time licensed therapists do you have on staff; How much time do they spend with the students; What are the milestones and when should they occur; What is the schools association with local MD’s; Can the school get appointments with the local MD’s; who owns the school; What other schools, programs, services, websites, publishing companies are owned either directly or indirectly; What is staff turnover, what are the staff credentials; What is the State definition of “Therapeutic School”; what other schools or programs have the owner(s) or those running the school are or were associated with; why did the corporate name change; have there been complaints or legal actions against the school or the key personnel. How many students leave the program early over the last 12 months; why did they leave. Describe the payment process. How do you talk to a counselor about the program – is it through an 800 Number or a local number, are the representatives agents or employees of the school, are the counselors local to the school or spread out across the country. All of these are critical topics and questions that any caring parent should understand. Many comments, review sites, and websites are owned by a small group of individuals who run multiple schools and programs.” – Kurt (Yelp)
12/29/2012: (PARENT) “We put our son in this school for 5 months. We were sold on the website, testimonies, and smooth talk. Unfortunately, the staff turn over was ridiculous. The school didn’t work the “program” as they describe then again the staff seemed to be in constant flux. We started out with a lot of hope and ended up being really let down. Our perception is the director sits in his office and let’s the minimum wage staff deal with the kids. The school promotes that they build character, integrity, responsibility with the kids but they don’t have either integrity or character. This was a waste of money, time and mental and emotional energy. Don’t be fooled by the smooth talk.” – Jas (Yelp)
Abundant Life Academy Website Homepage (archived, 2005)
Abundant Life Academy at Europe Website Homepage
Abundant Life Academy – Secret Prisons for Teens
HEAL Program Information – Abundant Life Academy
Abundant Life Academy – 1000 Places You Don’t Want to be as a Teenager
Abundant Life Academy Enrollment Agreement
The Truth About Abundant Life Academy – Facebook Group
Students at Mexican Schools for ‘Behavior Problems’ Sent Back to U.S. (Fox News, 12/10/2004)
74 Americans taken out of ‘irregular’ schools (Gulf News, 12/11/2004)
State defends action at academy (Las Vegas Review-Journal, 11/15/2009)
Abundant Life Academy has employee shake-up (Southern Utah News, 12/8/2010)
Video captures Christian boarding school life coaches, program director assaulting boy (WTVR, 10/9/2014)
SEE IT: Videos show teen brutally attacked by Christian boarding school workers — leading to assault, battery convictions (NY Daily News, 10/10/2014)
Owner of Christian Academy closes school amid security questions, abuse convictions (WTVR, 12/2/2014)
Caroline County supervisors revoke Abundant Life Academy’s special-exception permit (The Free Lance-Star, 2/11/2015)
Abusive Boarding School (Mountain View Mirror, 10/21/2015)