By Jeff Adair
Wednesday, January 15, 2003
FRAMINGHAM -- The staff at a group home for boys in Nobscot near the Sudbury town line won't accept any excuses for failure.
"I believe excuses are not an option," said Michael Branch, a counselor who has worked at the home for 11 years. "Just because you come from a single-parent home shouldn't hold you back."
The 10 teens who live in the home, a transitional facility run by Brandon Residential Treatment Center, are in the care of the Department of Social Services, and come from situations of physical or sexual abuse or neglect.
"We deal with reality with these kids," Branch added. "I try to keep it real."
As someone who had a hard time as a youth, Branch knows the trials and tribulations that many of the boys face. He and the 11 other staff members work hard each day helping the boys, ages 14-18, to deal with their emotions, gain job skills, and be successful in their academics.
Last month, the Resiliency for Life program at Framingham High School honored the Nobscot home for being a constructive force for the teens and an asset to the Framingham community.
As winner of the "Resiliency for Life Award," the residents and their families dined on a catered meal, and the home received $1,000, a new PlayStation 2 for the house, and several items that appeared on the boys' wish lists.
The award "means a lot," said Bob Reid, senior supervisor at Nobscot. "One, I didn't expect it. It's a reflection of what we're doing well.
"I know this program works well," he added, giving credit to the staff. "I like these guys. I just like what they bring. They have something to offer these kids."
Most people, unless they have dealt with troubled youth, don't understand the importance or value of such programs, said Dr. Tim Callahan, executive director of Brandon, a residential facility and day school based in Natick.
"I think Nobscot does a wonderful job working with kids at stage where they need to complete high school, get a job, manage issues like getting a driver's license....It goes to show that these kids can be kept and served in their home communities."
He said the local schools and the community have done a "fantastic job." He said Framingham is one of the more engaged communities, and is equipped to help, rather than simply ship kids off to programs elsewhere.
Located on the top of a steep hill next to the Boy Scout camp on Edgell Road, the large stately home fits in with the neighborhood. If it weren't for the multiple cars and Brandon center van in the driveway, a visitor would have a hard time telling it's a group home.
Unlike Brandon's four other off-campus residences, the Nobscot home serves boys who have been re-integrated into the public schools and the larger community.
Like a traditional home, the boys have chores -- washing dishes, taking out the trash, and cleaning the bathroom, for example -- and spend part of their evenings studying or working.
The teens live with one or two roommates, and can have their own radios, TVs and VCRs. Each night, the staff makes a room check to ensure no one has tried to sneak in illegal substances.
The house uses a three-level system that allows the teens more freedom as they prove they're responsible.
Some of the teens come from foster homes, others come from more restrictive homes run by Brandon, and others are DSS wards who at 18 plan to live on their own, or to continue their education at a state college.
Several of the teens attend Framingham High, Keefe Tech or schools in surrounding communities.
The school has a "real good" relationship with Framingham High staff, said Reid. Each week, the staff checks with the vice principals and staff to see how each child is doing.
Outside the school, the Brandon staff also tries to build a rapport with neighbors -- some of whom, they say, are not thrilled the home is there -- and with community officials, and businesses.
"We're very proactive," said Reid. "Communication is very big in this business."
He has heard the typical stereotypes of group homes, that the kids are all bad and are up to nothing but trouble. There have been cases where some of the boys have caused trouble, Reid said, recalling an incident a year ago when a boy stole DVDs from a variety store in Nobscot Plaza.
The owner called Reid and told him he caught the boy on videotape. However, since staff members had introduced themselves before, the owner did not press charges and allowed the boy to apologize and pay restitution.
"We want people to know that we hold these kids accountable and will not look the other way," he said.
Mentors make difference
Ron Reid, Bob's brother, the person in charge of building business contacts, said over the years, many employers have hired a number of youngsters from the Brandon home.
One of the key ingredients to the program's success, said Bob Reid, is the staff is older and many of the guys have day jobs working as school teachers, probation officers and in other professions. Many are old friends who play ball together on a semipro football team in Boston.
"They have something to offer," Reid said. "They're in a mentoring role."
He said the youth, who are of all races, black, white and Latino, respect the guys because they can relate to their situations. He said it also helps that many of the counselors are black.
"With a lot of programs you don't see a lot of black professionals," said Reid. "That's a quality that's overlooked."
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