Changing Young Lives at Goodwin House

“This is the first time I’ve gone bowling sober,” said the 15-year-old boy to Goodwin House Program Director Jena Cooper. A resident in Goodwin House’s 90-day program for teenage males and non-binary youth aged 13-17, he was on a recreational outing at Bowlero in Chicopee and obviously pleased that he didn’t need alcohol or drugs to have a good time.

He was just ecstatic,” said Cooper.

Goodwin House, which opened in 2017 in Chicopee, is a next step after detox where healthy coping strategies are explored and a team of clinicians and recovery specialists offer individual and group therapy, family therapy, educational tutoring, and vocational and employment search assistance.

“The younger that we’re able to provide resources and education to these youth, the more likely they will be able to be set up for success and live a healthy lifestyle,” said Cooper. The house is named for longtime CHD President and CEO Jim Goodwin, who saw the need for a gender-specific program for teenage boys. Modeled loosely after a similar facility for adolescent girls in the Worcester area, Goodwin House can accommodate up to 15 youth and is one of the only such programs in Massachusetts.

“Many people refer to males this age as boys, but I like to refer to them as young men because of their life experiences,” said Cooper. “Many of their journeys have started off very rough.” When they come to Goodwin House, it’s not uncommon for them to initially be in denial that they need help. “Sometimes the first seven days are all about, ‘I don’t want to be here. I don’t have a problem. My parents made me come here.’ I was experiencing that with one gentleman who lives here right now. But he’s changed from saying, ‘This program is trash’ to ‘Good afternoon Jena—I had a great day today,’” said Cooper with a smile.

His attitude reminds Cooper that over time, small improvements can turn into major changes.

A Step in the Right Direction

Cooper has worked for CHD since 2008, most recently as a residential program supervisor in our Adult Community and Clinical Services program. Her experience overseeing a group living environment has served her well for her current role, as does her drive to help people, which began at a young age. In addition, her own life experience of being put in a position of having to “grow up quickly” has allowed her to tap into her empathy in helping these young men change the course of their lives. Validation, she said, is important in recognizing the emotional distress caused by challenges in their lives. Many of them have suffered trauma, and as a result have co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders.

When graduates call back and thank Cooper for all Goodwin House did for them, it certainly makes her day.

“How does it feel?” she said. “To say it feels amazing is an understatement. It’s gratifying to know that Goodwin meant something to them. We had one that said, ‘I’m not doing everything correctly, but I’m not doing everything wrong, either.’ And that’s OK. They’re taking a step in the right direction.”

Cooper recalled another youth who was “a bit of a complicated case” and she speculated that he just might return to Goodwin House. “We wondered how he planned on navigating the world when he left here,” she said. As a matter of fact, he might come back to Goodwin—as a guest speaker, said Cooper, because now he is thriving. “He been very successful after his departure,” she said. “His mother called and checked in, saying he’s back in school and getting ready to enroll in an educational environment to build on his craft and trade that he is so passionate about.”

A Busy Schedule

Goodwin House residents spend their weekday mornings and early afternoons at Liberty Preparatory Academy, a recovery-focused high school in Springfield. Then, at the end of their 90-day program, a Goodwin House educational liaison helps them with the transition from Liberty back to their hometown school districts. After school, the residents have a tight schedule that involves group therapy that can include dialectical behavior therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy, and then there is dinner, chores, and possibly an AA or NA recovery meeting. But first there is “room time,” a half-hour cooling-off period. “During that time, staff members check in with them to see if there is anything they need to talk about, or help them get their spirits back up if something negative had transpired during the day,” said Cooper.

Community outings, aside from bowling, include going to the movies, and the retro arcade Prodigy in Easthampton, along with upcoming trips to an “escape room,” in which they solve a series of puzzles to find a key to unlock the room, and a “smash room”—also known as “rage room,” where customers therapeutically bust up old appliances and glass items. “They can write down things that happened in life that they are angry about, rip up the piece of paper, and then take that emotion out on TVs, vases, and plates,” she said.

When the residents leave Goodwin House, Cooper and her team prefer that each of them has a sponsor. “It’s not required, but we encourage them to get a sponsor, and part of their discharge planning is finding them a sponsor in the community they’re from, along with any other resources they might need, including support groups,” she said.

Learning Healthier Habits

It takes about a month of living at Goodwin House for some residents to take the program truly seriously, a time that staff call the adjustment period. “I always tell these young men, ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’” This is an old saying that in 1999 became known as the “Dunning-Kruger effect,” named after two social psychologists who in a study described a cognitive bias in which people overestimate their knowledge. Voluntary self-improvement requires recognizing gaps in one’s knowledge, but teenagers are notorious for ignoring advice given by parents, teachers, and other adults in their lives. Many Goodwin House residents are stubborn at first, “and then they start to realize that ‘Maybe I’m here for a reason,’” said Cooper.

The residents’ 90-day stay is in between what is considered short-term residential recovery (30-60 days) and long-term (at least 90 days). The National Institutes of Health has declared 90 days the “gold standard” in residential addiction treatment (as opposed to the old standard 30 days), because research shows that completing at least 90 days of recovery and treatment gives new habits enough time to take root.

“You’d be surprised how much they can accomplish in 90 days,” said Cooper.

Do you know any teenage boys who could benefit from the Goodwin residential program? For more information on Goodwin House, click here.