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Alldredge Wilderness Journey

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Posted: Jul 24, 2003 20:15


Letters To Editor


June 2003

To Parents/Guardians Considering Alldredge Academy:

We are a family who experienced much of what you may be going through right now. Beginning in his middle school years, we began to lose connection with our oldest son. Some of that is of course to be expected, but we saw behaviors that gave us genuine concern: inattention to school work, experimenting with alcohol, then marijuana, and finally trouble with the law for vandalism and other “pranks”.

This was the oldest of our four children and, therefore, our first teen. We thought we were doing the right things—setting boundaries, giving consequences, but still showing our love as best we knew how. It only got worse for the next two years, as our son began high school: Skipping school, failing classes, “hanging” with the wrong peers, continued substance abuse, and then several car accidents once he had a license.

For us the last straw was a car accident that could have caused very serious injuries to others—thankfully that was avoided. We knew we were losing our son—and the risk was clear that we could lose him forever. Our only lifeline at that point was an exceptional counselor whom our son had seen for some time—and who helped us find Alldredge Academy.

Fortunately, our son also knew he was now on a path of self-destruction. He had reached a point where even he wanted change in his life, and was willing to admit he didn’t completely know how to go about it. We know not every struggling teen reaches a point where they can admit this to themselves, let alone others.

Our son’s counselor suggested we consider wilderness programs around the country as an option. There are many, and quite a few have track records of success. The best ones are very expensive, and therefore not an easy choice for most families.

We investigated several programs, and after taking the time to visit West Virginia and speak to the staff personally, we committed our son to Alldredge Academy for three months. This was a wrenching decision—turning your child over to near strangers, and hoping for the best. We prayed long and hard about what to do, but believed the people we met at Alldredge were committed to treat every child put into their care as an individual. We also saw in the staff an ability to connect with young people at a spiritual level that was, well, remarkable. This is not a religious program by any means, but it does teach values—and does so by putting teens in situations where they experience how relying on yourself, trusting others, setting personal goals, accepting your limitations, and sacrificing, all contribute to a meaningful life. The fact that our child learned many of these lessons—and most importantly true self-respect—in a matter of a few months seemed to us nothing short of miraculous.

There is something we learned as parents when we gave our son over to the staff at Alldredge. Broken relationships between teens and their parents are usually broken at both ends. It’s not just them. Many wilderness programs have a family component, and at Alldredge it was absolutely critical to the success our family experienced. Put simply, WE AS PARENTS learned that we needed to change just as much as our son did. This was a bit of a revelation for us, to say the least.

Our means of communication with our children before Alldredge—all of them—generally did not reflect that we valued their points of view. Like many parents, we communicated with our children as if our vast life experience should be rationally accepted as the “trump card” for any issue when conflict arose.

The parent program at Alldredge--which included our younger children too--was instrumental in teaching us how to be more constructive in our communications. We still are working at it, hope to still get better, but we understand that pretending (or worse, believing) we “know it all” in every situation does not help our child, or our family.

Since leaving Alldredge nearly two years ago (he earned his high school degree before leaving), our son has held down a job, moved out, and earned college credits at the community college. This month he was admitted to his first choice of four-year colleges, and will be moving to Ohio in two months to take this next big step. Even more important, we have our son back. No matter where he chooses to live, he is a part of our family again-- and we are all thrilled to see it. He is choosing with whom to spend his time thoughtfully, and makes decisions based on what makes sense for his future, not for whom he might impress today.

We do not believe this story would have happened without Alldredge Academy. We of course believe we have a very special son, and our experience won’t necessarily be yours. Ultimately he had to make some very different choices. Alldredge helped give our son the tools to do so.

If you are losing hope, or close to it, and do not know where to turn for your son or daughter, visit Alldredge Academy. It could change not only your child’s life, but yours too!

Rich and Kathy McKinless
Virginia
703-241-4941



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