Updated: Dec 24, 2021
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We were unsure what to expect when speaking to the juveniles in Mesquite Treatment Center for the very first time. So, before stepping into the boy's halfway house, we prayed and asked God for His favor that the youth would receive what we had to say.
Once inside, the rehab director and owner, Laura Lisa, welcomed us and let the teen boys know we were here as they were finishing their lunch. Then, while we waited for them in the recreation room where we would talk to them, we shook their hands and introduced ourselves personally as they walked in one by one.
Then, we got started…
Immediately Orlando shared a bit of why we were there and shared his story. Initially, they seemed uninterested, not sure what to expect. But the moment Orlando talked about his past, their eyes locked onto him.
"Who else is a father here?" Another kid raised his hand...
Soon after, they began to ask questions about Orlando's past. For example, they wondered why it's wrong to have tattoos on their faces. In fact, one teen said he could relate to Orlando's story because he, too, was involved with a rival gang shooting. But what he said next opened our eyes to the reality of their personal lives.
The young man said he knew he had to change because his girlfriend was pregnant and would be a dad soon. He was not even 16 years old yet. Orlando asked, "Who else is a father here?" Another kid raised his hand.
By the end of our presentation, we could see their minds were working, processing ideas about choices that can change their lives and how someone who's made mistakes could become successful in life. Orlando gave them his book about his life, Dead Man Walking. We could see they were inspired to change, but we could also see they just didn't see how it was possible. We reassured them that was the whole point of us coming from now on. To guide them out of their destructive habits and learn how to be free to achieve success in life.
Many of the young men end up in rehab due to drugs and bad behavior in school. Most likely because most of them are fatherless.
In our 2 hour experience, it's clear that working with troubled young men isn't easy. For that reason, the directors at Mesquite Treatment Center came to us for help...
An Unexpected Partnership
Out partnership with Mesquite Treatment Center (MTC) started in May when Choose to Change held a power network in the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. During the event, Ruben Garcia, the head Clinical Director at Mesquite Treatment Center, introduced himself to Orlando Salinas. He shared his similar experiences with drugs and changing his life after accepting Jesus. Similarly, he also has dedicated his life to helping other people break free from drug addiction. We handed Mr. Ruben Garcia a brochure before parting ways.
"We need to call these guys and see how they can help us..."
Fast forward 3 months, we got a call from Ruben asking to set up a meeting with the owner of MTC, Laura Lisa. Turns out since 2016, they've been helping adolescent males from ages 13-17 with substance abuse disorders. In addition, being Christians themselves, Ruben and Lisa knew the young men needed spiritual guidance to see REAL change in their lives.
Then one day, the owner of Ms. Lisa, was cleaning her desk when she came across our brochure. "We need to call these guys and see how they can help us," she told Ruben.
Finding the Missing Component: God
When we met, Ruben shared that many of the kids do well in the halfway house during their stay there. However, the problem is when they are sent home, they return to negative environments and bad influences. And for youth who are highly impressionable in their teen years, it often results in repeating criminal behavior.
Lisa began to explain, "We know [faith-based teaching] is a missing component for our kids. So we've always wanted to introduce that component as an option for them in their free time."
As a rehab, MTC wouldn't be able to add spirituality to the rehab program. However, inviting visiting volunteers such as Choose to Change would be a way to give the young men an opportunity for faith-based teaching.
"I'm a firm believer in the God factor. And that's what's missing..."
In addition, Choose to Change would also help the youth continue to give them a healthy environment after they leave the rehab. Many of the teens do well in rehab because they are given structure and accountability. However, that is not the case once they are returned home after 1 to 4 months in rehab.
Because Choose to Change is associated with its church, The Door Christian Church, juveniles and their parents would have somewhere to build a healthy environment to stay sober.
"We love what you are doing… They have a lot of challenges, and I'm a firm believer in the God factor. And that's what's missing," Ruben said.
Responding to the Call
Choose to Change didn't hesitate to respond.
Immediately we started going into the juvenile rehab and did what we do best; mentor men to be fathers, husbands, and leaders for their families and communities. Only this time, we were preventing these young adolescents from ending up in prison all together!
Since then, every Monday, we have brought a church service into the rehab. We do everything from worship to prayer, preaching, and a call to accept Jesus into their lives every service. In addition, we give the young men an opportunity to ask questions and get to know them.
It's been 3 months now, and we've gotten to know the youth very well. Most teens there want to change. And that's good news. Because as long as some WANT to change, we can help them!
We are spending $43 Billion of our tax dollars on incarcerating prison inmates...
We see this new direction for Choose to Change as a golden opportunity to prevent fatherlessness from ever happening in the first place. Guiding these young men to change their destructive lifestyles is a way to prevent them from stepping foot in prison and risking becoming absent fathers themselves.
It is said, "It takes a village to raise a child," and there's definitely truth to that. We know not everyone can go into juvenile rehabs. However, ANYBODY can help support the Choose to Change programs that guide these kids to be successful in life.
Already, we are spending $43 billion of our tax dollars on incarcerating prison inmates. What if, instead, we invested in programs that guide young men and women to make better choices in life so they wouldn't have to spend most of their lives in prison? Financially supporting non-profits like Choose to Change is our chance to do exactly that!
Sowing Seeds of Change
Since we've started, our Choose to change juvenile program has proved to be a big help to the kids at Mesquite Treatment Rehab Center. We've been able to give the teen boys the guidance they need and teach them about the love and grace of Jesus Christ.
They've also been able to find answers to tons of questions about life, like how to make better decisions, and how to live as believers of Jesus – even when it's hard to do so! At this time of their lives, they're trying to put the pieces of life together in their minds. The good news is many are determined to take up the challenge to be the leaders God created them to be. As long as they have the desire, we can provide them a spiritual foundation that they will be able to build upon for the rest of their life – if they choose to!
How many juveniles can we prevent from ending up in prison?
As they say, "It's better to build boys than to mend men." And we've seen that to be true! So many men who walk into our Choose to Change Mentoring Program are fresh out of doing time in prison and can trace their bad decisions all the way back to their teen years.
What if all that could be avoided for these young teens? What if the trajectory of their lives can be changed right now?
We believe it can!
Let's Make Change Together...
Take action! Donate to partner with us and help fight against fatherlessness due to incarceration!