“Calo chose Missouri, but Lake of the Ozarks chose Calo,” Kirk said when we first met.
The Lake of the Ozarks should be happy it did.

Back in mid-September of 2015, the Lake Sun published a press release from the Camden County Sheriff’s Department in regards to a male juvenile who allegedly threatened staff with a knife and attempted to escape by jumping in the Lake of the Ozarks from a residential treatment facility in Lake Ozark.  

Prior to that I had little knowledge of Calo, which houses over 100 teens and pre-teens of which 97% are adopted, and specializes in treating developmental trauma, having moved to the Lake in May of 2015.

The press release generated quite the discussion amongst our Facebook readers who seemed to have little knowledge of what Calo was and why the juvenile was returned back over to staff instead of taken into custody. The bigger story was more complicated than just a press release.

On the thread I expressed interest in learning more of the facility, but mistakenly thought gaining access and people willing to talk on the record would be a long shot. Shortly afterwards, co-founder and CEO Landon Kirk commented on the thread and said he would be more than happy to meet with me and talk more about the work they do.

After emailing back and forth, we agreed to meet one day in October at Calo’s main facility, a part dormitory, part-recreation center that features a 24-hour nursing center, a rock climbing wall, a media room and Golden Retriever playground.

Walking through the facility, kids of all ages were tossing footballs, training their puppies and engaging with coaches and mentors; there was no security presence or bells and whistles pulled out for my appearance.

After a quick walkthrough, Mr. Kirk and I sat in his office overlooking the dormitory and talked for almost two hours about why I was interested in doing a series on Calo, some of the misconceptions people might have and his background in residential care, developmental trauma and his own personal story with adoption.

I told Mr. Kirk of my own struggles with depression and anxiety, symptoms that he sees in his residents, and that I developed an interest and minored in Sociology in college, and how I’d familiarized myself with some of the language we’d be using for the story.

Mr. Kirk was open and honest as I asked him questions about their CASA (Commitment, Acceptance, Security and Attunement) treatment model, their facilities, their staff, their operations and their residents. He connected me with a family from Mid-Missouri and other from the East Coast to get a personal as well as his Clinical Director Rob Gent.

I learned a great deal about developmental trauma, how it’s treated and what makes Calo so unique in the world of residential treatment.

What I didn’t get across, which I believe is also important, is the economic impact of having an internationally-recognized business that employees 217 local residents and has served 440 students and families from all across the globe.

Since 2007, what began with a staff of less than a dozen has continued to grow over the years into the hundreds and has recently expanded by building a pre-teen dormitory within walking distance from the main facility.

“Most of our positions are in the residential department as coaches and caregivers. These are the people who wake up students up in the morning and put them to bed at night,” Kirk explained. “They are mentors and examples for our students to follow. When students struggle emotionally (because they do with regularity) caregivers are there to not only listen but to share in the emotional experience with empathy. In addition, Calo has employed many other professional positions as well. We have therapists, leadership members, teachers, canine workers, adventure therapists, cooks, and more who are home-grown from right here at the Lake.”

By operating at the Lake year round for the last eight and a half years, Calo has generated millions of dollars into the local economy when adding up weekly parental visits and stays at the Lake and tax-paying employees who rent or buy housing and spend money at local businesses.

“Calo chose Missouri, but Lake of the Ozarks chose Calo,” Kirk said when we first met.

The Lake of the Ozarks should be happy it did.