Sometimes it’s the low-tech methods that are stunningly innovative.
Take the “marriage” of Crossroads Youth (a 15-bed modified therapeutic community home for boys ages 15 through 18 who have significant chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health problems), and Crossfit West Springfield (a core strength and conditioning program).
Located in Fairfax County, Crossroads Youth is the only adolescent program in the community that serves boys at this level. The program’s typical length of stay ranges from 90 days to six months.
Family counselor Daniel Rodriguez put this marriage together. “I really believe that fitness and recovery go hand in hand. Addiction affects all aspects of your life,” he said. “The same chemical reaction in the brain when you puff a joint of weed or something else — you can get that from a good workout.”
Sometimes, he said, there’s a dual relationship going: the kids see role models, such as military men and women and police officers, and say “I want to be like them.” And sometimes, said Rodriguez, “the trainers see themselves in these kids, thinking about when one of those role models helped them.”
As all connected with this pilot program point out, it provides these teens with a healthy alternative to unhealthy behaviors.
While the program is the same for the entire group, trainers scale the workout to each teen’s ability, such as when they lift weights. They also provide nutrition advice.
Anywhere from six to nine teens arrive at Crossfit West Springfield every Friday night. Their trainer, Alicia McKenzie, initially didn’t know what to expect. “I was a little nervous and slightly terrified,” she said, “because we’ve got these at-risk kids coming.”
Now whenever she talks about this group, her face lights up.
“From when they first walked in to this moment,” she said, “the change is remarkable. Our hope is — we want to show them there’s a better way to live. Something different.”
With rolling admission to Crossroads Youth every six months, this group will be the first to complete the Crossfit program.
David Simmons is the Crossroads Youth Site Director. “I want to give the kids an opportunity to experience a positive social group and to get back into physical as well as mental health,” he said. “Because addiction robs you of your spiritual as well as your physical and mental health, this is an opportunity for the kids to try out another avenue for their recovery.”
At roughly $400 a month for the whole group (a reduced rate offered by Crossfit West Springfield), it is, said Simmons, “tax money well spent.” He added: “At a time when people are very concerned about raising taxes, this is not a proposition I went into lightly. Our program has a goal where we want to expose our kids to a bunch of different ways to achieve and maintain sobriety so this is one of them.”
When asked what he thought would happen with this group, Mike Lovett, a Crossroads Addictions Counselor, said: “I thought it was a great idea. It gives them something to look forward to, plus they’re doing it in a peer community, which is fantastic. Instead of motivating themselves to do something negative, they are motivating themselves to do something positive.” He also pointed out that participating in Crossfit “gives them another way to feel better — not through drug use.”
Rodriguez added: “These kids are happier, they feel better about themselves, they look better. No one knows that magic answer to helping a kid stay clean, so the more things you can put in front of that recovering person — to gain some self-worth, to move to an alternative life style — the better.”
“The health of any individual relies upon a balance of both physical and mental well-being. They cannot be separated,” George Braunstein, executive director of the Fairfax/Falls Church Community Service Board, said about the program.
Issa, 17, is one of the enthusiastic participants. He’s no stranger to exercise — football, basketball, weight training — but he said at these sessions, “I get a better workout. Hard work pays off — that’s where the reward comes from. You get a sense of fulfillment — a natural high. I really do enjoy it.”
He and Jacob, also 17, another Friday night regular, talked at length about the importance of exercise. “Let me give you a metaphor,” said Issa. “If you don’t grease your bike over the years, it will wear out. Same thing with your body.” Only the “grease” is exercise, he said.
Jacob — his background includes weight training, lacrosse, wrestling — said he’d always wanted to stay physically fit, “but here at Crossfit it gave me the most motivation.” He plans to keep coming to the studio once he returns home.
Both teens said that their good feelings stem not just from working out on Friday nights, but also waking up on Saturday morning “knowing you’ve accomplished something the day before.”
And those not used to exercise could take a note from Issa: “People think that there’s something wrong with being sore, but I think it’s great.” Jacob cautions, however, that “it’s a process — you don’t get instant muscles.”
What, if anything, did Jacob and Issa like the least about these sessions?
They are, both agreed, way too short.