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The Learning Center

For 22 years, young people with academic, behavioral, and relationship challenges have turned to The Learning Center, a Crossroads for Youth program in Oxford. Through therapies, mentoring, confidence-building, and academic exercises, most emerge from the day treatment program with futures that sparkle brighter than they (and their families) ever imagined possible. 
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable?
Crossroads for Youth President Janet McPeek: It’s The Learning Center’s inclusion of the parents and any important extended family in a child’s treatment -- it might be a grandparent, a close cousin, or siblings. It can include a neighbor, a youth pastor, a coach, or a community member -- anyone who is closely involved with the child. If we start that way in the beginning, there is no big transition when the kids leave our program because we already have support in place. That is so important.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
In the last year, we have learned how important it is to address the trauma that our kids have experienced and how to use that knowledge to help them build social skills. These are skills designed to focus on character development and are skills that they can take with them and use long after they leave us. These, we have learned, are tools that help a child recognize that he or she is has power and control over their own life decisions.
Anyone who works in the helping profession naturally wants to jump in and help, but we need to let this positive change belong to the child and the family.

We are nationally accredited, and this is the year that we were re-accredited; it was final in May. For the prior nine months that we spent preparing for this, we were conducting self-evaluations. We do this regularly, but this year’s evaluations were very intense; we only do this every four years, and it led to some good realizations. We examined what worked, what didn’t work, and why.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
That we absolutely cannot do this work for the child. Anyone who works in the helping profession naturally wants to jump in and help, but we need to let this positive change belong to the child and the family. We want this progress to be self-sustained, so we use a choice-theory model that really works if everyone on our team is consistent in creating an environment that that supports the child’s growth. There is a reason for everything that happens to a child; we want to help change their thinking, because so many of them come to us believing that their difficulties are completely external.
We want to help them change that way of thinking and to recognize how much internal control they actually have over what happens to them, to show them that there are things they can control, things that they can do to make what happens to them turn out different. It is so cool when I see that happen for a child – and for the family.
What really differentiates this program?
It is very community-focused. Our kids do community service work. They volunteer in nursing homes, they help with local clean-up programs, and they set-up for community events. This is important, because they are going home to their own community every night. If you feel connected to your community, you will make different choices. Good choices that have a positive impact on their communities.
This is a fantastic way to build self-esteem, because children who have problems don’t believe that they’ll be seen differently even if they change. So when people are thanking them and appreciating the service work they do, they start to believe.
What are the keys to success for your program?
It’s flexibility. We are able to take a wide range of students and individualize services for them within the program. The best group treatments, the best individual treatments, everything.
For example, we had a young lady who hadn’t been successful in school, in her home relationships, or in forming
You either survive as a team or you donít survive as a team, and these kids do. They end up learning together, laughing together, working together, and hugging each other.
relationships with friends. She didn’t talk much. She kept everything bottled up. But she had a great interest in art, and we were able to take that interest, that talent, to help her open up and express her feelings. She liked to talk about her drawings, and that helped her talk about other things and to speak for herself when she needed help.
Her academics improved. Her art teacher saw her as a good student, so she began to realize that maybe the rest of her teachers could, too. That outlet continued to help her after she left, and it is also something viable for her to consider when she chooses an occupation.
How does diversity affect the work of your program?
Often, there are troubles initially. Some kids come to the program with preconceived ideas or prejudices. But we serve a wide range of the population; they are boys and girls who range in age from 11 to 19. They come from many different socio-economic backgrounds, different ethnic backgrounds, and they are of all races.
They are a very broad spectrum of ages, skills, and abilities, and we have up to 25 kids at each Learning Center location; they spend a lot of time together. These are 12-hour days -- a couple of hours before school and a couple more after school for six days a week. On non-school days, even on the day after Thanksgiving, they spend the entire 12 hours with us, and this program sometimes lasts an entire school semester. They really have to work together in team-building and problem-solving activities.  
We have also have a staff, including masters-level therapists, that is well trained in diversity. They intentionally teach and address diversity appreciation and the value of diversity as well as the mutual respect that comes with that.
You either survive as a team or you don’t survive as a team, and these kids do. They end up learning together, laughing together, working together, and hugging each other. Things really change as they get to know each other – and that is a wonderful thing to see.
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  • Crossroads for Youth
    Believing all youth are at risk, Crossroads for Youth strengthens families and youth with skills and tools so they become valued contributors in their communities.


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