B E H A V I O R A L  H E A L T H  N E W S 

Student Service Projects Build Community and Character

Kristin_newsletter_WRA_Service Projects-Main_20161012_WS copy.jpgThere's a difference between "community service" and White River Academy's student-automated service projects within the surrounding Delta, Utah, community.

Many young men who come to White River have experienced court-mandated community service or been introduced to high school credit for volunteer community service. Being forced to do manual labor for free or as a chore to get "credit," has created a punitive frame of reference and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

But White River's Service Project Manager Skip Gordon explains each teenage boy at White River embarks on two service projects that inevitably pull each out of his self-centered shell, bond him with his fellows and give each an opportunity to build something he can be proud of.

Like he was built for the role

Mr. Skip has been at White River for a year and a half. He's the father of five children and has aKristin_newsletter_WRA_Service Projects_D_20161012_WS copy.jpg strong project management background, even owning his own construction business at a point.

"I've done a lot of work with youth, mainly church organizations. I've done a lot of work with Boy Scouts and young men's organizations, so I kind of have a natural ability to be with youth. It was sort of a natural fit."

Mr. Skip says his professional background has helped him address any roadblocks that come up during the project processes.  

Two service projects

Kristin_newsletter_WRA_Service Projects_B_20161012_WSNew.jpgMr. Skip says the service projects are multipurpose. "They give the boys something bigger than themselves or their past to think about. There's no room to be self-centered. The boys have to have situational awareness when we go into town, all the while looking to fill a need in the community or a person to help."

Past projects have included:

  • Rebuilding a wheelchair ramp for a man injured in a trucking accident and who struggles with the means to pay for one
  • Building chicken coups for impoverished neighbors to self-sustain
  • Installing playground equipment for local schools with need

He says the boys have to plan it all: identify the opportunity, plan the project, fundraise, purchase theKristin_newsletter_WRA_Service Projects_A_20161012_WS New copy.jpg materials and "do the work."

The small service project, called Project Achievement, gets:

  • Hands-on training from Mr. Skip
  • 10-25 man hours
  • A budget of around $200

Kristin_newsletter_WRA_Service Projects_E_20161012_WS copy.jpgFunds for each young man's Project Achievement are pulled from a communal reservoir of community donations for White River student assistance in the neighborhood. Students who begin a project end up spending money that was earned by their peers. Mr. Skip says, "That has a connection that 'my labors today can benefit others down the road.'  It reinforces peer-to-peer connection."

The large Service Learning Project features:

  • Full fundraising by the student – with typically zero help allowed from parents
  • 50-100 man hours
  • A budget of $500-$600

Mr. Skip also affirms the projects must include regular connection and interaction with the people being served to get approved. He says this is skill building for boys who might have previously had attachment or defiance disorders. White River has had remarkable success with overcoming behavioral disorders with the help of these projects.

Different in Delta

White River Academy stands out in boarding schools across the country because of its tenets ofKristin_newsletter_WRA_Service Projects_F_20161012_WS copy.jpg compliance, Positive Peer Culture Curriculum and the two mandatory service projects. White River's residential rehabilitative treatment is unique from other recovery homes in communities elsewhere, due to their full investment in meeting the needs of surrounding Delta, Utah.

Where many other communities might blow off the young man at the door selling magazines or candy bars, Mr. Skip says "It's different in Delta." The community knows all money raised goes right back into the neighborhood needs. "And people appreciate that. We are trying to move upward from door-to-door sales." He says new fundraising efforts include:

  • Fresh butchered and fully cooked beef roasts; pre-ordered and delivered hot
  • A Halloween Zombie Fun Run

Kristin_newsletter_WRA_Service Projects_C_20161012_WS copy.jpgMr. Skip adds the fundraising also has a profound purpose. "It's good to learn some rejection and how to handle it. Fundraising helps overcome anxiety and teaches the boys to handle stresses because they have to produce. There is no room to give up."

 The "magical moment"

Mr. Skip describes what he calls the "magical moment" when the boys reach a level of maturity they are entrusted with beginning small and large service projects.

"Here all of the sudden some magical things happen when we're no longer working with a juvenile; they are now 17 and facing down 18, and they're saying, 'I've got to get this done.' When one boy gets up and does his PowerPoint presentation, that's a very motivational point for his peers. … When one boy finishes, more boys finish."

For the first time this past Parent Weekend, Mr. Skip got to speak at one student's graduation. He confides he was very moved. As a father, he has a personal interest in the boys' success and for him, it's OK to personalize their growth.

"If White River Academy builds this culture, we'll have increasingly more success."

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People today play video games of all types. Video games have been a source of fun and frustration for many and can even be used as tools for educational and cognitive growth.

With all the good that can come from video games, though, this entertainment medium has also caused great controversy. Critics have accused video games of promoting violence, creating anger problems and causing a detachment from reality in their players. READ MORE

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Book Review: ‘Boys Adrift’ Helps Parents
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Not all boys face this problem, but the parents of those who do may feel like they are at their wits’ end. Thankfully, that is where Leonard Sax seeks to provide help. In his book Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men,” Sax explains why boys and young men are struggling when they are at school and then come home only to disengage further. READ MORE

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This Thanksgiving marks three years since Barbra S. drove her son up to White River Academy’s doorstep in Delta, Utah, under the pretense Noah was tagging along to her sister’s in Salt Lake City, for the holiday.

She reflects she’ll be thinking about how thrilled she’ll be on Thanksgiving – and relieved – at how well her son is doing and how far he’s come. When he first rolled up to White River, Noah S.’s parents say he was an angry, defiant 15-year-old who was content to continue manipulating his divorced parents and tormenting his younger sister. READ MORE

• F E A T U R E D  E M P L O Y E E •

Kristin_newsletter_WRA_Featured Employee_Isaac Dodoo_20161019_WS copy-1.jpgFeaturing: Isaac Dodoo
Location: White River Academy, Delta, Utah
Department: Support Staff
Position: Shift Manager

Isaac Dodoo's personal philosophy is, "Use experiences to love life." Perhaps this easygoing commitment to optimism, that seems to come naturally to him, is what keeps Mr. Isaac the first face at White River Academy many students trust and seek out for guidance.

A welcoming presence

Mr. Isaac says although he's the only African-American man in Delta, Utah, the intimate, neighborly community is reminiscent of his childhood in Ghana, Africa, and it surprises him how much the boys who come to White River take to him. He's been with the school nearly since it opened in Utah, 8 years ago.

"The moment they see me, they think I'm somebody they can relate to and be comfortable with. I'm the staff they seek out the most. People are so nice and welcoming in Delta, too. The town and the boys make my job easy for me."

He says the staff know the kids trust him and his nurturing way of communicating. He says he doesn't know why the young men heed him so well, but when you hear the smile in his voice as his melodic Ghanaian accent shines through his simple and sage words, you begin to understand why Mr. Isaac is so well-loved.

Larger than life

"I'm a small guy, 5 feet 5, standing in front of young men who are 6 feet something and 200 plus pounds and being initially defiant or noncompliant. But it's not about the size," he says, adding he still commands a presence with the students even when some may be difficult.

"One kid told me recently, 'I don't like you, but it seems like you're my favorite staff too. I can't explain it!'"

Mr. Isaac says he can explain it. Having levity in his speech, building a rapport and making students like you, all the while having a consistent and unmalleable approach is his key.

"I talk with them, joke with them, and I'm well liked. The boys will seek me out and ask for advice a lot even when they are out of control, and I calm them down. I believe, like the rest of our staff, you don't have to let [the boys] get away with anything either, but know how to play the game. Many of the wildest or riskiest kids come from enabling or very catering households. I am welcoming without being enabling."

And his reputation precedes him. At parent weekends, Mr. Isaac has moms and dads flock to him, commenting on how their son has written home lauding Mr. Isaac. "And I will be honest and tell the parents about their kid too," he says with a hearty laugh. "The boys don't like that too much."

White River then and now

When asked what about White River has changed over the years, Mr. Isaac reflects the success of modeling Positive Peer Culture has grown legs and become a self-evolving entity the original staff is so proud of.

When students come in, they start in compliance and have to earn their way in to the next phase, community group. These days, that the students understand compliance and move on to community group more smoothly overall.

"With Positive Peer Culture used in community group, the boys show more independence and peer-to-peer support than when we started," Mr. Isaac says. "The young men themselves can send someone back to compliance. Now the system that we've created works for itself. It feels so good that we've achieved so much."

What inspires Mr. Isaac to help others

Mr. Isaac says his personal relationships inspire him to help others. "I have six children, four still at home, and a lot of friends. Some of the students say, 'Friends make you do stuff.' This is where I can tell them I have many close friends, all over the world, some who have been into alcohol or smoke. I have nine brothers and sisters and none of us have ever tried drugs or had a drinking problem. My friends got used to me always telling them no and helping them, I surprised them that I never gave in.

"My message to the boys is friends can never force me to do something I won't do. We have what we call free agency. It's easy for me to share this message and the response from the boys and the support from Delta makes my job easy."

 F A C I L I T Y  U P D A T E S  &  S T U D E N T  A C T I V I T I E S 

⇒ The winners of the point challenge went bowling at Plaza Lanes in Delta.

⇒ A few of the boys helped Ms. Kayla decorate the facility for Halloween.

⇒ The students visited Mountain View Dairy to help cover the silage with plastic and stack tires on it to help protect it from the upcoming winter months. One of the employees stated, “It’s nice to see these guys getting out and helping, especially since only having three guys to do this is hard work!”

⇒ Kitchen Manager Ms. Robin entered her customized 1950s Ford into the Delta car show. She let the boys see the engine and hear the motor rev. Ms. Robin also worked from her food truck during the show and gave the boys free, home-made ice cream. The boys were eager to get pictures with as many cool cars at the show as possible.

⇒ For several weeks, Wesley has been going out to Gunnison Bend reservoir, with the help of peers, to sand and repaint the picnic tables for his small service project.

 S T A F F  A D D I T I O N S 

⇒ WRA would like to welcome Mr. Neil Terry as swing support staff! Mr. Neil will be responsible for monitoring the students in their afterschool activities and structures on weekdays and all day on weekends. We are excited to have Mr. Neil with us and are happy to have him as part of the WRA team!

⇒ White River Academy welcomed Ms. Stacey Dean in September as our administrative assistant. Stacey will be responsible for all administrative and clerical functions and activities related to operations of the White River Academy. We are excited to have Ms. Stacey as a part of our team at WRA!

 A  N O T E  F R O M  T H E  M A N A G I N G  E D I T O R 

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275 West 100 South, Delta, Utah 84624