SUNSET, S.C. (WSPA) – The controversy over a proposed group home for youth in Pickens County appears to be coming to an end.
Thursday, the National Center for Life and Liberty and Hannah Grace Homes decided to not move forward with plans to open the home in the Sunset community.
In May, 7 News first brought you the story of Freedom Village USA and Hannah Grace Homes partnering to open the home this fall.
In the weeks that followed, several former Freedom Village students started speaking out.
Some said they experienced harsh punishment and forms of mental and spiritual abuse during their time at the New York campus.
Hannah Grace Executive Director Jonathan Bailie said the community’s concerns and rising costs to upgrade the plot of land contributed to the decision to cancel all plans in Sunset.
“At this point, we just didn’t think it was the right move for us,” Bailie said during a Skype interview Thursday afternoon.
The Florida-based non profit had been partnering with Freedom Village in New York, an evangelical group home, to turn the land in Sunset into a new venture.
Hannah Grace leaders started to back away from their relationship with Freedom Village in recent weeks and said the head pastor Fletcher Brothers would be retiring and would no longer be involved in the operations in Pickens County.
They also said they would not be using any of the controversial practices Freedom Village has been accused of performing, including “woodpiling” a method that forces teens to carry piles of wood for long distances.
Bailie acknowledged those concerns saying they “definitely increased the concerns there in Sunset, South Carolina.”
Former members of Freedom Village reacted to Thursday’s decision, including Elizabeth Runge of Summerville. She’s part of a group made up of 500 others who she said faced the same intimidation and harsh treatment as she did when she was a teenager.
“This certainly a victory,” Runge said. “I do think he made the right step and probably helped a lot of future kids who don’t have to go through what we went through.”
Bailie said all of the money raised for the Pickens County project will be donated to a state-licensed facilty that serves the needs of at-risk children.
7 News reached out to Freedom Village officials in New York but did not hear back Thursday.
As for the property in Sunset, Bailie said it will be sold.
Runge said there’s been some talk of turning it into a community center.
The National Center for Life and Liberty is a non-profit that runs group homes in several states. They bought the property for Hannah Grace Homes in Pickens County about two years ago, according to Bailie.