Investing in our youth a bit at a time

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As the summer of programing began, the driver of the bus for the Nonviolence Works Familia y Mundo activities commented, "The kids would run - racing each other - and fall down on their way into the bus. I would have to reach out and catch one or two and advise them to slow down."

By the end of the program, they "would file in, say hello to me and thank me for driving the bus. Now that I see as progress," the driver said.

Little things - noticed by others who care - can give testimony to how youth with behavioral challenges can be changed by programs that invest in their future.

Summer is a time of celebrations - for the founding of our country, the memories of D-Day in Europe, the Fiestas de Taos, the Taos Pueblo Powwow, for the times that families come together for feasts and barbecues. In many of these events, we look back at memories and we look forward to new changes.

At Nonviolence Works, as we move through the summer programs, we notice the way our youth presented themselves as they entered the summer, the way they ended the school year. And then we plan a variety of individual and group opportunities to make a difference -- to support new changes. The freedom to design longer days of activities - such as swimming and hiking, gardening and playing sports, martial arts and reading, art and meal preparation - helps reinforce the counseling in individual and group sessions.

Staff members design specific goals for each youth that can be practiced through activities. Acting out and defiant at any guidance? Take the opportunity to make meaningful choices that are interesting and personal. Feeling shy and sad? Express those in art forms or in movement activities. Angry and resentful? Move into challenging physical activities and set some goals that are reinforcing and burn off the stress and anxiety. When goals set in individual therapy can be immediately reinforced in group social activities with clinical supervision, new learning can be more successful.

At NVW, we have designed a variety of programs that meet youth where they are and help them change and move into more positive patterns. Our NVW summer staff members report that the youth are speaking up for themselves more and taking responsibility for their own behaviors. In addition, they are expressing more compassion for others - a result that seems to stem from the opportunities they have been given to volunteer in the community.

Of youth who are in the juvenile detention system, up to 70 percent have an undiagnosed mental health challenge that has not been treated. Research shows that investing in life skills training and family therapy will give youth the sense of self-esteem and confidence to transition successfully to adulthood and contribute positively to the community. Life skills training covers how to make decisions, set goals, follow through, evaluate your own performance, establish successful social relationships, manage your emotions appropriately and participate successfully in school or vocational training.

At NVW, we want to see these youth early in their development, when observant teachers and parents and counselors refer them to start on a new path. And we are working with the county and other agencies to make certain that those who need it have the option of culturally appropriate intensive treatment here in our community in a residential treatment facility that invests in them while supporting changes in them that benefit our community.

Nonviolence Works has a staff of behavioral health counselors and clinicians. Reach NVW at (575) 758-4297 or nonviolenceworks.us. McPhail Gray is the board chair of NVW and can be reached at mcphailconsulting@gmail.com or (575) 779-3126.

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