Improved amenities give boost to troubled teens

The upgraded kitchen at a Medford group home for troubled teen girls is encouraging both camaraderie and better cooking skills, said case managers and clients at Family Solutions.

A trio of grants from the West Family, Ben B. Chaney and Leightman Maxey foundations totaling more than $20,000, combined with about $6,000 of discounted materials and volunteer labor from the local Home Depot store, has renovated an antiquated 1950s-style kitchen — bringing it from dingy to delightful, said one of the eight girls residing at the residential care facility.

"Our sink is touch on and touch off," said 17-year-old Shannon, whose real name is being withheld to protect her identity. "I like our stove and cabinets, too."

Family Solutions helps children recover from early trauma and/or abuse. It works with girls age 12 to 18 years who have "struggled in other placements," said Tennelle Nickel, a case manager and supervisor.

The girls who enter the 18-month- to two-year program, which includes on-site schooling, intensive therapy, and life skills and independent living training, have generally come from foster care or other residential placements, Nickel said.

"We can help them heal and begin to stop the cycle of abuse from perpetuating," said Jane Whaley, development director for Family Solutions. "Children who have early treatment are far less likely to have difficulties later in life."

Shannon is a ward of the Oregon child welfare system. She was referred to the Jackson County center last November after running away from another treatment center in the Portland area.

"At first I didn't want to be here at all," Shannon said. "I was angry. I was mean to all the staff."

It's not easy to be away from home. But it's also not easy to be at home when you're constantly fighting with your parents. Sometimes it's just not easy being a teenage girl.

"I used to lie about where I lived and why I was here," Shannon said. "I didn't want everyone to know I was in a group home."

A turnabout moment came when, after Shannon was caught stealing cigarettes from a staff member, a teacher asked her a simple question.

"She asked if I cared," Shannon said.

Shannon understood the instructor was asking whether she cared about herself, her future and those around her.

"I started really thinking about it," Shannon said. "I decided I wanted to do better. And I'm doing a lot better. I've developed a relationship with the staff."

Now Shannon is working hard on her goals and is engaged in her therapy and in her school work, said Nickel.

"I like to see the change in the girls," Nickel said. "Their aggressive or extreme behaviors change though their connections and through therapy."

Shannon will turn 18 soon. She'll finish her schooling at a public high school. Her time at the group home will be over, Nickel said.

"I think Shannon is going to be one of our big successes," Nickel said. "When she first came, we were all pulling our hair out."

It was knowing she was truly cared about by staff at Family Solutions that helped turn her around, Shannon said.

"We have real relationships," she said, adding the connections won't terminate when she graduates out of the program next May.

But before the gregarious teen goes off to follow her dreams of becoming a singer and marrying Justin Beiber, there are more lessons to be learned, Nickel said. The center's new kitchen represents more than beautiful countertops, tile floors, back splashes and spacious cabinets. It is a great place for the girls to learn life skills and practice teamwork and tolerance, she said.

"The girls whine when I cook," Shannon said with a grin. "But I can make awesome pancakes and Top Ramen. Just don't ask me to make spaghetti."

In addition to all the other improvements recently wrought in Shannon's life, thanks to generous donors, the teen's culinary skills are slated for success too, Nickel said. A cooking instructor has agreed to come teach all the girls how to cook delicious meals, she said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail

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