PINE TOWNSHIP – Josh Harvey is thankful for the experience he had at George Junior Republic in Pine Township.
“I look back at how difficult the days of my youth were and at GJR, but I made it through and knowing that inspires me to keep continuing to climb,” the Chester County native wrote in an email he recently sent to George Junior.
George Junior Republic is a nonprofit that runs a residential school that provides education, behavioral health, a GED program, and other services to at-risk male youth.
Harvey, 23, was a GJR resident in 2013 and 2014, having been transferred there for help with behavioral issues.
“I just didn’t know how to manage them,” he said by phone.
He recalled the assistance he received from counselors, finding the right one to fit his needs, and he liked the structure of GJR.
“George Junior definitely wants the students to be set up for success,” Harvey said.
He encourages current GJR youth to keep up with programs and services that are provided, and to work hard on academics.
“I basically want to say, ‘you’ve got this,’” he said.
He graduated from his home high school in 2016 and credits GJR scholarship funds with helping him graduate in August 2020 from West Chester University with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition.
He has studied dietetics, has done research in numerous states and countries, and has a passion for helping at-risk adolescents.
Harvey is volunteering with the American Red Cross and working as a manager, and he’s attending Boston University to obtain his master’s of public health degree.
He’d like to earn a doctorate degree and become a professor, working in the human rights and social justice fields.
Staff and administrators at George Junior are proud of graduates like Harvey — a reminder that the work they do is very important, said Nathan Gressel, chief executive officer of GJR.
“And so few of our kids go on to higher education,” he said.
There are roughly 180 students currently on campus, where Gressel has served as CEO for the past two years.
It’s a “congregate care” facility, meaning George Junior Republic provides supervision around-the-clock in a structured setting.
GJR has a partnership with Grove City Area School District, which is responsible for providing education plans and teachers.
“It’s technically a public school setting,” he said.
A small proportion of GJR students attend Grove City schools but live on the GJR campus, Gressel said.
GJR employs 500 people, and there are volunteer opportunities.
Volunteers can help with activities, fine arts program and community service projects.
Gressel has been busy preparing for the GJR’s behavioral health process, called the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.
The facility has to meet commission standards, which are demanding.
“We’re pretty excited for that. It’s been a lot of work,” he said.
GJR is also implementing a new electronic health record system, which will help streamline documents from different institutions and help with care of residents.
This month, school officials expect to open their new long-term structured residence for adults.
The building that will house the program has been renovated, and a fence surrounds the property. The school is now working on the referrals and admissions process, Gressel said.
GJR plans to offer hold a virtual tour of the building, he said. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it might not be possible to hold an in-person open house for the community.
Handling the pandemic has been challenging, especially since GJR is a residential facility, he said.
But the school has been faring “pretty well.” Residents have their temperatures taken twice a day and the nursing staff keeps an eye out for potential coronavirus symptoms.
Classes have been virtual since October, and each student has his own Chromebook.
The school hopes to resume in-person instruction soon, and GJR has secured vaccines for the staff.
Many students are far from home during the pandemic, and they’d like to see their families, Gressel said. He said school officials understand how important home visits are for residents.
Students can visit their homes only by court order — another measure to prevent virus transmission. When students return to campus after being away, they must quarantine for 14 days in a designated unit.
The school has benefitted from community donations of supplies such as face masks, and Gressel said school officials are grateful for the giving.
In the future, Gressel said, school officials will work to keep the campus safe, provide education and support, and focus on quality of care.