Over at Goodwin House in Chicopee, there’s a lot of growth happening. Last May, CHD opened this new residential treatment program for boys ages 13-17 struggling with substance use disorder. Like any new endeavor, the program is putting down roots. The clinicians and other staff are learning what works, finding their groove, and doing their best to serve the boys and families in the program. (Only the boys reside at Goodwin House, but their families are directly involved and absolutely part of the program.)
The boys at Goodwin House are still in early recovery, but all are showing signs of positive growth. Some of them have been in residence for several weeks. For them, the reasons why they’re here—and the ways they can continue to move forward—are making sense to them. Because of their progress, they are able to take on some responsibility as role models or peer mentors to the boys who are just arriving at Goodwin House.
As a way to get the residents to make a personal investment in the program and give something back, the boys were given a job to do: plant a garden. “There are all kinds of therapeutic reasons why planting a garden can be valuable for boys in residential treatment,” said Chantal Silloway, M.A., LADC 1, Program Director for CHD Goodwin House. “Being able to plant something living, to see it grow and change, and even eat the produce at end of season, helps the boys realize that things change. They see for themselves that they have skills they can use to give back and make positive change happen. It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, but with nurturing it can happen.”
All eight boys currently in residence at Goodwin House were involved with the garden project in some capacity. Some raked, tilled ground and removed rocks to prepare the area. Others built the garden boxes. They all put dirt and compost in the boxes and put the plants in the ground. The residents will continue to till that area, and this fall they will not only harvest some produce but also put in some perennials that will come back year to year, long after they have left Goodwin House.
All of the boys at Goodwin House are attending school at Liberty Academy in Springfield. “It’s a great model,” said Silloway. “Liberty Academy has space for up to 50 kids and we are the first residential program to send all our kids to one school. Goodwin House is the only male program in the state for our age group and we’re proud to be innovating in so many ways.”
The metaphors for planting and growth and harvest are plentiful—and applicable to the good things happening at Goodwin House. Here’s another example. The boys spend time together in the Group Room, where they’re supportive and accountable to one another. On the wall in that room they are painting a tree where each boy can paint his name on one of the leaves. “They realize it’ll be a message from them for the young men who arrive after they have left Goodwin House,” said Silloway. “The idea is that they can leave a positive mark—their name, their identity—on the tree that everyone who comes in will see. Each name is a sign of growth and hope to the next youth who comes in.”
Things can grow strong and healthy. Things can change for the better. And so can people. You just need to plant a few seeds.