Buhl, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Cloquet native Joshua Maio says, before coming to the Mesabi Academy in Buhl, his aggressive behavior had seen him moved through virtually every youth correctional facility in the state.
Even during his time at the academy, Maio says he still tried all his old tricks to get him kicked out.
"This was the program that said, 'hey, we're not going to do that to this kid,'" said Maio after speaking with a group of people touring the facility Thursday, "'we're going to give this kid structure, and rehabilitation, and we're going to grab hold of him. Instead of sending him farther away, we're going to bring him in closer."
Through the program's staff–intensive therapeutic and rehabilitative services—both during and after his time at MA—the 28–year–old former gang member began to believe in himself.
"You know, while I was here, I had to have my appendix out," recalled Maio, "I've had the staff that would come and see me in the hospital, and talk to me, and see how I was doing on their own personal time."
Maio, now lives with his wife and two young girls in his home city, and makes the hour–long commute to work in Hermantown every day with pride.
When he's not busy working or being a father, Maio spends his time taking his original program "10 Seconds Could Change Your Life" to the next generation of troubled youth.
"The kids think I'm here to help them, but really the kids are helping me more than I could ever help them," said a smiling Maio.
When Maio isn't on site at MA, the academy's 80 current clients rely on the 125 staff members that promise a "never give up" approach to kids who have reached their last stop before a possible prison term.
"We choose to hang on to them and say 'OK, you punched somebody. Now let's deal with that. You're going to be held accountable for it. We're going to talk about it, and we're going to work through that treatment issue that led you to the point of making that choice,'" said executive director Paul Jacobson after the tour.
Since he began in 1999, Jacobson says he has seen his share of staff burn out and turnover.
But the passion he says he and his staff feel for their jobs is what led the non–profit to invest $100,000 to open its latest 12–unit, highly structured wing for developmentally disabled youth.
"It's so staff–intensive to work with this type of kid that there just really isn't a whole lot of places for them," said Jacobson.
It's that determination that Maio hopes will pave the way for more facilities like MA in the state.
"They're creating units and jobs to meet the needs of the child—not the state, the city, the county," said Maio.
Jacobson says the latest wing will also bring 10 to 12 new jobs along with it.
Academy staff says the addition will bring the total number of their available beds to 123. Mesabi Academy's latest wing is scheduled to open September 15th.