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Barbra and Jeff S.’s son Noah goes from troublemaker to leader

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.

His father Jeff, was back home in Florida and says he was worried the intervention was going to backfire. “I paced the floor for 24 hours, afraid he was going to jump out of the car or run off in Utah!” Jeff wasn’t far off.

“He wasn’t going to get out of the car, he was going to grip on the steering wheel and refuse. Another boy came out and talked him out of the car. But nine months later after being in White River, he was the one going out to the car to talk to the kids. He became a leader while he was there.”

Flopping in the boat

Like a fish flopping against a line but going nowhere, at 13, young Noah was swimming in the current of an older relative’s bad influence: befriending their friends, doing drugs, lying, stealing and thrashing around in misconduct. His flippant behavior was causing a nuisance at home: draining the parents and hurting his little sister.

Jeff says, with a sigh, “Running around trying to predict what he was doing, it’s exhausting mentally. Barbra and I decided he had to get away from the bad influence and go somewhere to set himself right. My thing was manipulating and drug behavior all stem from the same. If you’ll steal and lie for weed, you’ll steal and lie for crack, or worse.

“I talk to a lot of dads out there. You know, [boarding school’s] not only for the kids, it’s for parents too. You get run down from being the warden all the time. Everybody needed a break from it all.”

Release then catch

Jeff says WRA had a quote from its founder Justin Nielson on its website at the time that stuck out to him as he searched for a place for Noah.

“‘Your child will never not know what he’s supposed to be doing at any moment of the day.’ Sure, in the beginning we were nervous” entrusting Noah to an academy across the country, Jeff explains, “but I just thought I’m relieved I’ll know where he’s at at all times and that he’s safe.

So they let their teenage boy go. Noah stayed at White River for a little more than 19 months.

Barbra says on the first weekend visit, her son confidently told her no one could stop him from doing what he wanted. He was going to sing and dance and work the system to get out. Between the second and third family visit, she noticed the content of his emails began to change: less about him and more about the community members he encountered during serving activities and remorse for how he’d treated his family.

A fisher of men

During Noah’s stay at White River, he’d become a leader by all accounts. Jeff says enthusiastically, “White River keeps them hopping with compliance and service projects. The staff system is excellent.” At still another parent weekend, Jeff says five different fathers came up and told him how their sons wrote home crediting Noah with their successes.

Jeff says at graduation, the kudos were endless. “The janitor made a point to approach me and say, ‘We’re going to have a hard time replacing Noah’ for all he did for other boys there.”

Part of the young men’s work in the community involves frequenting an elderly care home. Barbra says Noah became invaluable to some of the staff. “One staff member came to us and said Noah touched people and got things out of the older residents that she couldn’t even achieve as staff.” His impact was so profound, in fact, this same woman presented Noah with a moving letter and an inspirational gift.

“The lady’s own son had died before his time in a car crash. She gave Noah a license plate frame from her son’s vehicle.”

Barbra says Noah stays in touch with two of the residents from that elderly facility.

Noah today

When Noah returned home to Florida, both Jeff and Barbra agreed Noah living with his grandmother was the best idea: a neutral place where he could be responsible both on his own and for another’s well-being.

Noah works with his father in residential property management and is refreshingly independent and positively confident.

Barbra affirms, “He’s still my same son at the core: on-the-go, a nature lover and a joker, but the way he handles things has changed because of White River Academy. His joking used to get mean; now it’s just playful. If he’s not working, he’s gone fishing.”

As a matter of fact, Jeff bought him a small boat for his fishing passion.

With the turnaround Noah’s achieved with White River, it would seem he’s found his anchor in life apart from bad influences.

*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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