VOL. 126 | NO. 44 | Friday, March 4, 2011
Metamorphoses Targets Memphis’ At-Risk Boys
By Aisling Maki
When the national news media early this year zeroed in on reports of high rates of pregnancy among Memphis’ adolescent girls and the programs being implemented to address the issue, many Memphians asked, “So, what about the boys?”
A solid response was unveiled this week during an event highlighting the launch of a three-month, character-building, behavioral-modification pilot program designed to set the Memphis area’s at-risk young men on the path to responsible adulthood.
The pilot, conducted with the support of the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County, is steered by Metamorphoses Inc., a grassroots nonprofit organization that works with troubled youth and juvenile offenders ages 11 to 17 from some of the city’s roughest neighborhoods.
Metamorphoses’ integrated treatment program addresses areas that include coping skills, anger management techniques, critical thinking, effective communication, problem solving and drug and alcohol awareness.
Its evidence-based curriculum was developed by the Change Companies, which works to help modify the behavior of juvenile offenders and troubled youth, and whose products are used nationwide by organizations that address issues such as substance abuse and criminal behavior.
Metamorphoses founder and executive director James Robinson, father of four sons, served for several years as a volunteer mentor in the local juvenile court system, leading him to establish the nonprofit in 2008.
Since then, Robinson, who also works full-time as a manager at Chuck Hutton Toyota, has worked diligently to acquire support for his mission, whose collaborative pilot program was introduced formally to the community Wednesday during an event at Ridgeway Assembly of God Church, 3150 Ridgeway Road.
About 15 years ago, during a period of soul searching, Robinson discovered a tool called interactive journaling, a structured and experiential writing process said to motivate and guide participants toward positive life changes, and found to be particularly effective for youths.
The method aims to keep participants on the right path while accommodating their need to express the frustration and fears accompanied by the challenges of treatment.
“There’s clear evidence that the tools we use work,” Robinson said. “The journaling walks you through it, it asks you why you’re here, and allows you to get things out of your head and on paper. It shows you how you need to conduct yourself and change your way of thinking. It’s a participants’ guide to guide you through positive change.”
Many Metamorphoses participants have active cases with the Juvenile Court of Memphis and Shelby County, which has lent its support to the nonprofit. In a July letter to Robinson, Juvenile Court Judge Curtis Person wrote that he fully supports “the services provided by your fine organization. I wish you all the best in your sponsorship endeavors and appreciate your services and dedication to the children and youth in Memphis and Shelby County.”
Robinson said the program has already proven to be successful with local juvenile offenders.
After high school senior Brandon Gladney wound up in Juvenile Court, his mother steered him toward the Metamorphoses program. Gladney, the father of two young sons, has participated in the program for the past five months. Metamorphoses has equipped him with the emotional and intellectual tools to handle more responsibility for his future and the lives of his children.
“I feel like it makes me more calm and more able to push stuff to the side without having a problem and getting mad,” Gladney said. “I feel like it helps me out a lot. Going through the program changed a lot for me. I haven’t gotten into any kind of trouble since I’ve been in this program, and I’m not looking forward to getting into any more.”
Zellner Brown, a busy account executive for ClearChannel Radio, enrolled her 14-year-old son in the program as a pre-emptive strike against what she described as changes in behavior that raised a red flag.
Her son had not been involved in any criminal activity, but she’d become unsettled by her son’s choice of friends, and said he was displaying noticeable behaviors that indicated an attitude of dumbing down to be cool.
Brown said she brought her son to Metamorphoses’ program “so he can see where he’s on the road to if he doesn’t make changes.”
Brown found significant value in the program’s peer-setting aspect, saying about the boys, “Sometimes they hear each other better than they hear us.”
Robinson said he’s grateful to Ridgeway Assembly of God Church for hosting 20 to 25 Metamorphoses program participants each week. But he hopes his organization will soon find the home base and funding it needs to thrive and continue to impact the lives of young men in the Memphis community.
“We’re looking for sponsorships to help pay for the program, because everything I do is out of my own pocket right now,” Robinson said. “We’re also looking for a building, if anyone could help donate space. We’re saving taxpayers money by keeping these youths out of the juvenile justice system.”