For some in their post-high school years, a reflection on being a teenager will likely bring back a flurry of positive memories. Lifelong friends were made, a driver’s license was granted, and on that long awaited day, everyone tossed their graduation caps into the air with parents and teachers looking on proudly.
But along with the positives, the teenage years, particularly in today’s society, generally come with moments of tribulation. In addition to juggling the pressure of class work, extracurricular activities, and perhaps even a job, young and impressionable teenagers naturally strive to be accepted by their peers.
Combine that fact with the increasing amount of drugs circulating today’s schools, and the end result is often a recipe for disaster.
Lt. Kara Riley, a spokesperson for the Oro Valley Police Department, said drugs are increasingly making their way from the streets into public school circulation, and are being made and distributed in more dangerous, addictive ways.
“Many of these drugs, like marijuana, are actually a combination of drugs to make for a quicker and longer-lasting high,” she said.
According to Riley, prescription drugs like oxycontin and percocet are also becoming a growing problem on campuses, as students are taking them from parents and grandparents who have had them prescribed.
With youthful drug use increasing, the necessity of resources for students who have become addicted has also increased. Oro Valley’s Springboard Home for Youth in Crisis is one outlet geared toward helping a demographic most affected by drug use, and related crisis.
“A lot of people don’t realize that teenage girls are the most victimized segment of the population,” said Tori Ferrari, the Oro Valley Springboard Director. “Girls aged 12 to 19 have the highest suicide rate, biggest use of drugs and alcohol, and gang involvement is growing. It’s frightening.”
Springboard addresses each of these issues and more by sheltering girls who have been victims of abuse, drug use, or neglect in a three to five month faith-based program.
“This isn’t a band-aid program,” said Ferrari. “This isn’t a program teaching them how to be sober. It’s not a program teaching them how to live as a victim. This is a program teaching them how to overcome each of those things, and equipping them so that no matter what comes up in life, they have the basic tools they need in order to not be a victim, to not give into those temptations that are going to be out there.”
Springboard, which has a maximum capacity of 20 girls, introduces or continues an education on building a relationship with God while helping the girls discover who they are as individuals.
Ferrari said as a result of the faith aspect, Springboard, one branch of six under Arizona’s Teen Challenge, has seen unparalleled results.
With the average national success rate for the same demographic sitting between 4 and 11 percent, the national success rate for Teen Challenge is 86 percent.
“There is a very visible change,” said Ferrari. “When they walk in here, they don’t look like they have a lot of hope, and that’s the most tragic thing. What we see in a short amount of time is all of a sudden there is an excitement. There is a different look on their face. There’s a look that says ‘There’s something bigger for me to live for.’”
One resident of Springboard never lost that “look,” even as she told the story of her troubled past.
Before she was born, her parents suffered the loss of their two-year-old son. By the time she was nine-years-old, her mother had passed away from brain cancer.
“My father was dealing with a lot of loss,” she said. “He didn’t know how to deal with it besides drugs and alcohol.”
For much of the girl’s youth, her sister acted as her only semblance of support. But when her sister moved out, things only got worse.
“I was on the right path,” she said. “I told myself I wasn’t going to be like my father. I didn’t want to try drugs. One night, he told me I was worthless, and that my mom would be so disappointed in me.”
At that point, she decided to move to Canada with her aunt and uncle. It was there she began to party and experiment with marijuana.
“I just wanted to get rid of all the pain I felt inside,” she said. “Anything that could numb me.”
Feeling her aunt and uncle were too strict, she moved back to her father’s house, where the habits followed.
“My dad had lost everything,” she said. “We were living in a small duplex. He was broke, and drunk the first night I got back.”
With nothing improving, she began experimenting with any drug she could get her hands on, even using them in seclusion. She ended up running away from home three times that summer, and was eventually arrested for drug-possession.
“I was hopeless,” she said. “I began cutting myself and I tried to overdose. I was out of control.”
At a critical juncture in her life, her pincipal recommended Springboard. After some reluctance, and a phone call from Ferrari, she decided to give Springboard a try.
“I knew nothing was going to change unless I changed myself,” she said. “There is so much out there for me that I wouldn’t be able to do if I was still using. I think my mom would be really proud of me, and I’m also here for her.”
Having only been a resident for one month, she has a lot of good advice for girls considering drugs.
“It might hide your feelings and numb the pain, but afterward it’s going to make everything worse,” she said. “There are other healthy ways to cope with what you’re going through. You don’t have to turn to drugs.”
After she graduates from Springboard, she plans on helping others facing similar problems, and plans to work on becoming an actress.
Ferrari said the accessibility of drugs in public schools has become worse than ever, and generally begins with marijuana.
“It is a gateway drug, and anyone that says differently needs to do more research,” she said. “In 10 years of working with Teen Challenge, we’re talking thousands of people that I’ve had the opportunity to meet, I have only met one who tried meth without doing something else first. Every last one started out smoking weed.”
Ferrari said statistics show that 12 percent of seniors in public schools are daily marijuana smokers.
“To parents, do you really know how many times your child encounters the opportunity? Everyday at school. Parents don’t want to know, but they need to,” she said.
Destinee Schuerings, a graduate of Springboard, said marijuana use led to her enrollment in the program after it caused depression and mistrust by her mother. Eventually, her mother enrolled her in Springboard.
For the first month, Destinee had a hard time finding motivation, but by the second month, she had found her inspiration.
“By then, I knew I had to pick up my feet,” she said. “I asked God everyday to help me in my trials. Seeing Tori, and how she got through the program and her position now, that really inspired me.”
For Destinee, the positive affect of Springboard has remained with her since graduation. She is currently a senior at Skyline High School in Mesa, where she is continuing down the path she paved for herself at Springboard.
“My life has completely flip-flopped,” she said. “Before, I didn’t do anything progressive with my life, and now I am sharing the word with all of my friends. I am still active at my church, and I encourage my friends to come with me.”
Arizona Teen Challenge offers recovery programs throughout the state for a wide range of demographics. More information on program can be found on www.azteenchallenge.org.