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Increase in troubled teens leads to new Prodigal youth program
troubled teens

After pandemic-related stress led to an increase in troubled teens locally, a new program at Prodigal Sons and Daughters in Turlock is helping them “Rise Up.”

The nonprofit, faith-based addiction recovery ministry has helped promote youth drug prevention and education since 2014 through its Tactical intervention Program — a system utilized by Turlock Unified School District as an alternative to suspension for junior high and high school students who are found with drugs on campus. 

The program has found resounding success over the years, said Prodigal’s Director of Youth Care Kris Loera, but this past year has seen the number of students attending double. After a year of quarantining at home, Prodigal began receiving more TIP referrals than ever once students returned to school. 

“Instead of one or two students attending the program, there were four to five attending at the same time,” Loera said. 

During a meeting with TUSD administration in March, Loera was told the district anticipated increased anxiety and stress in students as they returned to school. She began to develop a new program, The Rise Up Program, to serve as an extension to TIP and help alleviate students’ struggles.

“We noticed that when these students discovered their motivation to use drugs was similar to their peers, such as peer pressure, anxiety, stress or family hardships, they began to feel understood and supported by the others in their group,” Loera said. “We saw a need to add another social dynamic to our drug education program and this is how the Rise Up Program came to be.”

Loera said the new program is unique because it addresses topics most teens will experience, or already have. Through open-group discussions and activities on topics like aggression, boundaries and even the prefrontal cortex, it’s the organization’s hope that students can develop self-esteem and learn to process and manage their emotions.

“With support and youth empowerment, our goal is to meet each student where they are at and guide them towards a healthy lifestyle that they have envisioned on their own,” Loera said. 

Topics for the program were chosen by analyzing what drives students to use drugs. Loera said that Prodigal staff saw a recurring pattern among students who did so, with peer pressure and anxiety being frequent contributors. The root cause of drug use, however, was that students were experiencing a multitude of stressors but keeping it to themselves and suppressing their emotions. 

“Once they processed their emotions, they began to detect the triggers for their drug use and understand the root cause,” Loera said. 

Along with topics that focus on mental health and how to deal with various stressors, drug education is still part of the Rise Up Program curriculum. 

“Because this program is geared towards all high school students, not only those referred through our drug education program, we know that we may have students who have not yet experimented with drugs at all,” Loera said. “We believe by still educating these students, it may prevent future instances where they might be peer pressured into trying a drug.”

The Rise Up Program is broken down into four sessions which last the entire school year, with each session lasting eight weeks. The program is open to all high school students, who will meet twice a week on Wednesdays and Thursdays and participate in 16 meetings total per session. 

Session 1 will take place from Aug. 18 to Oct. 7. Session 2 will begin Oct. 20 and run through Dec. 16. Session 3 will be held Jan. 5 through Feb. 24 and Session 4 will begin March 2 and end May 5. 

To sign the children up for the Rise Up Program, parents can call the Prodigal Sons and Daughters office at 209-634-3538.

“We think this is a program that students deserve — one that is entirely geared towards their wellness and designed to help them discover the support tools needed during adolescence,” Loera said. “We are dedicated to helping each student Rise Up from their current struggles and begin to walk through life with confidence and belief in themselves.”