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Angela W. reflects on her son Donny’s fruitful harvest at White River Academy

This harvest season is the perfect time to discuss 16-year old Donovan W.’s story. We spoke to his mother, Angela, and Donny himself about mom and dad’s toil, the series of events that seemed set to spoil his thriving and the priceless seeds White River Academy planted and cultivated to bring about his harvest homecoming.

Like a hearty home vineyard, the testimony is personal, tangible, and ripe with good fruit.

The vinekilling

Angela has been a stay-at-home mom to her four children and her husband George was a probation officer for many years. Of Donovan’s period of academic decline and behavioral problems, she reflects, “My husband and I were on the same page with all of our kids. We’re involved, we eat dinner together as a family, we set good examples – I mean, I would just question myself: I’m involved; what’s wrong with me?”

Angela says she and George sought out help for their son as he struggled in school. “We got a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a therapist and a neurologist. We thought we were doing the right thing, but they first misdiagnosed Donovan as having [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] and had him taking the medication.”

She says Donny continued to decline in junior high school, and by the end of seventh grade was involved in substance abuse: alcohol and marijuana. By freshman year, clinicians were retracting the ADHD diagnosis and saying he instead had oppositional defiance disorder, but by that point he had already been bounced back and forth off different medications and dosages.

Angela describes Donovan as a hands-on learner, and she and her son both agree traditional school wasn’t working for him. She says he was checked out, not engaging in class and high all school day. Donovan agrees.

“I hated public high school. The people were too much drama and distracting. I did drugs to cope with school. It was too hard to focus.”

Angela says that despite the healthy soil of a stable home life, negative influences still wormed their way into his story and planted bad seeds. She says Donovan convinced his math tutor to supply him with marijuana and ultimately got hooked on the drug.

The academic decline and substance abuse was accented by lying, manipulation and “huge fits.” The behavior was punctuated by the parents’ defaulted ultimatum for Donovan to drop the drugs and make a change or else.

Properly pruned

Angela says she and George chose White River Academy because of its simply traditional, no-nonsense approach and accountability for every step and decision of the young men. “We saw they put the person first, not whatever acronym a boy was labeled with. … No psycho-babble.”

“These kids, especially with drugs … can lie and manipulate so well, he projected his anger on his little sisters… We felt we had no other choice.”

Angela reveals the first six months she cried morning and night, and at the first family weekend Donovan asked to come home. But his parents had planted the seed. It was WRAs turn to water it.

“When he realized we weren’t going to rescue him, he really put his head down and plowed. At home, Donny was insatiable. No attention, affection or gifts were ever enough … At White River, he had to come to terms with himself.”

By the next family weekend Angela, George and the kids saw a change in Donovan. “He worked his butt off at WRA. That accountability made a difference … and he had to work and create projects he was proud of.” Donny agrees.

“It was like I got reaquainted with learning outside of the drama of school. My younger sisters say I’ve cooled down; I was more mean before. I just graduated this past Friday, and I’ll be doing the graduation ceremony in October. It feels surreal because before, I started stuff and never finished. I’m like, did I really do this? I’m not used to finishing things.”

“I wouldn’t have changed without White River Academy.”

A robust reaping

Angela confides the best part about Donny being away was getting to know him through correspondence.

“I learned more about Donovan from emails, cards and phone calls than I ever knew before. We got closer even though he was gone from home. Here, he wouldn’t stand around for conversation.” Angela says the family sessions, weekend visits and therapeutic home visits allowed the family to get all feelings out in the open.

“I realized kids are not for us to brag about and show off; they are for us to raise and develop and help them to see what their talents and desires are,” she says. “I thank God we have this opportunity, and White River opened up this oppurtunity.”

Donovan plans to finish high school online and work with his father and brother on their home vineyard business.

*This testimonial reflects this individual's result and results may vary. We do not claim that they are typical results that patients will generally achieve.


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We would like to thank all the wonderful staff at WRA for the great parent weekend. We enjoyed it and felt that we learned valuable insights on Positive Peer Culture and the values we must have and the importance of family commitment to each other...

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