Reserved or rambunctious, teens benefit from foster-care program

Iknow a lot of parents may groan in "What are you thinking?" disbelief, but I really like teenagers.

Maybe it's because I don't have any of my own. Or maybe it's because parts of my psyche are permanently parked at that age.

Whatever the reason, I think teens are funny, interesting and exciting folks.

It's just that sometimes they aren't necessarily the best at giving interviews — especially about themselves.

Depending on the phase of the moon, who's within earshot or the teen's mood, my notebook can be filled with monosyllabic grunts or wildly inappropriate phrases, especially for a family newspaper. You just never know.

But that's half the fun. Drawing a shy teen out. Trying to rein in a wild child — just a bit.

Mostly, I just try to keep things centered and make them comfortable. Then, oh, the stories they'll sometimes share.

Talking with Alisa and Aaron this week at Lithia Springs school in Ashland was a study in contrasts. Both of these articulate 17-year-olds are enrolled in Community Works Treatment Foster Care program.

Alisa spoke quietly of abandonment. Her mother wasan addict who died in 2005.

My condolences were politely accepted. But not necessary. Alisa and her sisters raised themselves, "as best we could," she said.

"She wasn't a very good person," Alisa simply stated.

Her father was living in Oklahoma.

"Basically he ... ," she said. "My father was ... ."

Alisa searched for a way to explain. She has a dozen other siblings, she said. Then she looked up, wondering whether I could understand where she was going. Wondering exactly how to phrase her father's inability to keep it zipped and maintain a stable relationship. And the fallout his failings had on her young life.

"Tomcat?" I offered, with a cocked head and a smile.

She shot me a startled glance. Then she grinned and laughed.

"Yes! Tomcat! That's him. That's good," she said, nodding.

Alisa has been in therapeutic foster care for two years. That's longer than most, she says. But Alisa had a lot of self-esteem issues to overcome. And a lot of loving guidance to soak up from her foster family.

Alisa is headed toward a career in nursing. She has a lot to give.

"I like to help people," Alisa says.

Aaron's parents are waiting for him at home. Waiting for the boy they adopted at age 2 to come to terms with his anger issues. Aaron is candid about how he landed in foster care. His sometimes violent temper had been running amok — especially with his ex-military father.

"Me and my dad had our worst fight ever," Aaron says.

But Aaron is determined to change. He will master his temper, graduate high school, go home and get a job, he says.

In fact, Aaron has changed, says Gabe Dawson, the program manager.

Intensive therapy has helped Aaron get to the root of his anger. He is understanding his triggers. And the structured environment and code of accountability offered in the program is helping Aaron learn self-control.

Anna and Mike Boyd are Aaron's foster parents. The 60-ish Medford couple have raised three boys of their own and have 10 grandkids. They are more like grandparents to their foster kids, they say.

Anna is teaching Aaron to be a responsible fellow in the home. Cooking, cleaning. Doing chores with a willing spirit. It's hard for Anna to turn over her kitchen to Aaron and the other boy they are fostering. "Butthat's my issue," she says with a laugh.

Mike is offering calm male guidance to the boy who affectionately calls him "Pops."

Both say they've always had a soft spot for teenagers, too.

Teens are old enough to know right from wrong. But still young enough to benefit from a little life-lesson polishing from someone who's been kicking around the planet a little longer, says Mike.

If you would like to volunteer for the therapeutic foster-care program, call Gabe Dawson at 541-973-5293.

Reach Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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