The teenage years can be challenging for any family, but in some cases, it is more than the family can handle on their own. When kids are constantly skipping school, acting out at home, using drugs and alcohol, or engaging in criminal activities such as shoplifting, they may need more specialized attention to help set them back on the right path. As much as the kids try to deny it, these types of behaviors are often a way to seek attention and ask for help.
Many teenagers are struggling just to fit in. They may be bullied or picked on at school, or they might be the ones doing the bullying. They may feel intimidated by kids who seem to be smarter or more successful than they are and so they act out, mostly out of frustration. They may feel like they are not socially accepted. Or they may not feel like anyone at home cares about them. Most kids are just looking for a place where they can feel like they belong.
Providing a safe and stable environment where kids can escape from peer pressure and other negative influences can help to build a foundation for a healthier and happier life.
Offering a Range of Programs to Educate Kids and Support Families
The Maurice Spear Campus was named for its founder, former Lenawee County Probate Judge Maurice Spear, who first conceived of the idea of creating a county youth facility after he was elected in 1960. The MSC consists of two different programs: a detention unit that houses up to 26 kids and an open unit that can house up to 40 kids.
The detention unit is a secure facility for kids who have committed a crime and are required to remain in the facility under a court order. The detention unit stays can vary from one day to one year. The program provides education and enrichment groups to help get kids back on track.
“We try to make an impact by helping the kids understand the poor choices they are making and what the consequences are,” explains Rodney Weaver, Director of the Maurice Spear Campus.
The open unit employs a more therapeutic and rehabilitative approach. It is designed for kids who’ve had repeated admissions to the detention unit and have not responded to other types of interventions in their home or community. Admission to the open unit is based on an order from the Probate Court. The typical stay in the open unit lasts from 9 to 14 months.
“The open unit has much more family involvement. We provide individual and family counselling. And the kids go to school right here on campus. They have chores and responsibilities,” explains Weaver. “They also have involvement in the community and do volunteer work.”
Having an open unit means the doors are not locked. The kids know that they are there under a court order, but they can also leave the campus to participate in community activities. They can earn more opportunities based on positive behavior.
“In the open unit, we can focus our attention on the kids that need help and want to get help, and their families,” explains Weaver. “The program is a commitment. The more the kids buy into it, the more successful they will be.”
MSC Staff Provide Structure and Consistency
Many kids who come to the Maurice Spear Campus for treatment are feeling lost and lacking direction. The consistent routine at the MSC creates stability in their lives. The MSC employs youth specialists who work with the kids every day and remind them to brush their teeth, take a shower, and do their homework. Those basic tasks create the foundation for positive habits as the kids grow older.
The youth specialists also coordinate schedules and provide transportation for the kids. “Our staff are constantly driving kids all over town and making sure everyone gets where they need to be,” explains Weaver. “More importantly, they show the kids that there is someone who cares about where they are and what they are doing each day.”
In addition to the youth specialists, there are also licensed therapists who provide individual and family counseling that is essential for the kids to make positive changes in their lives.
On Campus School Helps Kids Get Caught Up
Kids also attend school during their stay at the Maurice Spear Campus. The school is staffed with five teachers from the Lenawee Intermediate School District (LISD). Many of the kids have fallen behind in school and are not meeting the standards for their age and grade level. One of the goals for the teachers at the MSC is to make sure the kids get caught up.
One of the primary benefits of the on-site school is the small class sizes, which means that kids receive more individualized attention. All of the teachers from the LISD are used to working in groups that include different ages and skill levels. The teachers are also cross trained to cover multiple subjects. The personalized instruction can help the kids learn to appreciate school in a different way. It reignites their passion for learning.
“This year, we had four students graduate from high school and two of them were also accepted into Sienna Heights University,” says Julie VanBlack, Regional Supervisor at the Lenawee Intermediate School District. “We try to make sure the kids leave here with an education and job skills that will allow them to move forward in their lives in a positive way.”
Partnership with Goodwill Industries Teaches Job Skills
Another unique program is the partnership between MSC and Goodwill Industries. The program with Goodwill Industries is all about job training. Any of the kids in the open unit have an opportunity to meet with the staff at Goodwill to discuss their interests and find out if there is a job that would be a good match. They start off working at Goodwill one afternoon per week, and if it works out, they can increase their hours to two evenings per week.
“They work in the retail stores or the in the distribution center getting items sorted for the stores. It provides great real-world experience for them,” explains Weaver. “They are paid on a debit card and can use that income for whatever they need to buy. It teaches them responsibility.”
Community Involvement Allows Kids to Give Back
In addition to the partnership with Goodwill Industries, MSC has relationships with many individuals and organizations in the community that provide volunteer opportunities for the kids.
Volunteer activities can range from raking leaves in the fall for local senior citizens, to working at the Michigan International Speedway to help clean up on race day. The kids also help out local charities, such as the Michigan Humane Society. All of these activities help to build connection and increase self-esteem for the kids staying at the MSC.
“We are very thoughtful in the partnerships we choose,” explains Weaver. “We want to select activities that are positive and healthy for the kids to participate in, while also making a contribution back to the community.”
Fundraising Activities Support Programs and Facility Improvements
The Maurice Spear Campus is guided by an advisory Board of Directors that includes representation from cities and townships across Lenawee County. Many of the board members come from the educational system, including John Springer, a retired teacher who has served on the board since 2008.
“As board members, we are dedicated to helping the program achieve its goals,” says Springer. The board has helped to raise funds for program improvements, and they provide financial support for the partnership with Goodwill Industries. They also support special events for the staff and residents, as well as funding scholarships to colleges or trade schools for program graduates.
“It’s hard to say where these kids might end up without these services, but probably not in a good place,” explains Weaver. “It is easy to go down the wrong road. Our program provides structure and guidance to help these kids make better decisions.”