Is Innocence Long Gone?

I remember in what used to be called junior high school a wonderful group that met for a while once every few weeks.  Mr. Otterbein, the school counselor,  pulled together a few girls, who were friends, so they were receptive to the idea. 

The rules were simple. Be open, be honest, be respectful and what is said does not leave the room. And surprisingly, for young teens, everyone did abide.  This group Mr. O, as we fondly called him, started was not about counseling per Se but about peer support. We started out wanting to talk about safe topics, boys we liked, girls we hated, clothes we loved, celebrities we knew wanted to kiss us, etc. It took time to break down the barrier.  But eventually the walls came down. When they did, little by little, we began to really see each other differently, more than just a fellow classmate, just another girl our age, but more as a whole person. 

The sharing brought out sometimes heart wrenching stories of what was going on in our lives, including loss, disappointment, frustration, despair, anger, and other emotions.  Going to class, to sports, boyfriends, and hanging out, these are not the places and kind of things teens normally share.  This group and setting allowed us to bring emotions to the forefront.  It provided a healthy forum to deal with them, help each other and also have an adult there to guide the conversation in a positive direction, if needed. Most times, it was not needed. We gave each other strength.  We found coping skills in our own situation from listening to others. We found blessings in our new found deep abiding friendships based on realities and not falsities. 
Today, the news is filled of stories of teens filled with some of the same emotions we brought to our sessions all those years ago.  Instead of sitting in a safe zone to discuss them with other teens, young confused teens are walking around with guns shooting folks. Afterwards, everyone is standing around looking shocked and saying they never saw this coming, what is wrong with the teens today. I am not sure it is all that different than before, is it?  Or are they just not being given tools to cope?   I don’t have the answers because my children are grown. But I do know my kids had sessions with me, so many in fact, they began to hate them probably.

I believe communication is key.  Talking and more importantly listening are essentially. If teens are not listened to, they are more inclined to act.  Sometimes that is the only way they can be heard.  We survived all the drama of middle school by having a great support system that kept us grounded.  I did not have such a group in high school and feel it was harder because of it.  I wish the kids that say they join gangs because they are bored had a group like I joined instead.  Are inner city schools even offered opportunities like that?  Is it cool? We were allowed to cut class to attend, how cool is that?   

Recently I watched a debate on why the violence is so prevalent with young people today.  One reason stated was there is an increase in mental illness.  Many young people are walking around with undiagnosed mental illness. That may be true.  My only concern here is that mental illness is treated with drugs.  Though violence and mental illness are extremely serious, it is scary to think that thousands of teens should be medicated. Is that the answer?

Many believe in what teens are saying that they are acting violent out of boredom. That is rather difficult to swallow.   It shows a total lack of consciousness towards life. Plus, who hasn't been bored as a teen?  Everyone experienced boredom at that age. How many of us felt compelled to kill someone because of it?   Seriously now, I do not believe this is the sole reason a teen (s) go out and kill someone.  Most folks, if bored, go out and indulge on food, go shopping, play sports, not grab a gun and go kill.

The one reason I did hear that makes the most sense is rage.  Teens, for multiple reasons, have inward hostility building up inside going unchecked, unnoticed.   There are telltale signs, in advance, with many of these kids that are just ignored. It can be school grades, Facebook post or other media outlets, friend choices, behavior at home, drug usage, violent interaction, etc…  The parents may notice but the last person a teen will listen to are the parents!  Parents are so often viewed as the enemy by rebellious teens, even non rebellious teens.  No one else seems to pay attention until these kids go over the edge. Then, all the sudden, they are all over the news and everyone is shocked and saying they didn't have a clue. I am with the experts that say, looking back, there usually always are clues. 

We, as a society, every one of us, needs to pay attention.  It may not be your teen, you may feel it is not your responsibility, as in my kids are grown up, but it is! All of us need to come together.  Stray bullets make no distinction.   Teens tend to not be good shooters.  Any of us could be a target for random violence.  Maybe all of us could try giving someone recognition so they know they count.  Make eye contact, be friendly.   Ask your school systems what they are doing to give teens an outlet, the ones that aren't involved in sports. Not everyone is a sports junkie, not everyone has parents involved in their life. Why should the teen be penalized if his parents both have to work and he/she need some other activity that is productive? 

I do believe change can happen. I think the innocence of our youth is still here, as it always was and will always be. I, unlike so many, am not willing to throw today’s teens under the bus and just accept it. I think they are looking for a change and do not know how to ask for it.  We are the adults and I refuse to let my grandchildren down. Maybe these grandiose acts of violence we are seeing in the news are acts of desperation and shallow thinking.   Their brains are not fully developed and they do not see that long term effects of their actions, and how they are limiting a future that could be promising for themselves. 

We need to create better paths for them to follow by providing more avenues of help, pre-violent acts.  Our little group at Spinning Hills in Mad River Township gave us a sense of pride in who we were, and what we could one day be.  We felt empowered for an exciting future that was limitless!  Every teen deserves to feel that way. As a community, we need to work towards that and not sit back and give up. 


Dan Bronold Memorial Fund

Happy Birthday Son!

Looking Back…
New parents look down at the face of a newborn child and wish that their child will grow up happy, healthy and successful.   Such was the case for a couple in 1978 when they adopted a baby boy.  Daniel James Bronold was brought home from the hospital and began his life like so many children in America.  Two parents loved him and provided a good home with Christian values. Dan’s childhood went by fairly unscathed with fun times swimming, fishing, snowmobiling and a love of basketball.  

But when Dan became a teen things changed dramatically.  His efforts in school diminished and his respect for authority went downhill. By high school, he was skipping school frequently, smoking pot, hanging with a crowd of friends that were in to living in the moment like him.  His friends of the past were gone.  His anger towards authority, rules and regulations were playing havoc in the household and in his life.  His parents saw the signs of a life spiraling downhill and tried all paths to get him back on track but each avenue was met with outright defiance.  

Dan dropped out of school, and developed a lifetime habit of self-destruction.  He had brief periods where he would try to turn things around.  The moments of clarity, there would be amends made, and signs of hope but they were brief.  And then, he would drop back into his pattern even further and angrier than the time before, more depressed and more dysfunctional. 

As Dan’s step mother, it was plain for me to see, early on, that Dan’s father was a silent supporter of his son.  Countless times during calls and sporadic visits, he reiterated to his son that he had the power to change if he made the choice.  The pattern Dan developed was using his dad for the staple Dan was always in short supply of, money. The last few years of his life, Dan’s only calls to his dad were 911 calls “Dad, help me, I need money for bail, for rent, for drugs, for food, etc.” 

Gone were the meaningful dialogues between father and son. In its place now was deception, lies and a hunger to feed a lifestyle that was totally out of control.  When he couldn't manipulate his dad, he then tried working him through me. Dan had a sweet heart but he didn't let it guide his choices.   Inside, he needed help, and yet refused to go get it. His father loved him enough to step aside and not be part of the problem by only giving him money. His dad wanted to only give money to Dan if it was used as part of the solution, e.g. counseling, education. Their love was mutual, but the communication was gone.  Only Dan had the power to change and we prayed it would happen.

The waiting was over on March 19th, 2012; a change had come. The news that flashed on the local TV network simply showed a mug shot of a Hispanic young man, dead at 33 years old.  Dan Bronold was awaiting trial for tentative charges, hung himself in a jail cell after being in solitary confinement since early December 2011 and an investigation was underway to figure out how this happened in the Ingham County Jail.  Daniel James Bronold, he is gone from this earth but never ever forgotten. He lives in the life of those that love him and those he touched forever.

Moving On…

A special memorial is being started by Dan’s father to help young teens find their way out of this downward spiral before it is too late.  This situation with Dan and his parents is happening all over this country.  Young teens lose their live; parents lose control of their kids and run out of options.  This continues into adulthood, our prisons are full of such stories.  A decision was made on the anniversary of Dan’s death to commit to a special memorial fund and to ask others to consider it as well.  So much work needs to be done in this area and Dan’s story can give others the chance.  We feel Dan would want this, and would be proud to lend his name to the efforts for change.   

Thus, a tremendous amount of research went into finding just the right program within Michigan in remembrance of Dan.  We knew Michigan has a high incidence of issues in this area and as a state; they are hurting terribly for funding. We wanted to help a program that needed help, where our donation dollars would make a difference and be noticed.  

Midcourse Correction Challenge Camps stood out easily as the choice. It was started over 20 years ago for at-risk teens, ages 11-17. This is exactly the age where Dan began his descent and this is the critical time to get things turned around.  It has a military structure, so that the teens are able to learn self-control. The military aspect makes it highly structured and supervised, but also it’s positive, and unlike other camps, does not tear teens down.  

We quickly learned that this is not a camp that just barks orders. They teach teens to take responsibility for their actions, while learning tools for life.  They do a series of hands-on, group based activities that teach goal setting, trust, communication, doing hard things, depending on, and working with others, and how to respect themselves, and authority. The teens are shown where they are heading based on the choices that they are making. The teens will gain new levels of self-esteem as well as respect for others.  The program is tough, physically, but also mentally.  It really gets the teens to examine their choices and behavior, and where it will get them.  Too many teens lack motivation, make up rules as they go, and live in the moment.  Midcourse is designed to wake these teens up, and get them on the right path, and prevent as many of these Dan stories as they can.  Most of the teens that attend camp are forever changed.

Midcourse also provides outreach to the teens after they leave camp.  There is follow up with the teens to see how they are doing.  If they aren’t doing well, they will make house calls to the teen’s home, or have phone conversations with the teen to try and get them back on track.  They also have a mentoring program called Honor Company where the teens can come back and learn about things like; integrity, charity, relationships, and self-control.  They are very steadfast when it comes to not giving up on teens.  They also provide parenting classes to help bring some peace and stability into these homes; this program truly cares about results and the teens it mentors.   

We spoke to the director of Midcourse, Rich Wood, several times as well as a staff member. We found that Midcourse separates itself from so many other programs.  Rich has a strong Christian influence that helps him guide this mission.  Rich and the staff have a passion and conviction to make a difference in the lives of young people.  It was apparent that Midcourse runs on limited funds.  Any amount we can give or can draw to their program is needed and will be used to help a teen have a chance to better their live.  

Each year Midcourse has to turn away hundreds of kids, because their parents cannot afford the $425 to send them for the weekend camp.  If even one of these teens end up like Dan, that is one too many.  This will be an annual donation on Dan’s birthday, August 12th.  Please consider if this is a worthwhile contribution for you.  The youth of today are the true future of tomorrow, these teens, if not turned around are not going to be the good guys in society.

Most boot camps are unforgiving in nature. Most boot camps are extremely expensive.  This one is neither. Counseling is expensive and many teens won’t go.  This option does not involve either.  Counseling did not help Dan or save him from dying.  Dan never went to a camp like this. Getting teens out of their element and peer group and to this Camp can be critical.  Maybe a camp like this would have saved Dan; we will never know.  Giving a tax free donation in any amount to this program is a way to find out.   It is helping a parent that can’t afford to send a child to camp but needs to or a teen that is willing to go but can’t afford to.  Are you willing to throw money in the pot to make someone’s community safer?  

At-risk teens need to know that they can change. This needs to happen before they throw their lives away. This program brings about positive results. Maybe all kids can’t be saved, but maybe your dollar will be the one that saves a lost soul like Dan before the phone rings and brings news that he is not coming home again…ever.

Donations can be sent to:
Midcourse Correction
Attn: Dan Bronold Memorial Fund          
833 E Grand River Ave
Howell, MI 48843          * Note:  The opening page of the video should state the name of the                                                               camp as Midcourse Correction Challenge Camp.                                  
Make checks payable to :Midcourse Correction.
Put: Dan Bronold Memorial Fund in Memo  section of check or on note w/check (or can call directly to put on credit card for donating for this fund)              
Midcourse is a non-profit organization; your donations are tax deductible.
You will receive a receipt from MCC.  
Please contact them directly 810-227-0243 for CC Payments.