Do you ever say, “We have already dealt with this, why is he/she still struggling with this?” As parents we crave growth and change so deeply that once we see it displayed, even once, it is really hard to accept when it isn’t immediately repeated. Seeing behavioral growth might even tempt us to get caught up in the success and bring our teen home prematurely. After all, it is really tough to cover the costs of residential care and live so far away from our kids. It is natural to want them home, especially when we see good things happening. But teens that are required to attend treatment tend to demonstrate improved behavior before they have truly changed on the inside. Much like a cake when it is pulled prematurely out of the heat, it will always flop. Change isn’t about making one good choice when everyone is watching. The true mark of growth is when your teen makes the right choice when no one will know. This type of deep character growth that impacts all future decisions is what you should be seeking. So be patient and move through Shelterwood with purpose rather than with reaction. Your teen might return home with a depth that might surprise you.
Here is my story of a wilderness camping experience with some of the students that I am working with at Shelterwood Academy.
I 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.
Brad 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.