The Youth Development Center once employed more than 500 residents of this region and officially closed its doors in 2013
The camaraderie, however, is still alive as more than 100 former employees gathered Saturday at the New Castle Sons of Italy hall for a reunion. The youth detention facility in Shenango Township at one point was the second-largest employer in Lawrence County.
Organizers, Sharon Albertini, of New Castle, a former Drug and Alcohol Counselor at YDC for 17 years and Tony Boatwright, a longtime employee and a former supervisor and duty officer at YDC, greeting their co-workers and served as hosts. Sharon and Tony, who traveled from South Carolina, to attend the event, both said more people would have attended had they been able to reach more. The event was essentially advertised by word-of-mouth and Facebook.
“It was Tony’s idea to put this together,” Albertini said. “So many of the former co-workers have passed on or become too ill to get out, now. We just wanted to bring as many folks together as we could for the sake of old times. I am so happy that we were able to get together, today.”
As the crowd mixed and mingled, there were hugs and high-fives, laughter and even tears. The atmosphere in the hall and even spilling outside to the parking lot was one of genuine caring and feelings of affection.
“I actually enjoyed my job,” Boatwright, a native of Farrell, said. Another worker said Boatright knew almost every employee at the facility.
Some of those in attendance were Selena Burnett, who was an English and reading teacher at YDC for eight years, but who later served as a guidance counselor, with a total of 33 years of seniority at YDC.
Alan Pavia, of New Castle, a former YDC aide, who worked with R. Michael West, of Farrell, bear hugged each other. After working together every day for years, they had not seen or heard from each other for 35 years. They had worked with juvenile males and during overtime shifts with juvenile females at the facility.
Females were accepted at the facility in the 1980s. The two were co-workers with organizer Albertini. Their team had worked with kids who were murderers.
“If we saved just one person, we were blessed,” Albertini said.
The staff-to-student ratio in that unit was about three to 10, according to Sharon.
“It was crazy and dangerous working where we worked, but it was also fun working with the people who worked there,” said Cindy Pringle, a development aide from Shenango Township. “That’s why so many of us stayed as long as we did and why we miss it so much.”
As to some of the opinions why the facility had closed. Most folks interviewed said that the facility had shut down due to financial problems on the state level. Several also commented that the state wanted things to change.
Andy Pivarnik, of New Castle, worked at YDC for 20 years, with about 13 of those serving as a counselor. Since leaving YDC, Andy has written a book of poetry as a way to debrief from his working such an emotionally challenging profession.
Plans are being made for another reunion next year around the third week of September. More information can be found on the YDC Facebook page.