Boys & Girls Club retreat builds resiliency in children impacted by opioid crisis

Dear addiction, It turns out that children impacted by the substance abuse disorder of a loved one have a lot to say to the disease. Mentors at a groundbreaking retreat program at the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley discovered that firsthand when they asked the kids in attendance – all children indirectly affected by substance abuse- to write a letter to addiction, describing how they felt walking into the program and how they felt walking out. And consistently, one theme emerged as they finished the program … a sense of hope.

Hope is the greatest gift one can give to a child impacted by a loved one’s substance use disorder. News reports and statistics tell us the addiction crisis in our state isn’t letting up, and children are caught in the crossfire. In 2016, New Hampshire DCYF caseloads reported 51 percent (5,771) of the total accepted assessments included substance abuse as a risk factor.

And these are only the ones we are aware of. New Hampshire also reports that an annual average of 82,000 individuals ages 12 or older had an alcohol use disorder in the past year. Direct services for youth is one of the biggest gaps in the system of care relative to the addiction crisis. At the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley (BGCSV), we are here to offer hope, support, resources and services tothese children and their families.

Who is taking care of these children? Often the responsibility is shouldered by the family members – grandparents, aunts, uncles and older siblings. These family members may also be dealing with the strife of losing a child or sibling, a process involving much heartache, uncertainty and lack of knowledge about available resources.

As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, even in the best of circumstances, and to provide a healthy, secure environment for our youth and families. This is where we come in. At the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley, we have developed a unique resource for youth and families affected by the disease of addiction. This resource is the Children’s Resiliency Retreat program.

The Children’s Resiliency Retreat is a one-day retreat held each month during the school year for school age children who are affected by a loved ones’ alcohol or other drug use. Each monthly session includes educational and therapeutic knowledge, tools and coping skills designed to interfere with the intergenerational cycle of substance use disorders. Youth will participate in healing circles and build skills they need to develop strength from their own resiliency. This program provides a unique opportunity to structure learning experiences in a safe environment where young people can explore their feelings, learn they are not alone, and recognize that the stressful things impacting their families are not their fault. The program also helps participants improve skills that will create healthy visions and goals for their future. Additionally, children are able to create connections to community and learn how to find emotional help and community resources when they need them.

BGCSV piloted this program from January to June 2018 and experienced great outcomes. The letters to addiction written by the kids were proof of that: “Dear Addiction … This program at the Boys & Girls Club (of peer mentoring and outdoor adventures are important components of the retreat program.Souhegan Valley) is helping me to deal with you. I did not even know how I felt before I came here. It will help my family. My family will be stronger and there will be no more pain by you.” Another child wrote: “This program has helped me with my parents and problems with addiction. I have learned how to cope with it better than I used to. Now I have found ways to not get so upset about it all the time and ways to think about better things that happened.”

The retreats are staffed by trained mentors and licensed mental health professionals who are deeply committed to the success of the program. In addition to the supportive education sessions, each retreat has fun, educational activities that include the arts (music, arts and crafts, dance, thespianism, etc.) mindfulness activities, nature and adventure based learning, which will help them learn how to openly communicate and rebuild trust. These activities help youth develop their own toolkit for managing stress.

Addiction is a family disease as well as a community disease, and we are offering hope. At the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley, we are committed to working with the community for the development of a healthier community for youth and families. If you are a family member who has a child impacted by the disease of addiction, please offer them this gift and register them for the program. There is NO COST TO PARTICIPATE and we are currently accepting enrollments for the September -June program. If you are interested in learning about mentorship with this program, a new mentor orientation will be held at the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley, at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 22. For more information on how to enroll a child in this FREE program, or becoming a valued mentor or contributor, contact Monica Gallant at 672-1002, ext. 39 or mgallant@svbgc.org.