Learning what it takes to be an adult: Canaan Valley programs teach life skills
CANAAN VALLEY -- When Brianna Clements graduated from high school, the 17-year-old packed up her belongings and moved out of her parents’ home. But instead of leaving for a job or to start college, she made a conscious choice to leave her support system and become homeless.
“It was kind of my own deal. I felt like I was departing from family. I just kind of left … . I lived in my car for about seven months in Wisconsin [Clements’ home state],” she said.
Now 20, Clements is preparing to finish Applewood Transitions, a program in Canaan Valley designed to teach young women real-life skills to help them transition to adulthood.
Clements said by the time she returned home, she was facing a heap of legal trouble for shoplifting, and that’s when her parents informed her that she would be moving to West Virginia.
Since she started the program, “it’s been an up-and-down road for me. There are some days I wake up here and I don’t want to be here. [But] I feel confident about what I can do. They’ve helped me a lot. They really have.”
Applewood Transitions is one of three coaching-model programs operated by Q&A Associates, Inc., founded in October 2010 by Angie Shockley, whose experience includes serving as the executive director of the former Alldredge Academy from 2003-06.
“I really had no intentions of doing this at all. None. This has been a very organic process,” Shockley said. “From the relationships that I had built through the many years of working in the therapeutic industry … I started getting these calls saying ‘Hey can you work with this client?’ And it just sort of turned into my business.”
After gaining years of therapy experience – ranging from teaching English at the Elkins Mountain Schools in Randolph County to developing programs for Eckerd, one of the largest youth and family service organizations in the U.S. – Shockley developed a life skills curriculum to help young people struggling to transition from adolescence to adulthood. The current client population ranges in age from 17-30, and together the programs average 20 clients at a time.
Applewood Transitions helps young women, The Journey WV assists young men and Cabin Mountain Living Center aids young men and women who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder to achieve the highest level of self sufficiency based on individual needs.
The Applewood clients are housed in the Applewood Inn. Together the Applewood clients and staff operate a breakfast restaurant open seven days a week, The Breakfast Nook, on the second floor of the inn. Clements is now the manager of the Nook and oversees her fellow clients who cook, clean and wait tables. She also counts inventory, monitors money and orders food.
“We help them, but they do everything,” Shockley said. “It’s about them learning these things in a real life environment, which is why we have businesses that they work in, which is why we immerse them in the community, which is why they go to the bank. We don’t have a fake bank. They actually go to the bank and they have to talk to somebody and open an account and they have to manage their account.”
Clients of Journey WV live on an active farm on Cortland Road in Canaan Valley. Again under guidance of Q&A staff, the clients are responsible to tending to the farm’s daily needs, which includes raising pigs, chickens and horses. Both programs have large gardens that clients learn how to tend.
Shockley said four clients are enrolled in Cabin Mountain Living. Clients share a two-bedroom condominium located across from Applewood Inn at the entrance of Land of Canaan, a timeshare condominium resort in Canaan Valley. Cabin Mountain clients do not live with a mentor, but a staff member is always in the condominium next door to check on them and administer their medications.
Besides working at The Breakfast Nook, where Journey and Cabin Mountain clients are also able to work, clients can work at Q’s Corner, a thrift store in Davis, which Shockley and her husband, Matt, own. Matt’s company, Valley Productions, purchased Deerfield Restaurant and Pub and Deerfield Mini Golf in Canaan Valley, and many clients are employees there as well.
Journey client Jake Bello, 17, said he wants to go to culinary school after he completes the program. After he received his food handler’s certification, Bello began cooking at the Nook and Deerfield. He is also working to earn his TASC [ formerly known as GED].
Before beginning the Journey program, Bello participated in two clinical substance abuse treatment facilities. Growing up in Miami, Florida, Bello said he started using a variety of hard drugs by the time he was 14, and by 16 he had entered his first treatment program.
“If you are motivated and want to work, they [Q&A mentors] will get you a job, but you have to be motivated,” Bellow said.
“It’s a big step for me because I came from lock-down places. I’m in the real world now. I could go run and find drugs if I wanted to. This is a good step … . It will help me get a little stronger.”
Shockley, who has a master’s in educational leadership, said she only accepts clients who want to be in the program. “I still do a lot of assessing before I accept a client …. I ask them, ‘Why should I let you come?’ So I know what their level of buy-in is.
“All of these kids have been in multiple therapeutic environments before they get here. They’ve had more therapy than most people have in a lifetime. They have to build resiliency. They have to learn how to fail and succeed from that failure. They have to learn to make decisions on their own and employ their critical thinking skills.”
Shockley said all clients learn responsibility to maintain a full-time job or multiple part-time jobs and are encouraged to apply for jobs outside of the four businesses that she and her husband operate. All clients learn how to build a resume, establish a checking account, buy groceries and cook healthy meals for him or herself.
Clients complete a weekly life skills class with head life coach Sandy Schmiedeknecht, who holds a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling and who helped Shockley develop the programs’ curriculum.
Q&A Associates has a full-time staff of 19 and all are considered “mentors” to the programs’ clients. At all times a mentor lives with and oversees clients in the Applewood and Journey programs.
Shockley said they do not have any psychologists or psychiatrists on staff. “We’re not a diagnostic facility.”
But because young adult brains can change between the ages of 18-25, Q&A recommends all clients undergo a new psychological evaluation. For psychological treatment, staff members transport clients to a psychiatrist in Winchester, Virginia, that bills clients’ families directly.
She said the for-profit, privately-owned business is not regulated by the Department of Health and Human Resources because of its size and form of treatment. Because the program is for legal adults and because of its small size, it is not considered a group home. Shockley said this is a benefit as it allows clients to receive individualized treatment.
According to Shockley, 49 people have successfully completed one of the three programs operated by Q&A Associates. Only three clients have failed to complete. Shockley said two of the clients left for more assessment and evaluations in a clinical setting.
“We realized that they were not appropriate for our setting. This is something that will happen at times because not every client has an accurate diagnosis,” Shockley said.
Shockley did not identify the third client, but said that he was removed from the program immediately after stealing a four wheeler when a group of clients was on a camping trip in Randolph County. That individual is currently serving jail time for his crime.
“If they were perfect, they wouldn’t be there,” Shockley said. She ensured that all clients, “are not criminals. They have no history of violence, no criminal histories and no sexual misconduct.”
“Ninety percent of clients in Applewood and Journey are going to move out on their own and live their own lives. They are going to be fine. They have some challenges. They have to learn some coping mechanisms, but they are going to be OK,” Shockley said.
Many of the Cabin Mountain clients have a dual diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder with an additional condition. For those clients, Shockley said, “They are never going to be able to be 100 percent independent, [but] they don’t need to be institutionalized. They can work part-time jobs. They can have a high quality of life.”
She added, “The world is not going to stop turning when someone hits 18 or 21 or 25. The world is going to keep turning and what are you going to do? Are you going to continue to live in it as an adolescent or are you going to actually be an adult? My whole goal here is to help them live the highest quality of life that they can achieve.”
To learn more about Q&A Associates, visit qa-associates.com.
Reach Anna Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5100.