Road Recovery: Entertainment Pros Help Struggling Youth
An electrifying performance of original dance, songs, spoken word poetry and other performance art lit up the stage on March 20th on our Ottilie campus in Briarwood, Queens. The performers were young people we serve in our community-based group living programs for youth with special needs who ordinarily have trouble collaborating. What made this performance stellar – and possible – was Road Recovery, a non-profit that pairs struggling youth with professionals from the entertainment industry who have themselves struggled in the past with addiction, anger management and or/behavioral issues. Working together, they help the youth to showcase their talents. Staff involvement is also critical: “When we first met [Road Recovery],” says John Donlon, SCO Recreation Specialist, “they told us this only works when staff is included. Our staff has been so involved, dancing and singing themselves. They really put themselves out there and it’s rewarding to watch these kids change.”
Sixteen of our residents and 12 staff members performed all original work at the final show, which culminated a 12 week course. Many performances reflected current and past emotional conflicts. Tory spoke of discovering new ways to cope with stress: “I used to do bad things but now I’m doing big things like thinking logically. My soul is peaceful but I get anxious at times so I bake cakes to ease my mind…. Half an hour of peace and quiet, with just a conversation between me and my taste buds.” Edgar performed a spoken word piece about unrequited love, while his fellow residents backed him up with a chorus of, “I want you back, goodbye.” The finale, an original song by Shane, had such a catchy chorus and poignant lyrics that it brought the audience to their feet.
This opportunity was made possible by Lady Gaga. In 2011 Lady Gaga hosted a Facebook competition where users could vote for their favorite pre-selected charity, SCO won $500,000 to support youth in need. The bulk of the funding was used to create a model residence to rehabilitate court involved youth. The model residence was then replicated, creating eight six-bed residences. We also trained our staff in Functional Family Therapy used in our Family Therapy Intervention Pilot to strengthen the bonds between LGBT teens and their families.
New Beginnings for Two Court Involved Youth
Just weeks ago, staff were thrilled to announce the graduation of two young men at our Bronx Close to Home residence for court involved youth. Our evidence-based program focuses on counseling, structure, education, skill-building and connection to family. The youth started this intense intervention with SCO back in October 2012. Group Leader, Dennis Morales, recalls that initially the young men were frustrated and angry. They balked at program rules and staff had to work to gain their confidence.The first major breakthrough happened as the residents were writing about their life experiences; candid conversations helped them start to open up and trust staff. At one critical point, an altercation between the two young men created trouble in the house but later turned into a positive development when the two came together, along with their friends and staff, to resolve their differences.
Dennis says: “Watching these two young men mature and buy into the Missouri Model approach is fulfilling in itself. Being able to assist these young men in transitioning through the passages was an honor; they will be greatly missed, but as a TEAM we feel they are ready to transition back to their families and communities.” The young men will receive up to three months of family therapy following their return home to ensure a smooth transition.
Advocating for People We Serve with Special Needs
SCO staffers across our special needs programs have been working hard to lobby against a 4.5% budget cut by NY State that would result in significant reductions in state and federal funding to special needs programs. As part of our advocacy efforts, we invited Assemblyman Charles Lavine of the 13th District, encompassing much of Nassau County, to visit our Robert J. McMahon Children’s Center, where he met with SCO staff and the people we serve.
Help Bring the Magic of Art Into Our Classrooms
Our Family Dynamics Art Auction & Cocktail Party will be held at White Space Chelsea (upstairs from the Agora Gallery) in Manhattan on May 6th. The Auction, which supports the Family Dynamics Visiting Artist program, will feature artwork donated by more than two dozen talented New York City artists. Donald Sultan, a contemporary artist known for his large-scale still life paintings, is the Honorary Chairman of the event, and has graciously donated one of his prints, Red Poppies. Sultan characteristically creates his work using industrial materials such as tar, enamel and vinyl tiles.
Currently completing its second year, the Visiting Artist Program provides for two professional artists to work with fifth-through-eighth graders on projects including painting, collage, costuming and sculpture. The children are enrolled in after-school programs at our Beacon Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant.