Failure to thrive: Mary and her husband could not quite pinpoint the root of their son Alex’s struggles. “We felt we were failing as parents and he felt he was a failure as well,” Mary recalls. They’d tried everything they knew to identify and resolve the problems. After years of struggle, they made the difficult choice to send Alex to Shelterwood. Today, months after graduation, Alex is thriving — academically, socially and, most importantly, in stronger family relationships.
“Our son learned to trust, open his heart to love himself, then love and be loved by others,” Mary says. “Unquestionably, only the power of God working through the skillful and generous Shelterwood team could have achieved this healing.”
Her son was floundering before Shelterwood, Mary recalls. “For several years before we discovered Shelterwood, he had been experiencing increasing difficulties in school and in his relationships. Although he had not embarked on any really dangerous activities, we believed that he was potentially headed in that direction,” she says. “He did not have a positive self-worth, did not believe in his future, was squandering his talents and gifts, isolated himself and was engaging in increasingly provocative exchanges with family members.”
Mary and her husband began researching therapeutic boarding school and residential treatment agency options at the end of Alex’s first sophomore year semester. After an unpleasant Christmas holiday, when his grades revealed that he had not passed three of his classes despite repeated warnings, they began to explore residential treatment agencies and therapeutic boarding school options online.
“The first facility that seemed like a possibility really resonated with us and our values: Shelterwood,” Mary says. “We liked what we read and I called; from the very first conversation with the Admissions staff, which was supportive and understanding, I felt that we had found a good fit for our son. My husband and I made the difficult decision to take our son 1,600 miles from home and leave him with strangers in a place we had only seen in photos. It was truly a leap of faith.”
Yet, Mary and her husband felt remarkably comfortable after setting foot on the Shelterwood campus. “We immediately sensed that the Shelterwood staff were genuinely kind, compassionate, loving, talented, intelligent, fully-trained, Christian individuals working as a well-organized team for the best interest of the young people in their care. Rather than being overcome by sadness, we actually felt relieved and hopeful as we drove to the airport to return home, feeling we had made a decision that would help to save him.”
“Shelterwood obviously worked closely with our son, in therapy and in every aspect of his day,” Mary says. “God clearly opened up new opportunities for our son and our family working through the staff. Through a process of faith-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which was completely new to us, our beautiful son was able to believe in his own self-worth and begin to emerge from the depression that had been coloring every part of his life.”
While Alex was hard at work on the Shelterwood campus, Mary and her husband were also hard at work back home. “My son appreciates that his parents also had to grow and change. We learned patience – not something that came naturally to anyone in our family. The parent and family therapy we participated in was priceless and critical to our continued success. Our therapist came to know and understand and love our son and our family and spoke honestly; he gave us advice and tools to use together to help create a healthier relationship. We are not perfect, but we are considerably better parents and a healthier family as a result.”
Alex spent nine months at Shelterwood: longer than Mary and her husband anticipated, but it was time well spent. “Once he was able to see clearly who he is, he has been able to engage in happier and healthier relationships and discontinue torpedoing his own efforts at success. Understanding and embracing that he is a beloved child of God was critical to his healing.”
Academically, Alex’s performance has improved dramatically since his return home from Shelterwood — even receiving a coveted spot on his school’s Honor Roll. He has also reconnected with his church youth group and Boy Scout troop, where he is firmly on the path to earning the prestigious Eagle Scout award.
Most significantly, Alex’s relationships with family are stronger than ever. “His relationship with his siblings has improved immeasurably, and our most recent holiday season was the most peaceful and harmonious one that we have enjoyed in years. He laughs now and participates in dinner conversation. He likes to hang out with his younger sister and enjoyed shopping with his older siblings during the holidays, which would have been formerly unthinkable.” Alex even collaborated with his siblings on a special Christmas surprise for their parents: a professional family portrait.
Looking back at their Shelterwood decision, and looking forward at who Alex is today, Mary and her husband know it was a life-changing choice for their family. “We knew that if we did not do something when we did, it was likely that we would not have the opportunity to either help him later, or enjoy the relationships we hope for in the future. We would not hesitate to do it again. It was money that we could not have possibly spent for anything more important. I firmly believe that God’s hand was involved in helping us to make the choice for him to attend Shelterwood and in facilitating the positive outcome.”