“Our son learned to trust, open his heart to love himself, then love and be loved by others.”

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.”

SW Arch 50 Edit “Our son learned to trust, open his heart to love himself, then love and be loved by others.”

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.”

“This is the best decision I’ve ever made for my son since he was born.”

Joe and Katya Khouri’s son Kevin was still in the hospital when they began their search for a therapeutic boarding school. After exploring hundreds of options, the family decided on Shelterwood — 6,500 miles away from home in Lebanon. Today, with Kevin now a Shelterwood graduate, parents Joe and Katya are celebrating: “This is the best decision I’ve ever made for my son since he was born,” Katya says.

“Back home in Lebanon, we don’t have therapeutic boarding schools,” Katya explains. Kevin faces both bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. “It’s either the hospital, or regular school and regular life. We knew Kevin needed something more than that, but couldn’t provide that at home.”

So Joe began the search for his son with the NATSAP directory. NATSAP, the National Association for Therapeutic Schools and Programs, was founded in 1999 as a national resource for programs and professionals assisting young people. From residential and wilderness programs to long-term care and transitional living, all NATSAP organizations are dedicated to serving children, adolescents or young adults. Katya and Joe explored programs across the United States.

Khouri family with Jim Subers Shelterwood 1024x501 “This is the best decision I’ve ever made for my son since he was born.”
Parents Joe and Katya Khouri visit with Shelterwood CEO Jim Subers to share their son’s story of transformation.

“We went through every page of it and looked at 250 schools. We really had to do our research,” Joe says about their rigorous search process. Together with Kevin, Katya and Joe gradually narrowed down the search to 20 schools. They assembled a questionnaire to make their final decision, evaluating everything from the staff-to-student ratio to the financial investment.

“There are so many programs out there and it’s easy to get lost,” Katya says. “At Shelterwood, we knew he would be living a normal life, but within a community that would help him. The program was therapeutic, but Kevin would be living alongside people his age. It’s the only program we found that’s like this.”

Also important to Joe and Katya was Shelterwood’s faith-based approach. “We are Christians, and so we know we have to fight evil with love,” Joe says. “The staff is amazing — everyone has been.”

Katya also smiles as she recalls the impact the mentors had on her son. “The mentors really are like big brothers to Kevin!”

The Khouri family looks forward to Kevin’s future with so much joy. “I’m so happy to see Kevin, the way he is today. I am very confident that he’ll do well.”

As Joe and Katya reflect on the great strides Kevin made while at Shelterwood, they both notice the transformation in their son. “He was so broken when he came here,” Katya says. “There’s a big difference. Now when I look at Kevin, I see a man in this kid.”

I have so many questions and concerns

Removing your teen from home is a struggle shared by others

IMG 8009 copy 300x195 I have so many questions and concernsEvery day we receive many inquiries from parents trying to find solutions for their struggling teen. Recently, a concerned mom wrote to our parent support group. She captured my attention because so many of her concerns are shared by others and I felt like the alumni parent that responded to her also represented the community of parents that understand and are trying to find their way through the rigors of parenting.

“I am the mother of a 16 year old son.  We are in the midst of trying to discern if Shelterwood Academy would be the best place for our son right now.  We have reached a point at home that we feel unable to help him.  He is failing school although he is very bright, angry with God, angry with his family, and has been stealing money from us.  In fact he has become verbally abusive to our whole family.  We have been through numerous counselors, a psychologist, his pediatrician, pastor, etc. and no one has been able to help.  He has been accepted to Shelterwood, but as a mom, I am so torn with sending him away.  I was hoping to be in touch with a few parents to see how they dealt with this decision, what behaviors in their child led them to this decision, how the child felt about being sent to a therapeutic boarding school, and ultimately the result? Were you able to get the family counseling from Shelterwood that helped restore the relationship between you and your son?  Was coming home difficult for your son, and have the changes he made continued, as he has remained home?  Anything that you could tell me, regarding your experience would be so helpful.  I know your heart has been where mine is now, and I think it would help if I could hear from another parent who has been there.” Thanks, Concerned mom

You are in such a tough place and I ache for you because I’m sure every day for your family is a roller coaster ride from what you described. Yes, we were in a similar condition and made the decision around thanksgiving time, but I couldn’t let go of our “holiday”.  Our son told us he wouldn’t go there and we’d need to have him taken by cops (transport agency), so we did just that and it worked much smoother than I could have ever imagined. We did exactly what the service said to do and it worked. Our son was surprisingly calm by the time they got him there and cordial to us until the counselor let us say goodbye and then he lashed out in hate. Didn’t know if he’d ever speak to us again, but we had to pursue this for our other child and for our marriage…

Ten months later and a lot of emotional work, a few bumps and he came home. It has been working and I would do exactly the same thing again. It isn’t perfect, but we grow and work through things much better and he is scheduled to graduate high school in May and go on a mission trip to Nepal in July!!!

You have done so much for your son, if you can possibly give him the gift of a chance to go to Shelterwood Academy, follow their system and heal, God will bless you in a mighty way. If you do decide to send him, DO NOT PULL him at any cost or problem. Please work through the bumps and commit to see it through. I watched too many do the opposite and so did our son. He even said in his parting speech, “stop asking your parents to pull you and succeed in this.”

I’ve probably left a lot out, but will pray for you and would definitely appreciate a call from you even if we cry together. It shows what a great parent you are because you are even investigating this!
God bless you!

Shelterwood Academy Alumni

Relationships continue after the program ends

Screen Shot 2015 09 17 at 11.15.40 AM 300x213 Relationships continue after the program ends# Impact Lives

Life after Shelterwood is actually a very special chance to deepen relationships and demonstrate real care for one another.  I was thoroughly blessed when three former Shelterwood students came to my wedding.  Others students wanted to come, I look at those pictures, and for some of them life has been significantly more difficult since Shelterwood, but they are strong enough to bear it thanks to Shelterwood. It is a beautiful testament to the Lord, the week leading up to the wedding the kids stayed at my parents house and I laughed with them, and joked as we recalled various stories, and had deep spiritual conversations. To impact lives is such a privilege and together we are better off.  These young men will remain friends and I hope that we can continue to care for one another.

Former Shelterwood Mentor


Find out how Shelterwood continues to impact lives long after the tuition is paid. Check out other student stories of change or parent reviews.

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Shelterwood graduate shares

“It’s not all butterflies and unicorns”: A recent Shelterwood graduate, Crosby Child’s, shares candidly about the ups and downs about being home after graduating the program.

Having grown up in a caring home with a stay-at –home mom and a dad who worked hard to support the family, Crosby’s trouble didn’t start until middle school, a difficult time for anyone. Then, being forced to move at the end of Grade 6 and leave everything familiar behind, Crosby began to mix with the “wrong crowd” and it “turned her life upside down.”   She became angry and stopped confiding in her parents and spent more and more time with her friends, making poor decisions. During her freshman year, she went through even more radical changes: she was moving again to Oklahoma and she found out she was pregnant with a child with special needs. Her anger and bitterness towards everyone spiked. Her move to Oklahoma didn’t change much…she continued to hang out with the wrong crowd and got involved in drugs and alcohol. She started skipping school and all of these decisions really affected her grades and her relationships at home, which went from bad to worse.

Crosby was brought to Shelterwood in November of 2012 where she experienced “ups and downs” for fourteen months and graduated in January 2014. Her highlights include activities such as horseback riding classes, being celebrated as she moved up levels, meeting “a lot of wonderful young women,” and traveling to Haiti twice to work at orphanages. But what stands out the most for Crosby is being baptized with her best friend which she says, “was more than [she] could over ask for and it brought [her] closer to God.” While at Shelterwood, she learned that she was smart and capable at school, that she was able to love others “safely” and make wise decisions, and how to have friendships without unhealthy dependency.

Since graduating from Shelterwood in January, Crosby has been busy raising Tommie (who will be 3 in May) and working to finish school so she can go to college to be a dental hygienist and travel. Her dream is to do missions work and maybe live in a country such as Haiti for a year. While returning home has been difficult and a definite adjustment for Crosby and her family, she says she knows better how to handle struggles and that even though it might not have seemed like it at the time, “Shelterwood was the best thing that ever happened to [her].”

Parents Share Lessons Learned

Every day parents share amazing insights with us as a staff and we are always eager to pass along their wisdom to other struggling families.

1.  Letting your child struggle is OK.  A parent once told me that the most significant thing she learned while at Shelterwood was the value of letting her child struggle and experience discomfort.  Up to that point, she had believed the lie that “good parents do everything they can to keep their children from suffering any type of pain.”

2.  Don’t “major” on minor issues.  There are choices that each child makes that are not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of life!   Compared to all the self-destructive choices in the world, I learned at Shelterwood that my child’s choice to have long hair or a tattoo is not a reason to despair. It may even be a healthy way for them to assert their identity.

3.  Progress is happening even when I can’t see it.   I learned to embrace the absolute necessity for my child to make mistakes in order to grow. Every unwise choice is an opportunity, not a failure.  It may be one more step toward my child growing tired of his life and thereby letting go of patterns and choices that don’t work for him.

4.  Shelterwood has impacted my life as well.  God used this time for my own individual change that ultimately contributed greatly toward the progress and unity in my family.

5.  I needed others.  Prayer, dependency on God and healthy dependency on others was invaluable during this process.  We are not meant to have all the answers and to do it all on our own.  Reach-out, receive the comfort God has available to you from others and through Him.

Parents Respond to Haiti Trip

Parents respond to the Haiti trip and appreciate the changes their teen made after gaining a new perspective.

“Jake will never be the same from having been in Haiti with this team….thanks for leading!”

“I want to thank you personally for all you have contributed to Nick’s journey… not just the one to Haiti, but to his acceptance of the fact that God created him with a purpose in mind… and to his belief that it’s a good one! Thank you for your support of our family on this very long and rocky road, for your prayers on our behalf, and most of all for never giving up on us as family nor on our son as a man. We believe in miracles because we’ve lived a few! We pinch ourselves in light of the constant reminders that we are never too far for God to reach us and that He is in the business of restoring the years the locusts have eaten.”

“I’m not sure of what I’m all feeling right now, except that it’s making me weep and laugh at the same time! Nick holding that little girl just slays me. I can only repeat my wife’s message. We are humbled, grateful, and can’t wait to see the whole gang next week!”

“Thanks so much for the wonderful pictures of Drew on the Haiti Trip, I guess it is time for me to end the pity party I’ve been on wondering if I did the right thing by sending him to Shelterwood.  I know now that this is the best experience that he will ever have in his life and that he is really happy.”

“THANKS so much for this good report!  We see compassion ministry in Jake’s destiny; your missional leadership and Shelterwood’s emphasis on relationships have been powerful in Jake’s spiritual formation!”

“Thank you so much for sending this! I am in tears of joy and awe of what God did and is doing in Romans life. I think that it was a miracle that he even went! Thank you, thank you, thank you for trusting Roman and allowing him to go! Thank you for the pictures; look how happy he looks. This is our Roman. This is a blessing.”

I Love Being a Mentor

Here is my story of a wilderness camping experience with some of the students that I am working with at Shelterwood Academy.

%name I Love Being a MentorI think any guy with much camping experience will tell you that there’s really nothing like sitting around a campfire at night enjoying deep conversations. But how much greater is that experience when you get to be a big brother to those people, discussing life and staring into a slowly dying fire? Those are the kinds of experiences I treasure as a big brother. Every part of the canoe trip was exciting to me while we were driving down, pitching our tents, wading through the knee-deep creek hunting for crawdads, watching the fireflies at night lighting up like I had never seen before, and floating down the river trying to avoid getting my boat flipped by an overzealous little brother. I just genuinely enjoy being able to be barefoot for a couple days and getting some wet grass between my toes. Now I’m starting to worry that all this Missouri air is starting to get to me. It’s pretty amazing being able to take a bunch of guys from all different places out of their element and spend some time in nature and out of the artificial.

I remember waking up one morning and only half awake, I walked down to the fire and plopped down on a cooler. It was great just sitting there watching some guys cook our breakfast in a skillet on the fire. Actually, we accidentally left our spatula for the trip back home so we had to find the cleanest stick we could off the ground to stir the scrambled eggs. The little brothers would trickle in toward the fire and after a while they would reach for some breakfast and then eventually woke up enough to string whole words together. So we sat around the fire there again enjoying a slow morning, eating a hot breakfast, and spending time building relationships and telling stories. It’s genuinely a delight to be involved in something where this is considered my job. I love these moments in life and being able to be a part of someone else’s journey and getting the chance to help someone heal away from such negative influences is priceless.

I’ve actually spend my whole life growing up in the Ozarks so camping is almost second nature to me, but there’s always something special about climbing back into your bed when you get back. It’s like my dad used to say, his favorite part about eating ice cream is the cold glass of water afterward. Surprisingly, I think my favorite part of the canoe trip was coming back to the house with the guys. We all have the same bug bites, the same memories, and we all long for the same air conditioning. That’s when I feel really bonded with the little brothers. We shared a few days together outside of our comfort zone, taking in the elements but finally we’re back enjoying the fulfillment to our longing for safety and comfort. And as a big brother that is what brings me, far and above the greatest joy, to be able to provide the little brothers with a sense of safety and comfort.

This is What Real Mentor Relationships Look Like

tough guys 225x300 This is What Real Mentor Relationships Look LikeBrad Paynter (Mentor, 2002-2003) reflections on a mentor relationship with a student, that’s lasted over 12 years.  At Shelterwood Academy we have fostered hundreds of these type of committed mentor relationship and believe that your teen would benefit from this type of life long support.

Zach had been on the Shelterwood campus for a number of months before I arrived in the fall of 2002. The friendship was immediate. We shared a very similar history: both from Iowa, both soccer players, both raised in military families. In addition, both our fathers were physicians who knew each other through their respective careers despite the distance between our cities.

But the providence of our encounter extended beyond the regular kind of mentor relationship that is wonderfully typical of staff and students.  Soon after I my role as a mentor in 2003, I invited my parents to Zach’s graduation party in central Iowa.  What developed was truly a display of God’s provision for community among believers. On more than one occasion our families have been a blessing to each other in ways that can only be understood by our similar histories. When my father retired from the National Guard, the Websters helped us find a spot for the reception after the ceremony, and then helped with the preparations.

Zach and I have continued our friendship through the years. We have commented at times that being at Shelterwood seemed like an entirely different life—in a weird but wonderful place. What a blessed life.

Student Story in Westword Magazine

Screen Shot 2014 12 15 at 7.23.38 PM Student Story in Westword MagazineThe following article appeared in the Westword magazine, a Denver area arts and entertainment magazine. Heather Cameron attended Shelterwood as a student and then returned to serve as a mentor to other struggling teens.

“Heather Cameron heard the sound of the gunshots that killed her mother. On Saturday, April 20, 1996, the twelve-year-old was waiting for Debra Cameron — Debbie, to her friends — to return from a charity auction at Garland Country Day School, where Heather was in the sixth grade. Debbie had called a little earlier to say she was on her way home and to ask her daughter what she wanted to eat. So Heather sat on the couch of her mom’s loft in the Neusteter building, watching MTV and thinking about dinner.”

You can read the entire article by Clicking to Continue

Westword Magazine, Nov. 23, 2006