By Alton Porter
On opening day at Serenity Place, Inc.'s, campus in Crockett, Tuesday, July 19, you could see the excitement in co-owner and Chief Operating Officer Chris Brown's face and hear it in his voice.
And you could tell that Brown's wife Wanda Brown, co-owner and chief executive officer, and James Smith, director, as well as other staff members shared the joyfulness.
Serenity Place moved 28 boys and girls from its facility in Houston to its campus in Crockett on opening day. And about 50 more are projected to be moved here by this weekend.
"The sheer magnitude of getting a campus going that had been closed for so long and not in use was overhelming some times," Chris Brown said. "It took a lot of effort a lot days – seven days a week.
"A lot of contractors, a lot of people, a lot of resources were put into this campus to get it going and to bring it back alive. But, I think everyone in Crockett would be proud to see it today."
Brown added, "They would be happy to see it have life and be put to use again for this community," noting that work in preparing the facility for opening day and beyond, "actually started in April."
Serenity Place, Inc., entered a lease-purchase arrangement with the Crockett City Council to take up occupancy on the former Crockett State School campus and open up the residential treatment facility.
"As soon as that contract was signed, the very next day we had contractors in here ready to go," Brown said. "It's taken us a little longer than what we had hoped. We're about 33 days behind our initial start date that we had targeted, but we moved pretty quickly.
"And we hope that we've done the city proud – the county proud – with the work we've done and the work we'll be doing with these kids. So many people have come by and they're excited. And everybody notices how beautiful the campus looks."
Asked how he felt about opening day on opening day, Brown said, "Excited. Restless last night. Anxious this morning, because we were moving the kids from Houston. These kids were being held in Houston (at Serenity Place, Inc.'s, facility there) with the intent that they were coming to Crockett.
"There will be kids coming from Fort Worth, Cleburne, Marble Falls and from counties west of Fort Worth. They'll be moving here. These are all CPS (Child Protective Services) kids."
He said CPS issued Serenity Place, Inc., a license permitting it to operate the facility on Monday, and his staff moved the first set of children to the Crockett facility on opening day Tuesday.
Brown explained, "I've got this group this week, and then it'll slow down probably until Thursday of the next week. And then, we'll start to get some more. So, by the end of the month, we'll be at 50.
"I expect by October, it will be at 115, with another hundred to come probably at the start of the (new) year. We have two other dorms that we have to open. They will be ready in the next 45 days. Then, we'll be able to add the other hundred."
He added, "the goal was to try to get some (children moved to the facility), stabilize the campus, get everything moving, make sure we're doing a good job with them and add some more. We're kinda doing it in stages."
As for employment, Brown said, "We've employed about 38 staff. We have a training class starting next week. Then, there will be another training class from which we hope to get another 45 or so people" as employees.
"It's been a labor of love," Brown said about preparations leading up to the opening of the facility.
"We're finally here. The kids are here. And we're here to stay."