Ending summer with a little TLC

“Riley” didn’t do too well in the fishing derby held last Friday by the staff and residents at the Training and Learning Centre on Couchiching.
In fact, as one of his teammates put it, all the 14-year-old was able to catch was “one teeny little bass.”
But that didn’t seem to bother “Riley” (not his real name) too much because something much bigger happened to him on Friday. He went home sober.
“Riley,” like all of the residents aged 12-17 of Weechi-it-te-win Family Services TLC, suffers from drug and alcohol abuse. He joined the rehabilitation program June 17 and Friday was his graduation day.
“I wanted to quit,” he said after coming in from the fishing derby. “I came so I could work on my anger and on my temper. And it’s done some.”
Dalrey Smith, a counsellor at the TLC who helped organize Friday’s activities, said the derby and fish fry was a kind of “year-end retreat” for staff and residents alike.
He said each resident of the TLC agreed to enter the program voluntarily. And contrary to some of the kids’ parting jokes to “Riley,” like “See you next week,” very few graduates ever need to come back.
“A lot of the kids go home and continue their sobriety,” Smith said. “But they have to change their lifestyle to do this. Basically, just say ‘no.’”
“Riley” said alcohol and drug abuse is a big problem for many of the youth at his home reserve. “Everybody drank and there’s sniffers there, too,” he noted, though claiming to have never done the latter.
He did do a lot of the former, as well as use some other drugs. But “Riley” said he learned to shake off the addictions by learning more about the native cultures and traditions.
“[My culture] has shown me a different way,” he said. “I went into my first sweat lodge here. [And] today I found an eagle feather, my first eagle feather.”
Peter Ferris, manager at the TLC, viewed the 90-day program the centre runs as a place which shows kids like “Riley” opportunities to get involved in things that don’t involve drugs and alcohol.
“We operate a modified 12-step program,” he explained. “For the time we have them, we give them a sense of community and that community helps them make changes in their lives.”
Education about abuse issues, chances to attend traditional native ceremonies, and languages are all a part of what Ferris said was helping the residents “acquire a strong sense of identity.”
While the program is supposed to be completed after 90 days, residents can apply for a 30-day extension if they think they need it. After that, they get returned to their homes–and back into the world where drugs and alcohol can tempt them again.
Ferris said there’s always an apprehension when the kids are released from the program. But then again, he noted the whole point of the program is to send them back.
“It is our job to help these young people reconnect with families and community,” he stressed. “Hopefully, they’ve learned enough here.”
Meanwhile, “Riley” is confident–and eager–he’ll stay sober as he begins his life again.
“I just stay off the booze and off the drugs,” he said. “If I’ve got support, I think I can do it.”