By Callie Hietala
Piedmont Community Services (PCS) and the ANCHOR (A New Chance Organization) Commission have partnered on the new program that aims to empower young people to make positive decisions about substance use before they become involved in the legal system.
“In the past, we’ve only been able to serve juveniles who come through the Court Service Unit and the courts,” Ricky Walker, ANCHOR’s executive director, said. “And that’s one reason we’re excited about this partnership. It will help us reach kids that we’ve never been able to reach before in the community who aren’t court involved but have an issue with substance use.”
“For a long time, ANCHOR has provided substance use services specifically to children who have been involved with the juvenile justice system or are on probation,” Kelly Koebel, assistant director of Clinical Services at PCS, said. “Piedmont provides robust services to adults with substance use disorders but have not always been very successful in our treatment for adolescents. This was a really great opportunity for us to partner together to see how we could better help.”
She said the organization has received many comments over the years from parents who have children with substance use issues who have not yet been charged with a crime. “Our goal is that we reach more kids who need help before they get to that legal involvement.”
“ANCHOR was already providing really quality services,” she said. The partnership between ANCHOR and PCS allows them to bill insurance or Medicaid for the program which, she says, makes the program available to more people. However, those lacking insurance or Medicaid should not hesitate to reach out to take advantage of the program. Koebel assures the public that “we will not turn anyone away because they don’t have the ability to pay.”
The program was developed with a diverse population in different settings, with people of different ethnicities and from different walks of life. It has been effective with a broad spectrum of clients, according to Tim Bredamus, a counsellor at ANCHOR. He and Alissa Hunley from Piedmont Community Services are the two counsellors who work with the program.
“The Seven Challenges were developed by looking at what actually connects with youth,” he said. “When do they actually make changes?” He said the counsellors meet young people “where they are, and we don’t come in telling them how to live their life.”
The basis for the program is “walking the juvenile through the decision-making process,” said Walker.
Bredamus added that, through the program, young people are encouraged to challenge themselves to think critically and wisely about decisions they are making.
The first step in the process is to be open and honest about why they use substances.
Step two is identifying what they like about the substances of choice, “We want them to be aware of what they’re going to lose (if they stop using),” Bredamus said.
The third step is to examine the substance use and identify the harms or potential harms that could come from continued use.
Step four is examining their responsibility as well as the responsibility of others, for their problems. This includes exploring trauma issues and other life events clients may need to recover or heal from and learning that “you have the power to take ownership of your life,” said Bredamus.
The fifth step is helping clients think about the direction they seem to be headed versus where they want to accomplish and “make good, clear, wise decisions about where you want to go,” he said.
Step six is making thoughtful decisions about their lives and their substance use.
The final step focuses on follow-through, keeping to the decisions and using the tools acquired in the previous steps.
Bredamus said the program is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Rather, it can be tailored based on the needs and experiences of each individual young person.
“In a lot of our groups,” he said, “less than half of what we talk about are substances.” Oftentimes, though it may seem to parents that substance use itself is the primary issue, more often than not, there are deeper issues that lead to young people using, a need that is not being fulfilled in safer, healthier ways.
Bredamus said the program helps youngsters understand the underlying reasons and fosters self-awareness while empowering participants to use strategies and skills that offer a choice – options to meet the needs that substance use once met. He sees the role of the counsellor in this program as a problem-solving partner.
“We’re not taking the role of another policing agency,” Bredamus said, emphasizing that the program does not perform drug testing on its participants. To really help someone change, he said, “you have to really allow them to be known, to know them, and to help them know themselves.”
The group setting, plays a key role in creating a safe environment for self-examination. In the groups he has worked with, Bredamus said participants and counsellors alike treat each other with dignity and respect. The group is a place where the young people are valued for who they are.
“It may be the only place in their whole life where they can come and just be themselves and be accepted,” he said.
The Seven Challenges program is open to youngsters ages 12-19 in the area with substance use issues who are not court-involved. Program counselors hold open group meetings at the ANCHOR Commission Counseling Center (313 East Market Street, Martinsville) every Monday and Wednesday from 4-7 p.m., though the length of the program varies based on individual need.
To access the program, begin with the Same Day Assessment at PCS and initiate services with a Seven Challenges counselor. To contact PCS, call (276) 632-7128. Program counselors also may be contacted. Hunley can be reached at (276) 340-8667, (276) 632-1818 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bredamus can be contacted at (276) 340-8578 or at email@example.com.