OV home for abused girls grows - Tucson Local Media: Import

OV home for abused girls grows

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Posted: Wednesday, December 22, 2004 12:00 am

Dec. 15, 2004 - A mother, addicted to methamphetamines, loses her job, her home and all of her other worldly possessions to her usage. Needing another fix, she looks around for anything to sell for more drugs.

Her eyes rest upon her 14-year-old daughter, and soon, the child is sold into a life of prostitution.

The situation may sound like the plot of a prime time drama, but that 14 year-old girl is not a fictional character. She was a student at the Springboard Home for Youth in Crisis, in Oro Valley, not too long ago.

Springboard is a nonprofit, Christian faith-based program that treat through ministry young women who have been abused, physically, mentally or emotionally.

On Dec. 1, the home received the OK from the Oro Valley town council to up its maximum occupancy from 12 to 20 students.

Oro Valley issued a building permit for Springboard at the end of 2002, and the building was occupied by October 2003. The permits given to the home were conditional, requiring the administration to come back in a year, if they still intended to expand, for permission.

While Springboard was considering its new location, neighbors in the northwest community protested the move, with concerns about noise, runaway impact and the potential to have criminal offenders located in the area.

"I think a lot of people had concerns about who we are and what we do," said Springboard Director Tori Ferrari.

Since they moved in, Ferrari said the home has received a very positive response from the community. Some neighbors have even dropped by with cookies, saying they were sorry for not understanding, at first, what Springboard would be.

"These are girls that have been really hurt," Ferrari said. "They might get up in the morning and complain, but they wouldn't want to be anywhere else right now."

According to an Oro Valley staff report presented to the council Dec. 1, the facility has been in operation for 12 months without incident or complaints from neighbors.

In approving the expansion, Mayor Paul Loomis said, that, although the home "had a tough time in the past," it has been able to exist in the community for a year without any problems.

"Your reputation has done very well," he told Springboard representatives at the meeting..

Vice Mayor Paula Abbott agreed.

"I have heard nothing but positive things about Springboard," she said.

Councilmember Helen Dankwerth visited the facility in preparation for the expansion approval and said "I was very impressed, not only with the physical climate but with the people who work there."

The news was a relief to Ferrari, who said the expansion is needed because there are times when the waiting list to come to Springboard can climb to 65 or 70 girls.

"That's life or death to someone on the streets," she said.

Ferrari brings perspective to the program as a former student of Springboard.

More than 20 years ago a bad relationship with an abusive boyfriend brought her to the doors of the facility, then located in Flowing Wells. She stayed with the program for three years, and said the path she chose is a rewarding one.

Springboard is a unique program within the Teen Challenge International network. Teen Challenge is a faith-based organization that works with individuals who have drug and alcohol problems, ministering to them through a 12 to 24 month program.

Springboard, however, deals specifically with teenage girls who find themselves in situations where they are being abused or neglected.

"We often deal with the residual affects of drug and alcohol abuse," Ferrari said.

It is a 90-day intervention program that takes these young women, ages 12 to 17, out of their home and into the Springboard house. The program accepts students in need from Southern Arizona first, and, if room permits, opens its doors to the rest of Arizona, then other states, and even abroad, for American girls overseas with military families.

According to Ferrari, it costs about $3,000 per student, per month, to operate the center, with most of that going toward paying staff salaries. The program exists completely through donations and receives no funding from local, state or federal avenues.

The generosity of the community during the past year has been wonderful, however, with the holiday season especially bringing gifts and donations.

"These girls are lacking for nothing when they are here," Ferrari said. A community closet is kept full of clothes for the young ladies, who may come in with next to nothing "appropriate" to wear. Springboard does not allow midriffs to show or short skirts to be worn.

Springboard Home is not a new program, although it is relatively new to the Northwest. Twenty-nine years ago, the home opened in Flowing Wells, where it operated out of a small home, with room for just six residents. The home saw more than 7,000 teenagers through the program over the years. Coming to Oro Valley, the program doubled the number it could serve to 12, but the center always wanted to be able to serve more, and built the Oro Valley home with room for 20 beds.

Young women are not in school while they are at Springboard. Instead, they follow a scripture-based Christian curriculum, with principals common to all the Teen Challenge programs.

"We teach them who they are and who they were created to be," Ferrari said. "They can't make decisions and heal from the decisions made for them until they know that."

While the core ideas taught to each student are the same, individual situations are addressed in a more customized way.

"If they've been prostituted, then we minister to that," Ferrari said.

Each girl has a scorecard with different character traits, such as attitude and personal responsibility, they are to work on while at Springboard. They are rated on each and encouraged to make progress.

Because discipline is often lacking in the home of many of the girls, according to Ferrari, they are kept on schedules and have certain expectations placed on them while in the home. For example, when they get out of bed each morning, they have 15 minutes during which to make their beds, get dressed and get to the breakfast table.

Ferrari said they learn to address each other with respect and see what it is like to live under more "normal" circumstances, where people are not in the home doing drugs, drinking, fighting and swearing all of the time.

"We show them what it is like to feel safe and loved," she said.

The girls also can earn school credits in areas such as reading, writing, home economics, physical education and community service.

They also volunteer at assisted-care facilities, make trips to help clean up litter in neighborhoods and sometimes visit schools to talk to other young people about the experiences they have had with abuse.

The staff at Springboard can help them earn a GED and aid them in gaining work experience, all in the effort to help them be successful after they leave the comfy confines of the facility.

When they leave, some will go back to their family home, others might go to another program or longer-term home and still others might be on their own.

Love Thy Neighbor Ministries recruits and trains volunteers to go into nursing homes and assisted living facilities to make connections with the people there who may not have anyone else to visit them.

Director Steve Kacprzak found out about the Springboard Home's interest in community service more than a year ago through one of its counselors and has been working with groups of the girls ever since.

They visit the residents in these different facilities a few times each month.

"They really do incredible things," he said of the girls.

The resident line up with big smiles in anticipation of the visits.

"They smile, hold a hand and share God's love," Kacprzak said. "They are a tremendous blessing."

"What some people don't realize is that half of the people living in these facilities receive no visitors at all," he said. "Loneliness is so painful."

They currently volunteer at Mountain View Care Center and The Inn and Gardens. With expansion of the home, Kacprzak hopes to bring in an additional group to make the visits.

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