Why we go to Haiti

Each day at Shelterwood focuses on restoration for our students — but sometimes, the greatest transformation for Shelterwood students happens off campus. Sometimes, the biggest paradigm shift occurs on our Shelterwood mission trip to an orphanage in Haiti.

“I’ve seen our students come alive on this trip,” says Jim Subers, Shelterwood CEO. “Our kids are giving 110% to love and serve Haitian orphans. This is a unique mission trip unlike anything these kids have done before and what happens in this dramatic act of love is transformative for our kids and the orphans.”

This spring marked the ninth trip Shelterwood has taken to Haiti, in partnership with The Global Orphan Project. “We use domestic and foreign mission trips, as well as special retreats, as an opportunity to go after the hearts of our kids. Changing their environment and getting them out of the normal, day-to-day routine is an opportunity for their hearts to be impacted.”

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With the average student spending 11 months at Shelterwood, the twice-yearly Haiti trips provide a unique opportunity for each young person who chooses to go. As they serve and love these orphans, they receive love too. “Our kids experience unconditional love from these orphans,” Jim says. “It is beautiful.”

The goal of the trip is to love the Haitian orphans, spending time with them and playing with them. Jim points to a Bible verse in Matthew 25 — whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me. “When we love on orphans in a very real way, we are loving Jesus,” Jim says. Sharing this love has a life-changing impact on Shelterwood students.

The median income in the United States is $50,000 a year — and that income level represents the top 5% of the world’s population, Jim always explains to Shelterwood students. “When they arrive in Haiti, they’re immediately confronted with this reality. Students begin to reflect on what living in the United States really means, and what responsibilities they have along with this opportunity and privilege.”

The week long trip begins on a Wednesday, with students returning to the United States the following Tuesday. Each day concludes with the group processing the day’s events. “Students get to practice giving a word of encouragement and affirming each other every night. Our kids get to bless one another every day, and this is a highlight of our trip.

On Sunday, students attend a Haitian church service. “We get to watch another culture worship with fervor in what would be oppressive conditions for us in America — no air conditioning, high humidity, flies, hot temperatures. This causes our kids to really reflect . . . these people have nothing, but they are full of joy.”

The group spends their last day seaside, allowing students to experience the contrast in the beauty of the Haitian beach. Monday is the day that students have the opportunity to be baptized. Jim estimates that, over the course of Shelterwood’s nine trips, 50 students have been baptized. Nine students — including Jim’s own son — were baptized on this recent trip.

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“We want to provide the opportunity for young people to have a paradigm shift in their thinking. Many of our students don’t realize how uniquely blessed and privileged they are,” Jim says. “When they go to Haiti, our students come back with a much deeper appreciation for the choices, experiences and opportunities they have. This trip shows students who they are, who they want to be and how very loved they are.”

Brain Balance: An Innovation in Learning

At Shelterwood Academy, we are dedicated to offering teens the best innovative therapies, as part of their journey to real growth and transformation. We are proud to be the only residential therapeutic boarding school in the nation with the life-changing Brain Balance program located  on campus.

Our brains have two distinct hemispheres — right and left — and these hemispheres are unique in what they do and how they cross-communicate. “Brain Balance is based on the idea that our brain’s two hemispheres need to connect,” explains Rujon Morrison, Shelterwood Program Director. “People with functional disconnection syndrome have an imbalance between the brain’s hemispheres. Brain Balance was designed to isolate the strong hemisphere of the brain and then strengthen the weaker side.”

The Brain Balance program is a comprehensive, therapeutic protocol combining physical and sensory exercises with cognitive skill training. Renowned Chiropractic Neurologist, Dr. Robert Melillo, originally developed Brain Balance for stroke victims. As he continued his research, he discovered the protocol was helpful for children and teens with neurobehavioral disorders, too. He saw improvement in the areas of attention deficit, learning differences, processing issues and the autism spectrum.

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Rujon was already well into her professional career in educational psychology and neuroscience, when she heard about the Brain Balance program, but her intrigue in neurology started much earlier. “From a young age, I was fascinated with the brain,” Rujon says. This led her to pre-med studies and a career in neuroscience and educational psychology.

In her work, Rujon developed a protocol that isolated the strong hemisphere of the brain to work on the weak one — and witnessed her students’ IQs jump between 10 and 20 points. “At the time, there was no understanding of neuroplasticity, but the brain really can change and grow.”

While working in Georgia, Rujon met Amanda Gunter, a Harvard-taught special education professional, who directed the community’s Brain Balance center. The similarities between the Brain Balance program and her own protocol developments were uncanny. As a result, Rujon shared the vision with Amanda of opening a Brain Balance Center at Shelterwood, and the rest is history. Amanda  launched our Shelterwood Brain Balance Center, and hired a dynamic team to run this facility. Because Brain Balance is an adjunct program at Shelterwood, parents must elect to have their student take part in the program but the Brain Balance assessment is free of charge to all Shelterwood students, and the team reviews the findings with the parents, so they are well-equipped to decide if the program will benefit their teen.

“In Brain Balance, we’ve seen kids progress as much as three to four grade levels academically, and some of the behaviors they struggled with have subsided. While the impact of Brain Balance is often noticed first in the classroom, the program can even help strengthen a teen’s emotional intelligence. “Many struggling teens lack connection with themselves or others when empathy is needed, and is one of the characteristics we are developing within Brain Balance protocol,” Rujon says.

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Success stories at the Shelterwood Brain Balance center are many, but one young man stands out to Rujon. Having faced much trauma, this teen developed manipulative behaviors. As a bully to his peers, he struggled to build friendships. After some time at Shelterwood, he wasn’t making progress; then, Brain Balance marked the turning point. His parents chose to enroll him in Brain Balance and they began to see a change. They started to see empathy and a tremendous decrease in his lying. He also began to take responsibility for his own actions. After a few more sessions, he was no longer stuck academically. His confidence was stronger than ever. “Really, everything changed for this young man,” Rujon smiles.  Over and over, parents and teens are encouraged and value the difference participation in the Brain Balance therapy provides for students.