Tradition returning to Camp Owens under new director

Jake Lee Green
Kern Valley Sun

Elaine Moore is the newest Probation Division Director to take the reins at the 56-acre Camp Erwin Owen Boy’s Camp just outside of Kernville, Calif. A title Moore says honors her and carries on a family tradition. Moore has found a decent pace as the newly installed director and has overcome much of the difficulties her predecessors faced when managing the fully functional campground that allows its wards to oversee livestock, an auto-body shop, and gardens.

Moore carries on a family legacy within youth corrections and comes prepared for the job having been the former Assistant Probation Division Director of the camp. Her grandfather worked for the California Youth Authority as a parole agent and retired as the District Chief. Her mother began working for the Kern County Probation Department at 19 years-old and did so for the entirety of her career until retirement.

Moore earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and minored in Religious Studies at California State University of Bakersfield in 2001. In 1996, she began her career as an Extra-Help Typist Clerk for the Kern County Probation Department. In 2001 her hard work paid off by being promoted to a Deputy Probation Officer. Moore was assigned to various areas of the Probation Department including Juvenile and Adult Court Investigations, Juvenile Hall, Juvenile Supervision, and Administrative Services. This led to her promotion to Assistant Probation Division Director for the camp in December of 2015 and then Probation Division Director for Camp Erwin Owen on May 25, 2019. Moore says she’d like to see the boys engage in the community more, as it had done in the past. When she had become the Assistant Division Director for the campus back in 2015 the entirety of the Probation Department was dealing with the difficulties of a budget crisis. Moore explains that the 125 capacity campus could only cover the costs of rehabilitating a cap of 65 boys within its program at the time. This also led to a strain on the activities boys could participate in off-campus.

In the past, the boys have had a historical tie to the Kern River Valley. Whether it be volunteering for the Kern Valley Exchange Club Rubber Ducky Races, or discarding trash for participants in the KRV Pride Day, the boys at Camp Owen have made the valley their home. Within the programs on campus, kids are allowed to form their own sports teams and elect a peer coach within their unit. Camp Owen High School provides education and vocational training for its students and creates an avenue for them to receive certifications. In addition, there is even a woman who volunteers on Tuesdays to offer the boys Yoga classes.

Much has changed since then, including her promotion, and Moore says that the camp is looking forward to participating in future acts of community service and involvement. Recently, discussions with the Kernville Chamber of Commerce have gone over well. The Chamber is excited about the inclusion of the boy’s participation and how to apply them. Over her 20 year career within the Probation Department Moore says this is her favorite assignment.

The camp in itself feels more like a summer retreat for boys rather than a juvenile detention center. The camp began in 1938 as a working camp for problematic boys. In 1939, construction began on a permanent institution with a great deal of the labor being provided by the boys themselves. After being assessed by the Probation Department these wards of the Kern County Superior Court, aged 14-18, are given a chance to continue their rehabilitation in an environment that is much different than the operations of the Bakersfield facilities. The boys accepted are offered work, school, and brotherly familiarity as a way to strengthen their characters and offer opportunities to excel as young adults. Part of this program includes animal husbandry, property maintenance, food production and preparation, community service, and automobile maintenance. The campus is a truly relaxing environment that Moore describes as being benefitted by the work that the boys put into maintaining its rather large acreage. The campus is also unique because it is a non-secure camp. No gates, no fences, and wards often have trust built with them to walk the campus free of direct supervision. With a capacity of 125 boys, this can tend to be difficult, however, Moore explains that this is mostly a non-issue considering that the boys have gained a perspective of respect towards the staff of the camp, its programs and the community at large.