“I don’t know where I’d be today if I had not gone to Shelterwood.”

Kate Reedy was a junior when she transferred high schools and fell in with the wrong crowd. “From the first week of the school year, I was going to school drunk,” Kate recalls. “The year was full of parties and I was getting involved with the wrong people.” That April marked one of Kate’s lowest moments. “Several of us got drunk at a rally and we were questioned by not only the school principal, but by the police as well. All four of us were arrested,” she remembers. Within a week, Kate was headed to Shelterwood, a turning point in her story.

“My arrest that April was a huge red flag for my family about everything else that had been going on during the year,” Kate says. “My parents knew I’d been drinking, but it didn’t hit them hard until I was being read my rights. Looking back, it was a huge wakeup call for my parents.”

Kate summarizes her arrival at Shelterwood in one word: relief. “I tried to keep a hard face on, but deep down, I was glad I was getting help. I got out of the car when we arrived at Shelterwood and I didn’t even cry . . . I was just so relieved to be there. I knew this was my chance. I knew I needed this and so I took it seriously.”

Kate’s therapeutic experience was particularly impactful, she shares. “My therapist made me feel like I was family,” she says. “I never felt rushed in our sessions and he gave me the time I needed, the time to talk everything through.” She feels the same about the young adult Mentors and even the kitchen staff. “Someone was always there for me. For someone like me who had been through so much, that’s so important.”

Without the distractions and pressure she’d experienced back at school, Kate felt free to explore her spirituality. “The God factor at Shelterwood is amazing. Everyone there has a purpose to live for God. The chapel services, church, Bible studies . . . all of it became important to me. Being away from the phone, the TV, the Internet and social media, I was not distracted by my phone and so I was able to focus on those things.”

kate reedy 576x1024 “I don’t know where I’d be today if I had not gone to Shelterwood.”

Academically, Kate had the space and time at Shelterwood to excel. No longer under the negative influence of her peers at high school, Kate was determined to complete coursework and graduate high school. “I was able to graduate high school early because of the classes at Shelterwood. I know many therapeutic programs do not allow that, and if I had been somewhere else, I could have fallen behind. All the teachers were awesome and helpful.”

After a nine month stay at Shelterwood, Kate graduated. The transition home was somewhat challenging, Kate admits. “I got home during February of what would have been my senior year in high school. All my old friends were still in school. I struggled a lot being back home and trying to find the right relationships.”

“Everything was not suddenly perfect at home because I’d been to Shelterwood,” Kate shares, reflecting that no relationship is ever perfect. She knew her parents had been working just as hard at home as she had been at Shelterwood. “You will not come home and find that everything is suddenly great. I cannot stress enough how important it was for me to have that patience. Today, my mom is my very best friend and I cherish that relationship. That would not be the case without Shelterwood. I have good relationships with my family again, and that is so special.”

Kate is excelling professionally today too, and is proud of her career. Working in property management for a homeowners’ association, “most of my work is in customer service. I love talking to people!” she smiles.

The decisions Kate makes today lie in stark contrast to those she made before Shelterwood. “The friends I pick today are different, my priorities are different, even the guys I date are totally different. I wouldn’t have had goals or expectations for myself if I had not been to Shelterwood.” Kate attributes the shift to the confidence she gained while at Shelterwood. “I learned not to be scared to tell my story and to own my story.”

Most importantly, Kate says, she cherishes her relationship with God. “God is now a huge part of my life. I don’t know where I’d be today if I had not gone to Shelterwood.”

Shelterwood Mentors: Serving Teens, Growing Spiritually

Shelterwood Mentors dedicate a year of their life to serving our teens as they journey towards restoration. Serving teens is a life-transforming experience, yet comes with unique challenges. For this reason, spiritual development is crucial in the mentoring journey. While mentors are developing teens, they are growing in their own spiritual walk.

“It can take an emotional toll doing this demanding work, so spiritual development is where we grow and find the strength we need to continue serving,” explains JJ Francis. He serves many roles at Shelterwood but most importantly is the Spiritual Development and Community Facilitator to our mentors.

Shelterwood Mentors are young adult men and women who are passionate about helping struggling teens and have a desire to grow in leadership and service in their own personal journey. Mentors, nicknamed “Bigs,” commit to the year-long life-on-life discipleship and hands-on ministry with teenagers. “We give teens grace when they mess up and teach them that they are not a failure and that they are well-loved. We are both their best friend and counselor,” JJ adds.

DSC9375 1024x683 Shelterwood Mentors: Serving Teens, Growing Spiritually
While mentors work to develop teens, they are also growing in their own faith.

Rewarding work, certainly — but it isn’t easy, JJ explains. “Coming alongside our brothers and sisters as they face a myriad of issues, we also face our own challenges. In the process of serving and giving to others, mentors learn that God can use our service to build us in the process.”

Having served as a “Big” himself, JJ knows the unique challenges our mentors experience. The spiritual development program is designed to address the one-of-a-kind trials mentors face on the journey. Spiritual development for mentors includes Bible studies, small group discussions, recreation and more. In every aspect, mentors find encouragement from every member of the Shelterwood Team.

“We call each other to a higher standard, and when you have brothers and sisters in the same struggle, you realize you’re not alone in this,” he says. “This is a challenging role, so we need to nurture each other. We lift each other up in everything.”

To guide mentors through their journey, JJ and his team recently developed the “Mentor Discipleship and Leadership Program Guidebook.” The first portion of the guidebook outlines the stages of their journey, from orientation through completion of their Shelterwood year. The second portion of the guide focuses on spiritual resources, including a spiritual gift assessment, spiritual disciplines and tools for personal development. Practical guidance is also offered, as mentors plan for their career post-Shelterwood.

All of the support given through the Leadership and Discipleship program builds a group of mentors who make life-changing impact on the lives of our students. “You see the difference mentors make at every graduation,” he says. “Parents testify that if it weren’t for them, their child would not have made the progress they have.”

“For mentors, this is not just a job or occupation. This is a calling,” JJ says. “Mentors really invest in these students. They are the backbone of our program, and Shelterwood would not be the special place it is without them.”

Heart change and transformation at Shelterwood

As Shelterwood’s Resident Director, every day looks different for B.J. Shay. He oversees policies and procedures in student dorms, helps recruit young adult mentors, works with assistant house directors and more. Central to his work, however, is the chance to witness transformation in the hearts of Shelterwood students.

B.J. knows heart change personally; he experienced a life-changing transformation himself. “I was a troubled teenager and that helps me understand the importance of what we do. It gives me tangible knowledge that kids can change if they desire it. I know it first hand,” he says.

As a teen, B.J. experienced personal tragedy, including loss of people close to him. “It’s clear now that was the root of what was going on,” he explains. As a high school student, he struggled with substance abuse and was defiant to his parents.

He was raised in church, but B.J. stopped being involved. “On my own personal journey, I always knew God was there and that he had a plan, but I didn’t like that plan and I didn’t like him at the time.”

In college, he hit rock bottom — and that was when real transformation occurred. “That experience showed me that there’s nothing you can’t do with God,” he says.

After college, B.J. worked full time in youth ministry as a pastor in Hawaii, then applied to be a mentor at Shelterwood. “Being a mentor was the most significant year of my ministry career. These young adults come together, form a team and build the bonds it takes to help these kids,” he shares.

“The number one thing I think mentors learn is that God doesn’t give up on anybody, no matter what,” B.J. says. “We don’t force these kids to come to faith, and you can’t force them to understand who Jesus is. But we create opportunities for them to experience the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit can experience these kids.”

“The mentors are, in my opinion, the reason why the program works,” he says. “The kids learn how to reach out to people who are positive influences and positive people.”

Since his time as a mentor, B.J. has held every job title in the Shelterwood residential department. Over the years, he’s seen countless stories of transformation, but one stands out.

“We had a student who was good at manipulating others so they’d do what he wanted, although it wasn’t in his best interest,” B.J. recalls. “He was incapable of accepting no.”

But over time, transformation started to occur. “He learned how to value people and how to relate to people,” B.J. says. “He made a big change during the summer session that year, and it was notable growth. He started attending a church intentionally and chose to go to Bible study.”

Change continued as he approached graduation. “He learned to accept the feedback of others and create effective dialogue in his life. He came from a place of manipulation and a heart of deceit to a place of communication and a heart for others.”

Since graduation, he’s done great things. “He’s an incredibly professional young man,” B.J. says, “the kind of person who could literally be the President if he chose to. He has that kind of skill with people.”

Because of stories like these, B.J. points to the faith component at Shelterwood. “The faith component is really important because it helps kids learn WHO they are and WHOSE they are. When kids understand their identity, they’re more able to find self-worth and value and purpose in their life. And that’s when the real change takes place.”