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Note to Editor: The Journey this week highlights the Burke Center for Youth and its Founder, Rosemary Campise.
Rosemary (nee Burke) a single mother of Michael, Jeannie and Patrick, found a much-needed job at the Wimberley Children’s Center, teaching girls from Chicago in the classroom. But this school abruptly closed, leaving her to question “What do I do next?” The answer: “I will start my own school.” Drawing encouragement from her parents, John and Jean Burke, owners of a ranch that paralleled a road named Darden Hill Road, Rosemary in about 1973, with no money, no students and no building, claimed her future: she would work with CPS for boys who had failed in the Texas Foster Care System and needed a home. From the outset, Charlie Campise, Pastor of Kyle’s Catholic Church, was an ally for this cause. Charlie brought her the very first student, a Houston boy named Dempsey.
“At first, using a red portable barn located on my family’s land in Driftwood,” Rosemary writes, “I started with eight boys from multiracial backgrounds. Every student resided on campus and were ‘home schooled’ with a structured daily schedule we began at 8: 30 a.m. with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. I had attended Texas Tech prior to my marriage; and my mother, Jean Burke, had been a classroom teacher in Lubbock prior to her retirement, and we wrote the curriculum. We began the little school — in that red barn without air-conditioning; heating the school room with a wood stove with the eight boys seated on bales of hay prior to obtaining desks.” Rosemary continued: “The laundry alone required two weekly trips to the nearest laundry mat, where, after a full day, I washed until 2 a.m. I also was the cook, the transportation and the counselor for these troubled youths who had not been successful in placements in the foster-care system. I was a good listener, and God gave me insight into what each child needed to feel loved and secure. For the first 10 years, I never had a break from my duties. I did have helpers — Charlie Campise gave Bible classes, one local rancher, Burdine Johnson, donated our first horse and my staff consisted of wonderful Vietnam Veterans who wanted to be ‘off the grid’ after serving in the military. They displayed a willingness to care for the boys without showing any concern for working long hours. These veterans also built tree houses and created homemade toys from discarded two-by-four lumber to entertain the youth outside of the classroom. They even put in ropes to encourage PT. Charlie helped so much with locating resources. We were operating on a ‘shoe-string budget.’ The local Game Warden, a Mr. Talbert, started bringing us poached deer and taught Charlie how to field dress them for the table. We enjoyed venison steaks and backstrap often. Two of the boy’s favorite meals on the weekly menu include my mom, Jean’s chicken and dumplings, and a famous stew made by Mrs. Petmecky, a local patron who also personally gave each boy his own hand made blanket.”
Approved for funding from Texas Department of Family and Protective Services on Sept. 1, 1973, the Rosemary vision evolved into the Burke Center for Youth. At the very start, Rosemary and Charlie served on the planning committee.
Rosemary continues: “I also had friends in Austin I had known since childhood who were great supporters. My brother, at that time living in the Virgin Islands, never forgot to send a contribution every month. Over 42 years, I served as the Director of the programs and witnessed great expansion along with Charlie, who later left ministry and became my husband. Brother, Judge John Burke and his wife Sherri, became foster parents and with their encouragement, the Burke Center grew to include five child placement and adoption agency locations throughout the state. In 2016, we began building the Burke Center for Transition Homes.”
Rosemary continues her memories of the early days: “The Principal of the Dripping Springs ISD visited the school and challenged me that these boys were required to enroll in the ISD. The next day, I enrolled my boys as ordered in Dripping Springs. At the end of the first day, the ISD agreed with me that these boys were best educated through home schooling. These boys didn’t really fit in, but I understood that if we could give each one somewhat of a happy childhood, he would be all right. Out of the 4,000 youth and children we touched over the years, there have been only two that did not respond.” Charlie added: “Our staff met twice weekly to review each youth’s progress. They were tough kids, and yet Rosemary seemed to especially love the worst youth that all staff wanted to ‘give up’ on, and would always say, ‘let’s give him a little longer.’” The couple have a remarkable and blessed record. Charlie retired in 2014 and Rosemary continued until 2017, when she became Director Emeritus.
Today, The Burke Center for Youth operates a residential treatment center for 21 boys, ages 11 – 17, on the Driftwood, Hays County, campus. The education program for the school is sanctioned as part of the University of Texas Charter School system. Classes on campus are conducted year-round on a six-week basis, allowing a one week break between the six-week rotation to enable newcomers to be integrated with the work. This also allows some youth to get ahead of schedule and graduate by age 17. Rosemary’s daughter, Jeannie, a US colonel (retired) presently serves on Burke Center Board of Directors.
In conclusion, Charlie talked about the spiritual service given over the years. “The Oak Hill Methodist Church were long-time supporters. We had a BSA Troop, and from the late 70s onward, the women of this church attended the Courts of Honor and provided refreshments. In Dripping Springs, St. Martin de Porres’s Knights of Columbus oversaw refurbishment of every room in every building. Volunteers from Dripping Springs Methodist Church did exterior painting, The Hill Country Bible Church would bring great programs to the campus, and Wimberley church always saw to Christmas gifts. We always provided opportunities for the boys to go to Sunday church services and they really liked attending the Catholic service at UT’s Student Center — I think they liked the doughnuts there, too.”
Charlie highlighted The Lions Club annual fundraising support from Dripping and Wimberley’s Clubs, and that for more than 30 years, San Marcos’ Noon Lions have given finical support drawn from the tube rental funds.
Lay people, ministers, neighbors, friends — the call to service for the love of our fellow man reflects God’s love for us. The Campises have many favorite verses they share together, but quoted Matthew 25: 40: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,’” as a summary of why they did years of caring.
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