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A Mental Health Hero: Pastor Amanda Oppenhuizen

POSTED June 9, 2017 6:55 p.m.

As a society, each of us is challenged every day.  Our children face challenges that much greater.  The forces of evil pulling at them are relentless.  And, with the legalization of recreational marijuana, over time the proponents will come to understand how this will devastate future generations of children and adults.

Today, the average child must balance the demands of being like their peers vs. what they believe, intuitively, to be right.  They are seeing peers experimenting with marijuana, alcohol, heroin and other drugs. 

Add to this the gender challenges that many children face. Pre-teens who self-identify as they seek acceptance, trying to understand their own bodies while too often unable to speak with a parent or religious leader about their feelings.

The teenage years have always been tough.  Rare is the person who escaped this time without drama. While most survive unscathed, the experiences of the teen years greatly influence our behavior and our process of thinking, and can have an impact on us that lasts the rest of our lives.

Sometimes, a child’s environment can send him or her down a path of immense suffering.  Abuse, the death of a parent, divorce, being jilted by a girlfriend or boyfriend – these events may drive some to escape through the pain-numbing salve of drugs or alcohol. Others may simply be looking for acceptance.  You sprinkle a little guilt on top of this and the road less traveled becomes one more frequented.

Why is this an important topic to discuss?  Summer is upon us and with school out, children are spending more time alone.  It is important to be aware of what your child is doing every day.  This is very personal to me because my friend Jonathan was one of these kids.  The product of a divorce, he felt responsible for what happened – though of course he was not.  He sought comfort in drugs.  It started with marijuana and escalated into harder drugs. In the end, he became addicted to crystal meth and his life became completely unmanageable.

His relationships with family and friends suffered or completely evaporated.  Over time, this impacted his ability to find a job, even one that was part time.  His self-respect and dignity were eaten away by the drugs.  And, his addiction to crystal meth led him to prostitution. Somewhere, in the middle of all that, he became HIV-positive. Testing HIV-positive completely shattered Jonathan.  Fortunately, he eventually found help, but it took a long time and he’ll never regain those years.  Today, I’m happy to say he is drug and alcohol free, celebrating his first year of sobriety.

As a nation, we have forgotten about the Jonathans of the world.  But, in Turlock and other rural and semi-rural communities, we have kids who are experimenting -- because they can. 

Prodigal Sons and Daughters sees kids like Jonathan every day.  They go there because of its reputation as a safe-haven – a place where the staff will not judge, but will instead speak with them as people.  They treat the soul, spirit and heart of the individual.  Their counselors offer kids a hand up, not a hand out.

The organization is led by Pastor Amanda Oppenhuizen, an exceptional person, professional and mom.  She spends time with each young person who walks through the door offering hope and help -- no speeches, no hell and damnation – just a caring hand.  Amanda and her team of counselors provide as much healing as someone is willing to accept.  And they do it one person at a time. Prodigal offers an oasis in Turlock.  Pastor Amanda Oppenhuizen is a gift, a friend and a spiritual leader. 

Encourage your children to spend an hour with Pastor Amanda and the team at Prodigal.  I have, and every time I am with them, my spirit is reborn and reenergized.  Imagine what she can do for a hurting child.

— Jeffrey Lewis is the President and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment (jeffrey@legacyhealthendowment.org).

 

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