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Struggling teens 'hit reset button' at local program

Kerri Bartlett
Seasoned Counselor Carolyn McFall has helped many troubled teens heal as part of the Evening Diversion Program with My Friend’s House Family and Children’s Services, Inc. 


“Greg” sat nervously in a room surrounded by his peers while he waited five agonizing minutes for the results of his informal marijuana test during one of his group counseling sessions at the Evening Diversion cottage on Eastview Circle in Franklin.

While his friends chatted during a break from their daily drug and alcohol counseling session, “Greg’s” future teetered on the appearance of a thin red line – the marker that could determine whether he goes into detention after his appearance in a Williamson County juvenile courtroom.

Periodically during the five-minutes, he held his head in his hands, bent over as if a weight pressed on his shoulders. His knee moving up and down like a jigsaw, caught the overflow of nervous energy. Occasionally, he jerked his head upward to laugh distractedly with friends.

“I’ve been clean for 23 days,” he said. “I don’t know if that will be enough.”
“I need you behind me,” he tells veteran counselor Carolyn McFall, who leads the Evening Diversion Program. She will accompany him to his next review before Juvenile Judge Sharon Guffee.

This young teen, whose name is withheld because he is a juvenile, is part of the Evening Diversion Program (EDP) with My Friend’s House Family and Children Services, Inc.
The EDP provides a teen the opportunity to “hit the reset button,” McFall said.
“It’s an intensive out-patient program in a setting more like home. It has a large alcohol and drug component and they learn how to make choices and hold themselves accountable for those choices.”

About 15 youth are currently referred by the Williamson County Juvenile Court to complete the 150-hour, or six-week program. EDP offers struggling young people solace, when they are caught in the juvenile system for various offenses.

“Teens learn how to change negative behaviors and learn the benefit of changing those behaviors to lead a healthier, more successful life,” McFall said. She leads three group sessions a day, focusing on such subjects as anger management, life skills, social skills and employment training.

“It’s the best job in the world. They keep you young, and you have to love them.”
McFall peers at the results of the drug test marked with red lines – some faint, some dark, distinguishing a pass or fail. Luckily, “Greg” passes. The red line is barely visible, but an ever present reminder that the substance still resides in his brain for up to two years.

McFall explained that marijuana takes about 30 days to be eliminated from one’s blood stream after habitual use, but takes about two years to leave the brain. When not detected in the blood stream, the test is considered a pass.

“Many people think that we are a rich county and don’t have drugs here, but there are extensive drugs in this county,” McFall said.
“Greg” is not alone.

In 2013, about 215 youth cycled through a separate drug and alcohol awareness program called Insight through the county’s juvenile court. Of those who attended the program, about 88 percent admitted to using marijuana, while about 92 percent admitted to using alcohol.

Hearing the results of his test, “Greg” throws his fists in the air exclaiming—“Yes! A purpose to staying off weed!”— as he sashays into the room filled with his peers, friends and confidants.

“I am relieved. God is good,” he said.

Betsy Adgent, Director of Williamson County Juvenile Court and Zannie Martin, Assistant Director said that the program works.

“The program has been really effective,” Martin said. “After children are involved, they smile more and are more confident when they talk to the judge. Carolyn builds a strong relationship with them, and they even come back to visit when they graduate from the program.

Teens, who have been charged with a wide range of delinquent offenses, including but not limited to alcohol and drugs, and have been through the court system multiple times are appointed to the program.

“Many times, the EDP is a ‘last chance effort’ to turn it around and avoid going into state custody.”

The EDP fills a need in Williamson County where resources for troubled teens; especially those addicted to drugs and alcohol are few and far between.

“We are missing facilities in the Mid-Cumberland region,” Adgent said, adding that sometimes families experience hard times and need extra help.

“If you say that your family is not dysfunctional, you probably don’t have a family,” Adgent said.

“Sometimes, teenagers and parents don’t communicate well.”

“It’s a very cost-effective and effective program,” she said. “We don’t see the kids come back through the court system.”

In fact, some kids have earned full paid academic and sports scholarships to college, have entered the military and have gone on to be successful in life.
“I came in as a lost cause,” said “John,” 18.

“And this program has helped me to develop and learn how to turn around. It has made me realize how bad I was living and how much harm I was doing to myself. My positive energy is where it needs to be – school, activities and job. I’m feeling better and my head is more clear.”  

Posted on: 1/30/2014


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