November, 21 2017
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GRIP Program Helps Troubled Teens
No one can doubt that Caleb Adames has had a rough life. A ward of the Department of Social Services, he’s spent most of his teenage years bouncing between state-run residential facilities.
“When I was with DSS, I was told when to eat, when to sleep,” said the 17-year-old Lawrence native.
How the GRIP Program Aims to help Trouble Youth
But eight months ago, Caleb was able to get a grip on his life. The Growing Responsibility and Independence in People Project, or G.R.I.P., has given Caleb a new home, healthy relationships and a desire to be successful.
Aimed at helping young people with emotional, behavioral and family problems, G.R.I.P. offers a stable, healthy environment for troubled youth. Between 70 and 80 percent of teens in the program make a stable transition into adulthood, according to program administrators.
Teenagers are separated by gender and placed in dormlike homes in Lowell, where the program’s headquarters is located. Counselors provide workshops to teach basic adult skills. Close to 40 teens and young adults are enrolled in the program, according to administrators.
“These guys do not have someone to teach them how to order food in a restaurant, their likes or dislikes, or how to make adult decisions,” said Rachel McNamara, an administrator with the program.
Teens Work as a Team to Set and Enforce Rules
G.R.I.P. prides itself on being run by teens, letting the youngsters set up home rules guiding housemates’ behavior. Any violation warrants an internal court, where a jury of housemates, the violator and an outside facilitator discuss the violation and an appropriate punishment.
“We all get together and try to work as a team. I’d say we do fairly well making decisions,” said Christi Bontos, 20, who joined the program this year.
Raised by her grandmother, Bontos said she came to the program to find direction in her life. She credits G.R.I.P. with helping her find a sense of normalcy and family.
“My roommate’s my best friend. The staff has been like family. Rachel (McNamara) is like my mom,” she said. Bontos just started her first semester at Middlesex Community College.
Other Supportive Progams for Troubled Teens
In the next month, Bontos will graduate from G.R.I.P. into Evolution. A recent addition to G.R.I.P., Evolution takes older participants and helps them find apartments and make the transition into adulthood.
Caleb Adames’ transition will be much easier, thanks to the Just Us Making Progress (J.U.M.P.) program. Providing GED, educational and employment training to housemates, J.U.M.P. supplies one-on-one mentoring to each teen.
G.R.I.P. has a staff of 33;close to 30 percent of staffers are alumni of the program. Michael Cohen, an alumnus and counselor for G.R.I.P teens, said he has experienced an amazing change in his life.
As a teenager, Cohen spent several years on the streets. Within six months of joining the program he received his GED, and by the time he was 20 he was renting an apartment in Ayer. Now attending, Middlesex Community College, Cohen said he’d like to get a master’s in education.
A residential counselor for G.R.I.P., Cohen said the key to helping teenagers is to make sure they have clear-cut goals.
“Each person has their own individual success plan. It’s working with each kid and finding their niche and what’s comfortable,” he said.
Caleb Adames admitted he was one of the teens who approached the program with skepticism but found that the help he received changed him.
“When I first came here, I didn’t even want to do this. But when I came, I stayed in the house for a week. My attitude changed,” he said. “The way I talk to people changed. I have a new personality. There’s a whole new Caleb.”
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