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SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT: Paul Anderson Youth Home changing young lives

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News 12 Special Assignment at 6 O'Clock / Monday, February 28, 2011

VIDALIA, Ga. -- On any average day in Georgia, there are as many as 20,000 juveniles sitting in jail. It's a problem that one rehab home in Vidalia, Georgia has been battling for fifty years now. And for the first time on camera, News 12 is getting an inside look at the Paul Anderson Youth Home.

Nestled in the middle of the "Sweet Onion Capital of the World," Paul Anderson's Youth Home represents an incredible transformation from darkness to hope. And behind it all, the "World's Strongest Man" left a legacy that's even stronger.

Paul Anderson was known as the "World's Strongest Man," an Olympic gold medalist and weight lifting champion. He's listed in the Book of World Records for lifting an incredible 6,270 pounds, the greatest known weight ever raised by a human being. He is the last American to have won the Olympic gold medal in the super heavyweight division; it was at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.

But what many people don't know is Paul had a soft spot for helping young orphans turn their lives around.

Drew Read, C.O.O. of Paul Anderson Youth Home explains, "Youth were drawn to him because Paul was incredibly strong. He was the world's strongest man, and he used that strength for society's gain."

In 1961 Paul and his wife Glenda set up an orphanage in Vidalia, Georgia, designed as an alternative for young men who were facing incarceration.

Today, PAYH resembles a teenage summer camp. But behind its' friendly southern style, the non-profit feeds and houses twenty young men at a time ages 16-21. All were once facing hard time behind bars. Read says, "When we've seen young men as young as seven smoking pot, eight- cocaine, crack at age ten, crystal meth at have an issue that is happening. How does that happen for someone so young to be exposed to drugs?"

Now, instead of serving time, the boys are serving sweet tea. They cook and clean for themselves every day for eighteen months. No TV. No radio. No internet. No phone. Their lessons are rooted in building Christian values and a tenacious work ethic. "The first thing they do is get up every morning and run a mile," says Drew. "Then they go to a morning job. So every man has a responsibility on campus."

Sixteen months ago, Armand was facing prison time for various felony charges. "I guess I just kind of fell into the wrong way of life. By the time I knew it, I was drinking almost every other day and just partying. It resulted in me going out and breaking into houses." Armand was arrested at sixteen. The judge offered him one last chance at Paul Anderson Youth Home.

"When I first came here, I did not want to be here," admits Armand. "I tried everything I could to actually leave. I went as far as going back to court three months later." But the judge insisted: stick out the program, or go to jail for ten years.

Armand now has two months left at the Home. "When I came here I was actually able to... feel something I've never felt before. And it was out of this world. Now I'm reading the Bible every day and it gives me encouragement about a future and the situation I'm in now." From daily drinking to daily bible study; it's a transformation that Paul Anderson believed possible of each young man he adopted into his family at the Home.

School on campus is considered a privilege for the young men after several months of good behavior. Until then, their days are composed of intense workouts and Bible study, two things Paul Anderson instilled in his young orphans fifty years ago. "Ultimately the goal is that they would be productive, functioning members of society," hopes Drew. "That they would be an asset rather than a liability. That they would not continue to cost the system."

On average, 7 out of 10 men in American prisons will be rearrested within 3 years of their release. But Paul Anderson Youth Home has a 90% success rate with their young men, a testament to their fifty years of family-style rehabilitation methods. "I just feel as though my life is completely different because of this place," adds Armand.

In the past fifty years, the Home has changed the lives of over a thousand young men. Many are from the Augusta area. PAYH Board Chairman Nick Greene lives in Augusta and explains why the local connection is so important. "Ten to twelve percent of our boys come from Augusta or the metropolitan area. Richmond County, Burke County, Columbia County, even from Aiken. A lot of our boys come from Augusta, unfortunately, but so does a lot of our funding." In fact, the Home has helped boys from all over the country.

While most are from Georgia and the South, any young man facing incarceration is eligible for consideration. The program is run completely from private funds. Read says that's so their Christian-based value system is never compromised. Greene says he's witnessed many young men "turn to God" during their program, and others who do not. But the point, he explains, is that the underlying principles of love and family are put into place for each of them.

Armand insists, "You might think it's just another rehab or other center for... basically mess-ups. But if you think about it, it's more than that. It's a second chance at life."

Glenda Anderson, Paul's wife and PAYH Co-founder, has always been a strong foundation of the Home. She supervised the young men and staff during the Home's earlier years. She still serves as the President of Paul Anderson Youth Home, Inc. today.

Anderson died on August 15, 1994. Numerous honors have been conferred on him since.

Paul Anderson's physical strength and strength of character lives on in the Home's young men today. Paul's friends say that for the "World's Strongest Man," the greatest challenge was not lifting weights but lifting the spirits of young teenagers.