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Former Marcus adviser creates safe place for teenage girls – Cross Timbers Gazette | Denton County South | mound of flowers

As the student aid counselor at Marcus High School in Flower Mound until last June, Michelle Schwolert referred many students each month to facilities and programs to help them solve problems they didn’t could not solve on their own. Although some symptoms and behaviors have been brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, too many have occurred even before that.

“They were going to residential programs, inpatient hospitals, and day programs (otherwise known as PHP or partial hospitalization programs). I was talking about so many students, but when they came back to school, we saw gaps in treatment,” she said. “No reviews were expected, the need was so high and program space was limited. The children seemed over-medicated, over-diagnosed, insufficiently supported and ill-prepared for reintegration. treatment. It was a vicious circle.”

Then, in early 2021, four former Marcus students died of either accidental overdose or suicide.

“After hearing the news of the fourth death, I remember sitting at my desk, hanging up the phone, and with pain in my chest and tears in my eyes, I said out loud:” I can’t watch this happen anymore”. I don’t know what it means or what it feels like, maybe I can only help one child at a time, but I know I can’t sit still and keep watching it happen,” Schwolert described.

After assessing the greatest needs and obtaining funding from extended family in California, the Highland Village resident and her family decided to develop an immersive and therapeutically intense family program to cleanse, equip and empower teens struggling with mental illness. substance abuse and mental health issues. Schwolert’s description of cleansing not only includes detoxification from drugs, but also from technology, social media, toxic relationships, and unhealthy personal and physical habits, among others.

The result was the Roots Teenager Renewal Ranch which opened Nov. 1 in Argyle in memory of his brother Nathan, who died a year earlier of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 33.

“We learned that we are one of only two programs in Texas, and one of only a few nationwide, that offers residential treatment specifically for teenage girls,” Schwolert said. “I still don’t know the reason for this, but I strongly believe in a gender-specific place where they can feel safe with minimal distraction.

“In every element of our program, we are very committed to making sure that girls hear, feel, believe and know that they are ENOUGH. Even our staff wear shirts every day with the affirmations “You are enough”, “ Your story matters”, “You are powerful”, “You can do difficult things”, and “You are loved”. We also use our own version of the Serenity Prayer, the “Serenity Prayer You Are Enough”.

Taylor Brown, Clinical Director of Roots Adolescent Renewal Ranch, and Alfredo the donkey.

Roots addresses the essential components of the program thanks in large part to 30 staff members, including a director of education, chefs, care coordinators, experiential counselors, mental health counselors, nurses and other experts medical. Some are family members, including his sister Rebecca, who is a compliance officer, and her husband Matt, Marcus’ former teacher and assistant golf coach, who teaches clients life skills and outdoor experiences and manages the property. Matt’s brother Tom, his wife Melanie and their daughter Zoey also contribute.

In less than a year, they have helped 34 girls from all over the country with an average stay of 89 days. Each girl receives three daily meals, daily educational services, individual, group and family therapy, life skills, medication management, psychiatric and medical services, art/yoga/music/spiritual/equine therapy and many outdoor experiences, thanks in part to 49 animals housed on the 6.5 acre property. Staff also work closely with the girls’ school counselors to keep them focused on their academic journey.

“About three weeks before Nathan died, we talked about starting some sort of program in our community for teens and young adults to try and stop drug use and self-harm before it became an addiction. physiological, because once it gets to that point, the disease is very difficult to manage,” Schwolert said.

“Nathan has completed almost 10 programs over his 20 years of addiction, ranging from 30 days in rehab to a 13 month stint in federal prison and many more in between. As family members, we felt that the family component and support was generally lacking.

“When Nathan and I discussed what would make our program most effective, there were a few key elements that he considered important. It wasn’t about being punitive, it was about ensuring accountability with the He said if he could follow the rules he wouldn’t be in a treatment center He said we also need to treat staff well to avoid burnout as turnover breaks continuity of care and basically clients have to start all over again.The other big thing was the need to get to the root of the problem, the root of why they’re using drugs, why they’re cutting, why they’re restricting food, why they are selling photos of themselves on social media, why they are avoiding school and family and healthy relationships.

The “whys” are usually created by negative childhood experiences (or traumas) such as sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, dependent family members, sudden loss and grief, incarcerated parents, deceased or divorced, or many other family issues.

“We use a traumatic approach with every client we treat,” Schwolert said. “During our intensive family weekends, we do activities like family sculpting and genograms, basically a spider graph to show a visual of genetic issues (at least three generations), especially addiction and mental illness. Customers are able to visibly see that the problems did not come from them.

Roots focuses on how to fix future generations by breaking the generational cycle. This includes being affectionately tough on parents when necessary.

“I’m really proud of our clinical team in that they hold the whole family accountable to identify the cause and be part of the solution. I think that’s one of the reasons we’re efficient; the kids see that,” she said. “They realize that we believe they are not the cause of the problem. It’s a family system problem. I think they feel defended and that’s why they are ready to do the job.

“And the client must realize that it is not the parents’ intention to harm him. They also have an ability. Hurt people hurt people, and not on purpose, but they too are a result of their childhood environment and genetic history.

Another of Schwolert’s goals is to wean girls off drugs instead of relying on them, because they should be seen as a tool in the toolbox, not the only solution.

To help girls transition from Roots to reintegration into “normal life,” he recently added a PHP option, allowing patients to stay overnight at home, creating the ability to serve nine clients in the residential program and 16 in PHP.

“I’m very optimistic and hopeful because teenage brains are so elastic,” said Schwolert, who served on the Highlands Village Planning and Zoning Committee from 2007 to 2012 (chairman in 2011-2012). and on city council from 2012 to 2018, serving as interim mayor from 2014 to 2018. “We just need to calm it down, stabilize it, and retrain it by processing, processing, and purging the traumatic memories.”

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