The Heartlight Boarding School

Through a weaving together of activities, counseling, teaching, group sessions, personal relationships, and involvement from parents, the Heartlight Boarding School has become trusted for its ability to create lasting change in the lives of teens.

All the components of Heartlight are designed to create an environment for change through the personal relationships and involvement of the staff in the lives of both the residents and their families.

Heartlight has been home to more than 3,000 teens throughout the years. Known for its excellent and successful program, Heartlight offers a safe haven for 56 young men and women, aged 13-17, who need help getting their life in order. We strive for excellence in our program, activities, facility, and staff, where an atmosphere of relationships creates an arena for change.

Located on 150 acres in East Texas, the Heartlight program also hosts parent retreats during the year with the intent of helping parents learn new ways of handling the most difficult of situations with their struggling teen.


A tranquil environment creating an arena for change

Heartlight’s beautiful campus is made up of log cabins, open space, and plenty of room for outdoor activities. Each setting houses 6–8 residents in homes staffed with three to four in-house staff members. Fourteen log homes reside among other administrative and recreation structures, creating an ideal “home away from home” for kids spending  10–12 months with us here in Texas.

The cardio and strength fitness center, horse riding arena and barn, fishing ponds, lake house, theatre, rappelling and rock-climbing tower, library and fire-pits are uniquely designed to offer constructive activities to staff and residents.

Offices are warm and welcoming, the counseling center is inviting, and the manicured grounds are pristine. All of these facilities reflect a commitment to excellence and a dedication to providing the very best setting for residents and their parents.

Vision Center

Our Vision Center – the new facility that was completed in early 2018 – houses a recording studio, video filming area/green room, and a welcoming reception area for incoming Heartlight families. It’s here that we create content for our radio ministry and conduct all work for publishing, radio relationships, seminar/event planning, fundraising efforts, and admission/resource communications.

Conference Center

Heartlight’s showcase building is the 11,000-square-foot Conference Center which houses the Heartlight offices and provides a setting for counseling, programs, special meals, performances, and retreats. The modern log-exterior building located at the center of the campus adds to the overall relaxed atmosphere of Heartlight.

Educational Building

Our Educational Building is where teens come to learn. It offers learning-oriented tools and technologies, providing an opportunity to transition back into a school setting, both academically and socially. It also has a separate area with fitness equipment for residents to use throughout their stay.

Heartlight West

One of our newest cabins, Heartlight West, houses eight girls and three staff members. It also serves as the main meeting area for the West Cabins’ residents.

West Cabins

These three independent cabins allow older girls who have already progressed through the Heartlight Level System to assume responsibility for their own living arrangements.

Vicki’s Cabins

Vicki’s House and Cabins: In memory of Vicki O’Connell, a main cabin was built to serve as a central meeting place for the boys residing in four adjacent cabins. Having independent cabins allow older boys who have already progressed through the Heartlight Level System to assume responsibility for their own living arrangements.

East Lodge

The East Home is located adjacent to the main campus. It houses eight guys and three staff members.

Old Lodge

Old Lodge is located across from Heartlight’s Conference Center. It houses six residents and three staff members.

New Lodge

New Lodge houses seven male residents and three staff members. While similar to Old Lodge, this house is larger and two years newer. It’s located directly across from Heartlight’s Conference Center.

South House

South House is currently under construction and will house 10 girls and 4 staff. A three story house, South will be the premiere lodging that is 8,000 square feet.

The Lake House

The Heartlight Lake House provides a restful place to hold programs during the warm summer months. Heartlight’s extensive water sports program is enjoyed by all in a setting that allows a retreat from the intensity of the program on the Main Campus.

Executive Staff

Mark and Jan Gregston


Mark and Jan founded Heartlight in 1988 after spending years working with Young Life, as a youth pastor, and living at Kanakuk Kamp, in Branson, Missouri.  Now, years later, Heartlight has seen over 2,800 kids pass through Heartlight’s doors.  Little did Mark or Jan know that the desire to work with struggling teens would develop into the successful program that it has.

Mark and Jan live “on property” with the Heartlight staff and 60 residents.  Mark now hosts the national radio program “Parenting Today’s Teens” and has written a number of books helping parents counter the effects the current teen culture is having on their adolescents.   He spends most weekends speaking at seminars and conferences, and with parents at Heartlight.

Mark and Jan both attended Tulsa University, where Mark received his Bachelors of Business Administration.  Both are licensed child care administrators (LCCA), and remain actively involved in the lives of the Heartlight teens.  They have two children, four grandchildren, a dog, a cat, two llamas, a donkey, and way too many horses.


Blake Nelson

Executive Director, Licensed Child Care Administrator

Twenty years ago, Blake began his employment at Heartlight as a 19-year-old college student pursuing his bachelors in Behavioral Sciences degree at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas. Now, 25 years, later, Blake has held every possible position at Heartlight and has gained a full knowledge of all day to day operations.

Blake is a native of the East Texas area and has been a part of the Heartlight staff since 1994. Because he has held positions in several areas within the program throughout that time, Blake is no stranger to the structure of Heartlight. Blake brings enthusiasm and excitement to the staff, as well as experience in helping families as they struggle through difficult times. Blake’s boldness and sense of confidence with Christ is displayed daily in the way that he relates with both the kids and the staff members. In his free time, Blake enjoys hunting, wakeboarding and a variety of other sports. Blake is married to Melissa, our Director of Admissions. They have two children.

Admissions and Administration

Need Urgent Help? The Admissions Department can be reached weekdays from 9am to 5pm CT at 903.668.2173. Call after hours or on weekends and your message will be immediately forwarded to one of the Admissions Staff.

Melissa Gregston Nelson

Director of Admissions

Melissa has a unique understanding of Heartlight, having grown up with parents who founded the program. Melissa has always been a part of Heartlight, and now plays a crucial role for incoming families and assisting them in the admission and interview process.

Having graduated from Baylor University in Waco, Texas with a degree in Child and Family Studies, Melissa is equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary for working with families. Prior to joining the Heartlight staff in July of 2000, Melissa worked as an Early Intervention Specialist at Early Childhood Intervention in Longview, Texas. Melissa and her husband Blake, Heartlight’s Executive Director, have two daughters, Maile and Macie.

Mariah Howdeshell

Admissions Coordinator

Sachse, Texas was home for Mariah before she joined our staff to live in-house with the residents. She attended the University of Arkansas, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education with emphasis in Therapeutic Recreation. While at the U of A, she was a member of the gymnastics team and eventually a coach. As the Admissions Coordinator, Mariah works directly with families in crisis and assists them in the admission and interview processes.

In her previous roles at Heartlight, Mariah was a live-in House Director that transitioned into the Academic Director. She excels at helping families get an overall understanding of each program Heartlight has to offer. Mariah is relationally immersed in the Heartlight community, both staff and residents.

Our Residential Staff

The residential staff are the backbone and blessing of the Heartlight Program. 

These young folks live in-house with the teens and oversee their daily residential needs. Our staff is creative, fun-loving, active, responsible, and dedicated to forming relationships despite the hardest of situations.

Believing that the Christian life is more “caught than taught,” our staff embraces a life-on-life approach, allowing each member the opportunity to share wisdom and insight through word and deed.

Ben Weinert

Program Director / Recruitment Director / Licensed Child Care Administrator

Ben came to work with Heartlight in 2003. He attended George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon and earned a degree in Christian Ministries and Theatre. While attending college, Ben worked at Eagle Lake Camp (Navigators) in Colorado for three summers and was a member of both the program and counseling staff.

In addition to this experience with young people, he volunteered at several churches helping out with the youth group programs, and spent two years as a House Staff and House Director before moving into the Residential Director and Program role. Ben’s creativity and energy are evident to all who meet him.

Ryan Beike

Residential Director

Ryan has spent ample time in the church setting, volunteering for camps, weekend retreats, vacation bible schools, and organizing community outreach events.  He thrives when meeting new people and engages well with our relational approach to ministry.

Ryan attended Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri,  and felt God give him a passion for seeing students grow and mature in their faith as they struggle through life’s ups and downs.  He’s the kind of guy that searches for the outsider and makes them feel cared for and connected.  He enjoys beat boxing, playing the drums, listening to music, and hanging out with family during his time away from Heartlight.

Trevor Kamena

Residential Staff

Trevor came to Heartlight from all the way in Bellingham, Washington. He attended Boise State University and received his Bachelor of Science in Political Science and later went to University of California Merced where he graduated with his M.A. in Political Science. Before starting at Heartlight, Trevor was a grad student as well as a teaching assistant. 

He has worked with college students and has helped out with basketball and soccer camps throughout his life. His desire is to impact the lives of the teens while he is working here. Trevor enjoys playing basketball, soccer, and board games. His laid-back attitude and passion to serve allow him to take on the challenge of working at Heartlight with grace and positivity.  

Taylor Bird

Residential Staff

Taylor is from Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania. She attended Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry with a focus in Youth Ministry. She has spent time serving at her church in youth group, as a summer camp counselor, and an after-school program with inner-city youth. 

Taylor has a passion to show the love of Christ to those around her and through her own trials desires to help the teens here at Heartlight. She loves to be outdoors, which includes hiking, fishing, camping, going to the beach, and farming. Taylor is very empathetic and hopes to be a support both to the teens and the staff. She is very resilient and does not give up easily. Her bright and cheery spirit helps bring joy to those around her, especially here at Heartlight.  

Rachel Byham

Residential Staff

Coming all the way from Meadville, Pennsylvania, Rachel Byham joined our team at Heartlight after working at her family’s insurance agency. She has spent time working as a summer camp counselor, helping with VBS and her church ministries. She has also traveled to Thailand doing mission work as well as working at a preschool before starting to work here. 

Rachel loves working with teens and helping them feel loved and wanted. She loves to play basketball and going shopping. She is full of grace, love, and compassion and she loves to be around people. Rachel’s fun, energetic, and adventurous personality brings excitement and drive to her daily life. She shows constant love and compassion to those around her.  

Melissa Dowd

Residential Staff

Melissa attended Lancaster Bible College near her hometown of Leola, Pennsylvania. She graduated with her B.S. in Biblical Studies and Professional Counseling. Through educational and volunteer opportunities, Melissa has been able to gain experience working with teens. The message she strives to leave the girls with is that they are loved despite all of the messiness and that their life has a unique purpose.

She enjoys running, hiking, singing, interior design, and coffee. She has a sweet and gentle disposition that exudes warmth and grace. Melissa values and cherishes her family and friends and seeks intentionality with others that allow her to connect with those around her. Her quietness has become a strength that has allowed her voice to really mean something with those she comes in contact with.  

Maggie Wilcox

Residential Staff

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Maggie attended Kennesaw State University where she got her Bachelors in Math Education. She has spent hundreds of hours of field experience in middle school and high school classrooms. Maggie says that Heartlight was instrumental in changing both her brother’s and her family’s life and she desires to be a part of helping other kids like her brother and her family.

She loves to draw and paint and also takes up knitting and reading in her spare time. Maggie has a fun-loving spirit and brings that to play as a staff here at Heartlight. She is full of energy and very loyal, which allows her to be very impactful in her approach with teenagers. Maggie’s deep care and maturity allow her to serve well in all that she does.  

Kennady Butler

Residential Staff

Originally from Springdale, Arkansas Kennady joined our staff at Heartlight years after being a resident herself. She has spent time working with teens through church camps and missions trips. Heartlight has been a sanctuary to Kennady and holds a very special place in her heart, which drives her passion to work here. Her desire is to help the girls she is working with to experience the same growth she did as a resident.

Kennady loves to spend time drawing, painting, scrapbooking, and anything crafty. She also loves to spend time outdoors hiking and swimming. She has an understanding heart and puts forth her best effort in all that she does. Kennady is empathetic, easy going, and fun, which allows her relate well to those around her.  

Kayla Joslin

Residential Staff

Kayla grew up in Bellville, Texas and moved to Waco Texas to go to Baylor University. She graduated with her Bachelors in Religion and has been working as a youth intern at First Baptist Clifton since. She has spent time serving Youth Ministry Teams through Baylor as well as volunteering as a Camp Counselor at Camp Ozark.

In the future Kayla would like to pursue her Masters in Counseling, but has come to Heartlight in order to gain experience while living out her passion to serve. She portrays the love of Christ through her interactions and is intentional about showing the girls that they are valued and chosen. Kayla loves puzzles, watching TV, playing card games and traveling with her friends. Her high energy shows her passion to encourage and support both the staff and the teens at Heartlight.  

Jesse Childress

Residential Staff

Jesse Childress is from Sherman, Texas and received his degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at Houston Baptist University. He is currently pursuing his MA in Cultural Apologetics from HBU. Before coming to Heartlight, Jesse was working as an online English teacher. He has spent time working with kids in church youth groups, after school ministries, and through the worldview organization Summit Ministries. 

Jesse desires to work with the teens and help them through whatever struggles they have. He is excited to be a part of the community that is prominent at Heartlight. He enjoys reading, outdoor activities, hiking and playing volleyball. With plenty of experience working with teens and a calm and patient personality, Jesse offers stability and wisdom as a residential staff.  

Dave Hendrix

Residential Staff

Originally from Livingston, Texas, Dave came to Heartlight after attending East Texas Baptist University where he graduated with a degree in speech communication. Before coming to Heartlight, Dave was working for his father. Dave has been a volunteer for the youth group at his home church as well as a youth intern. He has a relatable story that he believes will help him connect to the residents. 

Dave loves to play sports and hike as well as play music. He is passionate about loving people and serving the Lord. He is fun, energetic, and caring. His love for people and drive to accept a challenge makes him a great asset to our team here at Heartlight.  

Brendan Mountjoy

Residential Staff

Brendan is a Texan through and through, he is from Dallas and attended Texas A&M University where he received his B.A. in Psychology. Before coming to Heartlight he worked as a Mental Health Technician at Rock Prairie Behavorial Health. He has led youth Bible studies and he loves to read, write, and spend time with people. Brendan has the ability to meet people where they are at and listen to them well. He understands the love of the Lord and seeks to give that to those around him. Brendan brings a passion and care to Heartlight that is absolutely necessary in working with the teens here at Heartlight. He is incredibly intentional and full of wisdom, which will help him reach the people around him in a unique and powerful way.  

Kim Snow

Residential Director

Originating from Eagle point, Oregon, Kim made her way to Heartlight after completing her Bachelor’s in Psychology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She believes that an active lifestyle is very important for well-being and competed in Track & Field at the college level. She pushes herself in sports such as mountain biking, rock climbing, volleyball, kayaking and snowboarding. She also enjoys hiking, camping, fishing and wildlife photography. 

Before coming to Heartlight she worked with teens for 2 years at a residential treatment ranch in Wyoming. Kim believes that a genuine relationship stems from healthy communication. To her, it is important because it allows people to share honest feelings, encourage one another, support each other, and permits individuals the opportunity to be vulnerable. Kim is strong, determined, understanding, empathetic and forgiving.  

Jay Cummings

Residential Staff

A Californian turned Texan; Jay is a passionate, active, optimistic individual that tries his best to serve the Lord in all that he does. He came to Heartlight from Newbury Park, California. Jay attended Azusa Pacific to attain a degree in Youth Ministry with an emphasis in Intercultural Ministry. Before moving to Texas, he rode his bike with a team of others across the country with Rife for Water to support Charity: Water, an organization that seeks to provide clean water to all individuals in need. Jay has been a camp counselor for years and served with youth in churches and nonprofits since college.

He wanted to work with Heartlight because he remembered how hard his teenage years were and how alone he himself felt. He wants to help these teens find who they are meant to be. Jay is passionate, active in lifestyle, and overall optimistic. He hopes to bring a renewed sense of passion and creativity for connection and be someone who continually makes others feel uplifted in spirits. 

Patrick Shewmaker

Residential Staff

Patrick graduated from East Texas Baptist University with his bachelors in Business Administration. He is interested in helping struggling teens because that is a pivotal moment in their lives where they choose not only their physical life journey but their spiritual journey. As one who struggled with the presence of his earthly father, he also struggled with a relationship with God which led to rebellious behavior. However, God put people in his life to help Patrick along the way. 

By aiding young teens through their troubled and difficult times, he hopes God works within him to be a guide in their lives to direct them to serve God in all categories of life! He is pleased the Lord has allowed him to be a part of this program and be a part of the teen’s lives in order to make a difference. By being a part of the team, he wants to work in the lives of the teens in order to help choose their physical path of life as well as their spiritual path. By doing so he feels he will be following through on what God commanded in Matthew 28:19. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” 

Devin Kisiel

Residential Staff

Coming to us with a Bachelor’s in English Language and Literature degree from California Polytechnic University in Pomona, California, Devin is certainly a staff of influence. He felt a strong calling to come to Heartlight after taking a time of stillness with the Lord. Before moving to East Texas, Devin worked with hundreds of teens in his local youth group along with a dozen other leaders. He has always had a passion to serve High School students, as those were 4 years were spiritually monumental in his own life. He feels that he was surrounded by strong Godly leaders who faithfully poured into his life in those developing years and would like to provide the same for the teens of Heartlight. 

Devin enjoys all outdoor sports and activities, soccer, basketball, football, tennis, ultimate frisbee, bicycling, going to the gym and listening to podcast sermons from his church back home. He is an avid reader and writer, genuine, outgoing, loyal, passionate, athletic, empathetic, determined, inquisitive, lighthearted and loving.  

Aaron McGraw

Residential Staff

A one in a million character, coming to us from Kansas City, Missouri. Aaron McGraw was a previous resident at Heartlight and made quite the lasting impression on our team. After maintaining relationships with leadership, years after completing his own program, he was requested to come back and help others complete theirs.

Aaron attended school at the University of Missouri- Kansas City and has spent many years volunteering at his church’s youth group. He wanted to join staff at Heartlight to give back to the place that gave him so much and help teens who are in the same position that he was in. Aaron enjoys fishing, hunting, playing guitar, camping skiing, and swimming. He carries a natural sense of humor that amuses most and can change the tone of any room. He is fun loving, athletic, and a playful soul by nature.

Emily Gilreath

Residential Director

Emily grew up in Alpharetta, Georgia before attending Auburn University and was active in Young Life and camping ministry during her college years.  She has a servant’s heart and strives to spend her life intentionally caring for others.

Emily loves listening to music, drawing, painting, pottery and welding as well as more active sports like cross country, wake surfing, and diving.  She loves getting the girls excited and involved with our program but is also very approachable when the residents she lives with need to have down time and talk through the struggles they are going through.

Marissa Forry

Residential Staff

Marissa was born and raised in York, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Lancaster School of Cosmetology and worked as a hairstylist and barista before moving to Heartlight. She has worked with youth ministry at her church and loves young people and is willing to be challenged. 

She loves to spend time rock climbing, reading, and trail running. Marissa brings an energy and strong passion to serve and love the teens here at Heartlight and is very outgoing, adventurous, and light-hearted. She is very good at listening and is confident in her interactions. Marissa makes everyone around her feel loved and cared for and brings that not only to the teens, but also to the staff.  

Gracie Sims 

Residential Staff

Gracie is from Midland, Texas but went to Oklahoma State University where she graduated with a degree in Strategic Communications. She has spent many summers working at camps with teens and has found that she relates well to them. 

The teenage years are a pivotal time in one’s life and Gracie feels the call on her life to serve and help the girls through this transitional time of their life. She loves photography, hiking, biking, running, and a good cup of coffee. She brings and energy and togetherness that allows her to not only connect with the residents here at Heartlight, but the staff as well. She has a warm, honest, and humorous approach to relationships which allows her to have a huge impact on those around her.  

Emily McAbee

Residential Staff

Emily is coming to us from Franklin, Kentucky where she attended Ross Medical Education trade school and received her medical assisting certification. She has worked with kids through VBS & international  mission  trips.  

Because of her own difficult experiences, Emily has a passion to help others. She loves to sing, play ukulele, dancing, doing crafts, cooking and baking. Emily is able to relate to the teens because of her own story and desires to use that to show them that they are not alone. She has a sweet and sensitive personality that is clear to all around her.  

Brea’ll Harp

Residential Staff

Brea’ll was born and raised in Texas and currently calls Gainsville, TX home. She recently graduated from Texas Women’s University in Denton, TX with a degree in Nutrition and Wellness. She has gained experience working with kids and teens through her church growing up and has a heart to work with teens. 

Brea’ll loves to bake and spend time outside as well as being a photographer. She has a sweet and loving spirit that is full of kindness and care for those around her. Although she may seem reserved from the get-go, she is very outgoing and loves to socialize and spend time with friends and family. Her heart to serve is made evident in her daily interactions as she loves everyone that she comes in contact with. 

Our Counseling Staff

Layne Smith

Director of Counseling - MACMHC

Layne graduated from the University of Texas at Tyler with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a graduate’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Before making the move to Heartlight she completed an internship with the Smith County probation office.

Layne is a lover of kids all ages and provides a beautiful example of what our life on life ministry style looks like. She maintains tough love but is highly encouraging and optimistic in style. Layne is married to Derick Smith, her husband, and they have three dogs, helping them make a new home and family in Longview, Texas. Layne brings a sense of peace and calm energy to all that she does and is seen as a steadfast as well as reliable in all of her ways.

Shelby Martin

MACMHC - Counselor

Shelby came to Heartlight with a Bachelor’s Degree in Science and Psychology through Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana and a master’s degree in Counseling with a concentration in Clinical Mental Health.

She is originally from Anacoco, Louisiana, the oldest of six children, and comes with a true sense of southern hospitality. She is someone willing to take on challenges and is open-minded to all things and people. Shelby enjoys reading, shopping, being out on the water, and going to the movies. She has a proactive and flexible approach to juggling many different priorities, is fun-loving, independent and adventurous.

Thomas Hudson

MACMHC - Counselor

Thomas was born in Miami, Florida, but lived in Chesterfield, Virginia for most of his life. He received his undergrad degree in Theology and Biblical studies from Global University and attended Liberty University where he got his master’s in professional counseling. Thomas has spent a lot of time in youth ministry as both a group leader and a pastor where he gained ample experience working with teens.

He desires to help teens in the same way he was given help when he was a teenager, which allows him to empathize and relate to those around him. Thomas loves baseball, hiking, camping and traveling. His laid-back spirit and upbeat personality allow people to feel comfortable loved.  

Zach DePledge

MSW - Counselor

Zach came to Heartlight from Denver, Colorado back in 2013 as a house staff. He returned home to work on and attain his master’s degree from Colorado State in Social Work and felt the pull to come back to Heartlight to continue in work as a counselor. Before Heartlight, Zach worked as a case manager in community mental health dealing with families and teens. He has worked with kids ever since starting his undergrad at Carroll College in psychology. He has worked with teens in both inpatient as well as outpatient settings.

Zach loves helping kids learn how to get their needs met in a crazy demanding world; especially teens of the angry and frustrated variety. He appreciates anything outdoors- triathlons, snowboarding, hiking, camping and road trips. Zach is fun loving, active, adventurous, and brings laughter, kindness, and an open mind to our Heartlight campus.  

Courtney Hudgins


Courtney is a counselor here at Heartlight coming to us from Mineola, Texas. She attended Southern Arkansas University where she received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and continued to get her Master of Science in Clinical Counseling and Mental Health. Before coming to Heartlight she worked as an admissions counselor at UT Tyler. 

She has had experience working with teens as a counselor, but also as a softball coach. Courtney’s heart is to be an ally for the residents who feel alone and need someone to walk alongside them. She enjoys running, reading, playing cards, traveling and spending time with her family. She is a great teammate that brings energy and compassion in an easy-going manner that allows people to connect with her well.  

Our Academic Staff

Brooke Lane

Academic Director

Before coming to Heartlight Brooke taught at a private Christian school, volunteered with her church’s youth group, and spent the summers sharing her love of Basketball at youth Sport camps.  She attended Southeastern Oklahoma State University before finishing her Psychology degree through Texas A&M-Commerce. 

Her East Texas accent and southern charm make you instantly feel comfortable talking to her and she has a natural ability to make people feel right at home.  She loves, Basketball, volleyball, fishing, and mudding with friends any chance she gets. 

Scott Harclerode

M.E.E. - Teacher (STEM)

Charles is from Longview, Texas, and attended University of Houston where he received a BS degree in Electronics and Control.  He furthered his education by attending the University of Kansas and Rice University where he received his MEE degree in Electrical Engineering.  He’s been semi-retired and is an Adjunct Professor of Physics at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas.  He’s been tutoring and involved in public education for almost 20 years. 

His desire at Heartlight is “the opportunity to help students with subjects I love; math and science.  His hobbies include remodeling his home that was built in 1845, farm and gardening, cooking, baking bread and making jewelry.  He brings a little bit of “age,” and a “whole lot of wisdom” to the content knowledge pool of the academic staff.

Jane Fidler

M.S. – Teacher (English/Reading)

Jane is originally from East Aurora, New York. She attended State University of New York at Buffalo where she received a B.A. in Secondary English and a Master’s Degree in Reading. Jane has had 12 years experience with teaching in the public schools located in New York as well as Texas.

She began teaching at Heartlight in 2002 and absolutely loves it.  Jane is one of those caring teachers that students will always remember because of her willingness to laugh, love, and “push” those around her to greatness.  Her witty personality is attractive, her fun-loving mood creates an atmosphere of care that is felt by all those she teaches.

Pam Mitchell

Director of Administration

Pam has worked with Heartlight for over 15 years as her ability to multi-task has made her an integral part of the community.  She oversees and assists in the areas of human resources, insurance, and all billing and payables.  Equipped with a gentle heart, a warm smile, and a servant’s heart, Pam insures Heartlight’s financial integrity and pursuit of fiscal excellence and accountability.  She has degree from Kilgore College and has always called East Texas her home.  She is married to Scott, who is the kindest and most successful high school coach any one would ever meet.  They have two daughters; one married and one in high school.

Rosemary Ludwig

Financial Secretary

A southerner at heart, Rosemary is from Vicksburg, Mississippi.  She attended both Mississippi State and East Texas Baptist University where she received an Associates Degree as a Certified Paralegal. 

She’s worked at various law firms in the East Texas area since 1988, and now brings her cheerful and positive attitude to the Heartlight Conference Center.

Alison Hill


Alison is from Hallsville, Texas and has been the kind “Voice of Heartlight” as she has been Heartlight’s receptionist for 10 years.  Her husband Michael and her have two children and are active in working with their church’s youth group.  When she’s not answering the phone or helping with parent and family retreats, Alison enjoys working in her yard, walking, camping and shopping.  Alison has a servant’s heart and love for people make her a joy to be around and an easy person to talk to.


Identifying Issues and Implementing Change

Each Heartlight Boarding School resident meets weekly with a designated counselor who utilizes a biblical model of counseling. Each full-time, on-site counselor is responsible for the emotional care of approximately 10–15 students.

Counselors lead two group sessions and an individual counseling session with the student each week. They are intricately involved in the lives of the young people counseled, as well as with the parents, becoming the “point of contact” for each family.

Parents are phoned on a regular basis after the individual counseling session with the teenager to provide an update and to discuss important therapy issues. Counselors also meet with the parents during the on-site retreats and family weekends and communicate with the family via email.

Counseling Also Involves the Family

Parents are involved in Family Retreats held throughout the year, and are encouraged to attend three smaller retreats. Each are designed to help parents understand the Heartlight process ensuring an easy transition when the child returns home once their program is complete.

Each of our counselors are assigned 13 residents and become a communication liaison between Heartlight and their parents sharing weekly updates and insights about their child as they progress through the program.


Individualized and self-paced learning for each teen

Heartlight’s accredited school utilizes a unique setting where individual attention and instruction guarantees academic progress and growth.  Each of our 5 teachers hold a master’s degree in their area of expertise, and are versed on each child’s educational needs.

Individual attention is given to each student to encourage successful academic progress, measured through weekly performance goals. Residents attend class five days a week and are given the opportunity to attend evening classes should they desire to “catch up” or “get ahead” in their curriculum.

Accredited by Cognia (formally AdvancED), the academics at Heartlight involves online learning coupled with individual instruction from educators that love teaching and have a genuine desire to see their students excel and succeed.


Committed to Excellence, Driven by Relationships

When unhealthy patterns of dealing with life issues (lying, selfishness, deceitfulness, manipulation, entitlement, depression, lack of motivation, disrespect for authority, confusion, etc.) are present, Heartlight Boarding School offers a safe and encouraging short-term living environment specifically designed to bring about a change in the teenager’s thinking and actions.

Our philosophy entails a biblical counseling approach with five levels of achievement. Each teen is involved in activities that offer support through individual and group counseling and 24/7 mentoring. Each staff member understands the security and significance we all seek can be found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who desires to fill the empty chasms of life and give meaning, purpose, and direction to our life.

Simply put, Heartlight Boarding School does not condone, participate in, or inflict corporal punishment (any form of inflicting pain or physical deprivation) on the teenagers in its care. Our policy reflects our belief that corporal punishment counters the effort to build relationships for the purpose of correcting unhealthy patterns of inappropriate behavior. Instead, we’ve learned that a more effective and teachable form of discipline entails the loss of certain privileges and added chores for the errant resident. When chores are added, staff participates alongside the resident, using it as an opportunity to relate.

A Life-on-Life Relational Approach

It cannot be emphasized enough that the success of the Heartlight Boarding School program lies in the coordinated team effort made by the staff. Together, they provide an atmosphere of serious pursuit in resolving teen problems, while saturating each teen resident with personal relationships.

Relationships also include the parents and the family. Our Parent Retreats and Family Retreats are designed to help teach parents and family better ways to deal with their teenager. Parents are kept up to date through weekly reports and regular connections with the Heartlight residential staff, counseling staff, and the academic coordinators.

All activities at Heartlight are designed to promote interaction and interpersonal relationships between the staff and teen residents. Because of this life-on-life experience with staff, lives are changed as problems and difficulties become opportunities for deepening relationships.

Though we do not push or force church attendance or religion, it’s also our hope that each teenager will find answers to questions they have about life and their own struggles in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our staff members are all Christians and stand ready to help each teenager find a closer relationship with their Maker.

Program Activities

Activity Rich, Life on Life Relational Living

The programmed activity time fills the hours when residents are not in school or going to counseling sessions and meetings. Our program staff ensure schedules are filled with plenty of outdoor activity and make sure residents don’t get bored in the process.

One large weekly night activity (called “Q&A”) provides an event that encourages each individual house’s participation. This is the one time of the week where the counseling staff, their families, residential staff, and all the kids gather for a fun night of laughter and activity. Each resident participates in our ‘Master’s Program’ where we desire for each to “master” a particular activity. Twenty-five horses, three Nautique ski boats, a rappelling tower, a paintball field, a cardio and weight area, a sports court, and a skeet shooting range all provide a stage for each resident’s participation.

On top of weekly Bible studies, house ventures, and special sporting events, Heartlight also hosts three family retreats. These events are designed for residents and their families to rebuild relationships and work together toward a successful transition back into their home environment after graduating the program.


The Application Process

The first step is to inquire, either online or by phone at 903.668.2173. After initial contact through our inquiry form, we’ll give you a call.

Assessment and Placement

Once we receive the application, we’ll review it to determine if Heartlight and your child are a “good fit.” If we feel we can be successful given the set of circumstances, an interview will be scheduled. Most times, the child is admitted to Heartlight the same day.

Should you have any further questions about Heartlight, please call our main office at 903.668.2173 and talk to Melissa Gregston-Nelson.

Once you have completed the initial inquiry, you may proceed to download and complete the admissions forms.

Teen Warning Signs

Worried about your son or daughter but not sure how to know how bad it really is? Take the assessment here:

What do I do next?

If you’re ready to learn more about if Heartlight could be the right place for your teen, get more information about the residential program by downloading a free informational brochure.

If you think Heartlight Residential Program could be a good fit for your family and your teen, the first step to apply is to fill out the inquiry form. Someone from our team will reach out to you within 24 hours to discuss our program, the costs and so forth. If Heartlight is not a good fit for your child, we will help direct you to other reputable Christian programs that may be more appropriate for your child and your family finances.

If Heartlight Boarding School is not right for your child or more costly than your finances allow, we’ll help you find a therapeutic program that aligns with your budget and with your child’s needs. Regardless, please click the link above to inquire.

Heartlight operates on a first come, first served basis when filling vacancies, so your promptness in sending back material so our staff can review is paramount.

Please contact our Director of Admissions if you have any questions. Know that there are a number of folks here that are praying for God’s direction about being involved with you in this current situation.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How long do residents stay at Heartlight?

The average stay for young people at Heartlight is 9–12 months. Changes of heart take time, and they require commitment on the part of the parents to stick with the program, no matter how difficult it is to be away from the child. The child will at first drag his or her heels and then after 2–3 months will settle in, allowing the counseling and the overall program to begin to spark a new way of thinking.

The 9–12 month program also provides time for parents to complete the series of three retreats required by the Heartlight program. It is critically important for the student to see his or her parents also making an effort to “change.” The Heartlight mission is to get kids back home as soon as possible after a true “change of heart” has taken place. Since there are always more needy teens waiting to get in, our staff never extends a child’s time beyond what is necessary for completion of the program.

2. Do the residents attend public school or do you offer schooling at Heartlight?

All residents attend school on property at the Educational Building using online curriculum through Park City Independent or Texas Tech University High School.  Each school is fully accredited and gives students an excellent alternative to public school to earn their high school credits. The curriculum is worked on independently but the residents do receive as much assistance as needed from the certified teachers on staff at Heartlight.

3. What does a child’s stay at Heartlight cost?

Please call us at 903.668.2173 to receive our current rates.

4. What role do parents play in their child’s stay at Heartlight?
Parents play a vital role. Parents are asked to attend and participate in three Family retreats and a series of three Parent Retreats that do not involve the residents. Through the years we’ve found that the single most important variable involved in the success of a child’s stay at Heartlight is the parent’s commitment to the process. This includes their support and trust of the staff, program, philosophy, and guidelines. We feel like this happens best when parents understand the intent of the program, communicate with the staff, cooperate with our directives, and do not get manipulated by their child.

5. What does the counseling program at Heartlight involve?

The foundation of the Heartlight counseling program is Biblical truth. Each kid will meet weekly with their assigned Heartlight counselor and will attend two different small groups throughout the week. Heartlight counselors will spend their time initially building a relationship with each resident with the purpose of earning the right to be heard. Once this right has been earned, they will put into practice their training and wisdom to help each individual move towards maturity and responsibility in their thinking and behaviors.

6. What types of activities does Heartlight have for the residents?

Heartlight believes in the seriousness of counseling and dealing with issues and struggles, and at the same time believes that activities must be provided for fun and active involvement of the kids with our staff. Heartlight’s activities include water skiing, fishing, horseback riding a rappelling and rock climbing tower, swimming, waverunners, water skiing, paintball, basketball, tennis, Frisbee golf, golf, softball, pottery, photography, biking, aerobics and weight lifting, as well as other lake activities. We work very hard on issues and problems…but we also have our fair share of play.

7. How many kids does Heartlight deal with at one time?

Heartlight is licensed and regulated by the Department of Family and Protective Services to house 59 kids. Heartlight’s strives to maintain 56 residents at all times.

8. Is Heartlight affiliated with any particular church?

Heartlight is a non-denominational Christian ministry, and is not affiliated with any one church. Heartlight utilizes a Biblical counseling model that brings the message of Jesus Christ to the lives of residents in a non-threatening way. We do not “force-feed” kids with the Gospel, and have no requirements for their spiritual growth in order to progress through the Level System. The staff’s background in church ministry, Young Life, Campus Life, Campus Crusade, camping ministries and other residential facilities, have all come together to develop the very best program possible to meet the needs of our Heartlight residents.

9. Is Heartlight co-ed?

Yes, Heartlight has both boys and girls on campus in separate housing units. Heartlight believes that it is important for each sex to learn how to have an appropriate relationship and have healthy boundaries with the opposite sex. All interactions are closely supervised by all staff and are used as teaching moments to help each child learn to handle relationships in more mature ways. We currently have 31 girls and 25 boys on campus.

10. What type of kid does Heartlight take?

Heartlight takes kids who are struggling with many issues that life has thrown them. We deal with kids that have somehow found themselves lost and not sure where to turn next. It is Heartlight’s belief that all kids are good kids and the ones we have are no different. In a world that is very confusing and dark, we wish to offer hope to kids and families that need it.

Please contact our Director of Admissions if you have any questions.

Download Your Heartlight Boarding School Brochure

This free brochure will give you all the details you need to help determine whether Heartlight is the right place for your teen.