Gulf Coast Bootcamp for troubled teen
November 5, 2005 8:47 PM   Subscribe

How hard is it to volunteer to help rebuild the Gulf Coast? I have a troubled teenager who would benefit from a month of different location and work. Anyone know of an organized program?

My son is 18, failing several classes, has acted out enough to lose the option to live with me or his dad & stepmom. Please trust that the reasons were non-trivial. Recently got fired from his job and got busted for shoplifting. Girlfriend broke up with him. Senior in HS, needs only a few credits + senior thesis to graduate, which can be done 2nd term. ADHD, depression, and unwilling to get treatment. Currently couch-surfing, but likely to run out of couches.

I don't know if he'd want to volunteer, but he has been in previous legal trouble, and a judge might be responsive to a serious community service option. Yes, I would be willing to pay, but my resources are limited.

Other suggestions are okay, too. thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total)
Yikes! I would ignore b1t0t's comment. I don't have an answer to your question, but I am the oldest of five kids in a family where depression and acting out seem to be inherited traits.

So far two of my four younger brothers have dropped out of high school (one went direct to college and one is still in middle school).

When they dropped out, both brothers gave my parents enormous anxiety and pain.

One was hospitalized for overdosing and got in trouble for drug stuff. He couch surfed for a few years from 17 to 19, then moved back in with my parents. My mom tried so hard to set limits, and he pretty much ignored them. Now he's 24 with a GED, living with his girlfriend of many years, working full time at a decent job, and going to college part time.

My other high school drop out brother had social problems at school, acted out and got into some fights. He threatened my parents and scared them so much they called the police on him several times. Several times in his mid-teens he had fits that left him in a catatonic state and went into the mental hospital. He's 18 now, out of school for two years while he deals with his mental problems and matures. He is working full time and studying for his GED while he lives with my parents. His relationship with the family is much improved now that he's stabilized.

I share these anecdotes, anonymous, because I hope they give you some comfort. These brothers of mine freaked oout my parents, seemed out of control, had mental health problems in the extreme. But I think a lot of the problem was that they didn't fit in the one-size-fits all system our society has designed. Given the freedom to mature, they're turning out to be happy, good people, despite the different paths they've taken.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:33 PM on November 5, 2005

I don't know if he'd want to volunteer, but he has been in previous legal trouble, and a judge might be responsive to a serious community service option.

Honestly? He doesn't sound like someone who'd be terribly useful down there, just another drag on the other volunteers.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:54 PM on November 5, 2005

I wouldn't send an unmotivated young man down to do reconstruction and certainly not this kind of work.

The conditions are still barely livable and downright dangerous in many places. If he's unskilled and unwilling to be there, he won't help anyone and may hurt others and/or himself.
posted by lambchop1 at 10:54 PM on November 5, 2005

posted by spilon at 11:12 PM on November 5, 2005

Physical work with quickly visible results might be of benefit.
Are there any Habitats for Humanity near you?
posted by Cranberry at 12:28 AM on November 6, 2005

You seem to be slightly confused as to what the word "volunteer" means. As others say, unless the guy really chose, of his own volition, to go down there and help out, he'll be more of a hinderance than not...
posted by benzo8 at 1:23 AM on November 6, 2005

I have several friends who are heavily involved in volunteer work, they always explain how motivation is key. if you lack that, you're going to do more harm than good.
posted by matteo at 3:44 AM on November 6, 2005

I have to agree with the others - he doesn't sound like he'd benefit from the Gulf Coast work per se. But getting him to a new setting, with new things to do might help; God knows it's pretty easy to see through the BS of high school. I'm a little enh about suggesting he join the military right now, but if there's another highly-supervised, work-based program, that might be good.

Some kind of counseling being included is probably good. A friend who had been a member of the Peace Corps once told me that you don't get to run away from your problems - they follow you, however far you go. He might need to do work, and something to be proud of, but the problems will follow, in some form or other.
posted by kalimac at 8:28 AM on November 6, 2005

Have you looked into the rules of Job Corps? They have live-away-from-home campuses. Again, though, they aren't going to babysit someone who isn't motivated to be there.

This isn't what you want to hear as a parent, but once the economic/social realities of being without a diploma or family and being too angry to work, play by basic rules, etc. sink in, that might be what it really takes for him to be motivated to make his own changes.
posted by availablelight at 8:42 AM on November 6, 2005

AmeriCorps, perhaps? I'm sure they're doing work down there.

Granted, there is an application process and references and things are required. But the online application makes it possible to apply to ten programs at once.

But the crucial part is this has to interest him. If the kid doesn't want to volunteer, he'll be of no use. But if you think he wants to help, and the idea of complete independence from his parents would be appealing I would have someone suggest it to him. Not you. No offense, but if he's having independence/authority issues you suggesting it will make him a helluva lot less enthused about applying.
posted by schroedinger at 10:22 AM on November 6, 2005

Not snarking here, honest, but someone really needs to write some kind of self-help book (or pamphlet) called So You Want to be a Fuckup.

It would cover all of the exciting career choices open to a potential fuckup (including prison) and highlight the compensation differences the budding fuckup can look forward to compared to life as, say, a non-fuckup.

And I have no interest in surpressing the desires of someone who is making an informed decision to live outside the System, and this book would not be aimed at those folks. The goal of the book would be to make sure the budding fuckup understood the consequences of their actions (or lack thereof).

There were times in my life when it would have helped me a lot had someone handed me such a book.
posted by popechunk at 3:30 PM on November 6, 2005

This is kind of "old-school", but I had a couple of friends who did it in the '80s and it rocked for them. We were in much worse shape than your kid. All of us had just returned from Europe (Military brats) and were completely strung out on various drugs. Just completely shitted up. As a matter of survival, we "broke up" so to speak. I joined the army and two others signed up with the peace corps.

I did fairly well for myself after a short stint, but those guys went on to college and are really doing well.

I'm not opposed to talking about it if your or your kid want to shoot me an e-mail.
posted by snsranch at 5:32 PM on November 6, 2005

FYI: The Peace Corps now requires a college degree or some very practical skill (think animal husbandry, or IT networking, etc.), and includes a background check. Volunteers often work in very unstructured situations, for better or worse, so they look for emotionally stable, independent self-starters.
posted by availablelight at 12:40 AM on November 7, 2005

I could use a hand down here. No promises, but drop me a line and we can talk about it.
posted by atchafalaya at 5:56 AM on November 7, 2005

B1tr0t, I'm the anonymous poster. I'd like to address your concerns, and a few of my own.

> The poster could not stand to live with the kid, nor could the other parent.
Yep, he won't accept basic rules at my house, and he got booted from his dad's by his stepmom because he refuses to attend English class. I negotiated a compromise between my son and his dad, so he could live there, but stepmom vetoed it. I miss him so much that it tears me up more than I can say, but I believe he has to learn to accept the rules at my home.

> a parent who can't be bothered to be a parent
Well, that's kind of refreshing; the English teacher called me over-involved. I truly hope you never have to deal with a difficult child. I have read books, consulted my family doctor, therapists, teachers, and anyone else who I thought might help me be a better parent. I gave up job opportunities that would have required a move, because I was unwilling to geographically separate my son from his father. I suspect the worst thing I did as a parent was not be there enough. I've had to work full time to support myself & my son, and provide health insurance. His dad did not pay even the minimal support ordered (He's judgement proof; let's not go there).

I know my son is eminently capable of compassion for the losses suffered by people in the Gulf Coast, and respect for them. I'm looking for a physically challenging opportunity for him because he is so frustrated by school. School is a misery, and everything, especially English, requires written work. With ADHD, producing written work is a horrible experience for him, and I think a break is in order. And, frankly, a job cleaning debris or building a house leaves you too tired for most stupid teenage stunts. Plus, he excelled in Outward Bound, and I think he'd do well and earn some esteem.

I really think a geographic cure for a month or so would be great for him, just to give him perspective, in more than a few ways. I've been talking to him about volunteering, and he's open to it. I need to find out what's available, so I asked the smart, interesting, diverse people at AskMe. I'm looking for an organized volunteer option, not just buying him a bus ticket to Mississippi. I did specify that I'm looking for other ideas, BTW, the military is not an option with no HS diploma or GED.

My kid is in trouble. He's screwed up a lot of things in his life and needs help getting sorted out. He has to get through a few more years of hard-core adolescent crap. I think it's my job as a parent to try to keep him from making mistakes that will be very hard to recover from later, like not getting his diploma. My description of him is accurate, but left out the smart, funny, sweet side that wants to do well. His teachers are incredibly frustrated with him, but most of them enjoy him, and describe him as well-mannered and respectful. If you have kids, you may have an inkling of my absolute love for him, and my desire to combine compassion and discipline in expressing my love.

Lastly, B1tr0t, thank you. By calling attention to the question, you've drawn more answers. It's worth the harshness of your responses if it helps me help my son.
posted by Anonymous.MeFite at 8:27 AM on November 7, 2005

I've been researching this stuff a lot as I plan on doing something like this and no offense, but I will echo in other's sentiments that your kid might not be the most worthy candidate. I wouldn't say it's because he's troubled in of itself, but because most of the programs suggested here wouldn't be looking for someone with his skill-set (or lack thereof). Peace Corps has already been mentioned, but yea, they want a college education and it's fairly independent and hardcore. For AmeriCorps, a lot of the programs are actually jobs in rebuilding or something humanity-driven which want, again, an actual skill-set. However, I would suggest looking into their NCCC program which is for people 18-25 years old. It's a 10-month program where you live live (and have deal with the subsequent repercussions of this fact) in one of five sites. I'm actually applying to this program and what I'm hoping to be doing come this time next year.

If you want to go the religious route, there's always the Jesuit Volunteers and Holy Cross who do a lot of good work in the community. Actually, I'm using one of the local Youth Ministers as a resource for programs to look into for long-term volunteer efforts and a local church might be a very valuable resource in finding something for your kid (though, they would be called missionary work from a church- do the research, though the extent of being a missionary usually consists of partaking in religious activities and retreats, not actually converting heathens).

If he is indeed messed up, ever considered programs like Outward Bound? A few of my brother's messed up friends did it, and it cleaned them up fairly well. Kind of like Peace Cops, it can be pretty hardcore, though they have programs intended for exactly your kid- and better yet, they have people in the program who are trained to deal with people like him.

Lastly, there are places where kids like him are sent whose parents don't care (kuddos to you for trying). One of my best friends works in a house where troubled kids go, and most of the people work with messed up kids for a living so they might have suggestions for programs to look into for help cleaning him up. We talk about her work a lot, but I dunno what a place like that is actually called...I want to call it a half-way house, but who knows?
posted by jmd82 at 8:36 AM on November 7, 2005

anon - whatever you decide (or whatever he decides) please make sure you have a plan in place for him to finish high school upon his return. For most people, it is harder to go back to school after a break than it is to finish and then take a break. I understand that completing high school is probably not an option at the moment, but if, ahead of time, you know what options exist for HS completion, it will be easier to get him to do it ASAP upon his return.
posted by necessitas at 10:06 AM on November 7, 2005

There are high schools that are tailored towards kids frustrated with ADD. Don't know what the scholarship situation is, but many of them are boarding schools. Look into a semester, or summer? Maybe a camp along those lines? I see ads for them all the time in the NYT, etc--there must be a book, web directory, etc. of them. Enlist the guidance counselor at his school further.

No stint of feel-good volunteerism is going to be a long term solution for the problems of a kid who can't work around (or feels like he can't work around) a relatively common (i.e. nothing to be ashamed of, or necessarily crippling) learning disability. He's not alone, and he needs to know that.
posted by availablelight at 3:00 PM on November 7, 2005

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