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N.C. school provides a refuge for troubled youth

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

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    ‘Without Perfect Answers’

    10 P.M. Thursday, WTVI, channel 42

In a WTVI (Channel 42) documentary Thursday, the century-long story of the Crossnore School is entwined with an examination of the troubled foster care system.

Crossnore, plopped in the remote mountains near Blowing Rock, was launched in 1913 by Dr. Mary Martin Sloop, who was rejected for foreign missionary work because of her age and decided to create her own mission – an orphanage and boarding school for impoverished children of the Smokies.

It thrives today with an enrollment of about 100, providing residential education for the abused, neglected and those with special needs.

Produced by Bruce Bowers, whose previous documentary on the Blue Ridge Parkway has been picked up by 360 public TV stations in 43 states, “Without Perfect Answers” compares the experiences of children who fared poorly in the foster care system to those who found a path at Crossnore.

Among the students who chronicle their experiences is Michael Jones, who was homeless and selling drugs to get by when he arrived at Crossnore at age 14. He went on to study at NYU and credits the school for a turnaround in his life.

Bowers was drawn to the story in part because of the school’s dynamic director, Phyllis Crain, who shared Sloop’s zeal for children in need. Crain dedicated her career to the school and its students before dying of breast cancer in 2012, a poignant side story to the film’s central narrative. (She was succeeded by children’s advocate Brett Loftis, former head of the Charlotte-based Council for Children’s Rights.)

Examining the issue of troubled children like those at Crossnore wound up taking Bowers 6,000 miles away to a similar school in Israel that mirrors the Crossnore approach. “When I start out on a documentary, I never really know where I’m going to end up,” says Bowers.

In “Without Perfect Answers,” Bowers leaves us provocative material to consider the treatment of troubled children by the society that often leaves them to drift.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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