Shannon Hammond and her husband considered themselves “normal, everyday parents.” They were small business owners who had raised two older girls without a hitch by the time their youngest, Conner, came along. The girls were on their way to careers and college degrees when Conner was in high school. “We really thought we were just fantastic parents; we never had any bumps in the road with the girls,” Shannon remembers.
Things were going smoothly until Conner’s sophomore year. Until then, he had been active in the community, dancing 30 hours a week and running his own gardening business. Shannon said first they found him vaping and sneaking out. Then they realized he was smoking weed. Within six months, he had escalated to harder drugs, failing grades and running into trouble with the law.
The Hammonds tried everything, from giving tons of grace to tons of discipline. They called on their close-knit community to find Conner counselors, school support and a mentor—David, a close family friend who is a deputy police chief.
“Even with all the extra love from counseling, law enforcement and school resources…Conner rejected it all,” Shannon remembers. “And us!”
They knew they needed more help for Conner than they could get on their own. “David said, ‘Shannon, he’s going to end up in jail or dead. You don’t have any more time. I’ve seen what happens.’”
The Hammonds immediately called their insurance administrator, Jody, who had been walking the journey with them, for help finding a residential program. They reached out to friends for recommendations, too. Shelterwood’s name kept coming up, so they started the conversation with Shelly Moss, Director of Admissions.
“Shelly bent over backwards for us,” Shannon said. “She was Shelterwood for us, and we saw hope through her.” With help from Jody and Shelly, the Hammonds were able to enroll Conner quickly.
“Every single person in our community, along with Shelly and Jody at our insurance company, made this work for us,” Shannon says. “All through the hands of God.”
Within days, they were on the way to Shelterwood, sight unseen, with Conner. They were afraid Conner would run away during the drive from their home in Texas, so they were escorted by David and their neighbor, Kevin, who had just retired from the FBI.
“From the minute we pulled up, it was clean, it was homey, it was warm,” Shannon remembers. “I looked around, and the people who worked there looked like people my child would be receptive to. And the people who talked to Fred and I were kind and gentle. We knew we were in the right place.”
Shannon says Conner was very angry when they left, but she knew he was safe. Even though she was tired and numb, the feeling she remembers most is relief. She and her husband were able to sleep for the first time in weeks. Then the real work began.
“Shelterwood helped us learn how to talk to Conner,” Shannon says. “We really trusted them, and they kept telling us to trust in the process.”
There were days when they were frustrated with his lack of progress, but eventually they started to see improvement. “At about five months, we began to see some heart change start to happen,” Shannon says. But she emphasizes how the process wasn’t linear; real change came through lots of ups and downs.
For example, the first time they went up to bring Conner home—they wanted him to be able to do his senior year back in Texas—he wasn’t ready. “We knew it was the right thing to leave him there,” Shannon says. “He stayed another 19 days, and we saw the most growth happen during that time.”
But the story didn’t stop when Conner came home. “It’s been a journey ever since as well,” Shannon says. She is very upfront about the challenges both parents and young people face post-Shelterwood.
“Honestly, [at the beginning], you just want your child ‘fixed.’” Shannon says. “That just doesn’t happen. You’re not going to get a pretty package with a bow on the top at the end.”
The process isn’t linear at home, either. “We’ve realized, you know what, we have a different kid,” Shannon says. “We’ve chosen to love him. He’s sober today. He has value. He has tools.” They talk a lot about those tools, his choices and the consequences of his decisions. That’s one of the biggest differences compared with their pre-Shelterwood life—they talk about everything.
Shannon gets a lot of encouragement and help from a Shelterwood Moms Facebook group. “Until you’ve been through it, you don’t realize this other depth of support and understanding you need.” She’s found empathy, humor and hope with several other parents who also have sons at home, finishing high school.
She credits lessons they learned at Shelterwood—like responding not reacting, choosing your battles, and dealing with the truth—for helping them maintain a positive relationship with Conner after he came home.
“We have a loving relationship,” Shannon says. “He’s still tough to live with at times,” she laughs, “but we choose to look at him and say, ‘thank you, Lord,’ that he’s not on drugs—and he has a hope and future because what Shelterwood taught him and taught us.”
Shannon says a big shift has been recognizing that the big dreams she and her husband had for Conner were their dreams, not his. She used to want him to dress a certain way, look a certain way, and go to a certain kind of school. Those aren’t things she cares about anymore.
“We want him to achieve his dreams,” Shannon says. “If you can love people and love God…then we’re so happy with who you are!”
Have you, too, run out of resources at home to help your struggling teen? There’s hope at Shelterwood. Contact us today.