Monthly Archives: September 2011


dear friends and family,

Im on night watch again but you won’t get this email for awhile because of how the system is set up. Anyway, things at Shelterwood have been getting better and better. We got a new Big brother on tuesday named Kodi and we are getting another one this monday. That means that the guys house will finally be fully staffed with 10 bigs!!! Praise the Lord. Only a few weeks ago we had 6 bigs and 22 littles. We are also getting two new littles on Monday for a grand total of 23 littles.

I have gotten connected with a mentor who worked at shelterwood for 3 years , 2 years as a big and a year as a hall director. and I also joined a community group with a local acts 29 church that we go to every week called life connection.

Things have been a bit less dramatic since the switch to the point system but that doesn’t necessarily mean that things have been easy. I have realized that i often take the kids behavior toward me personally and then discipline out of frustraion instead of love. God continues to break me of my ability to function on my own, and it showing my how to rely on him.

Im completely exhausted right now so this is all im going to write for now. I will try to get some more content your way later this week.


Brian F

Once more into the breach

After a brief excursion back to reality for a wedding i find myself once again thrown, head long into confusion and chaos, or in the words of William Shakespeare, “Once more into the breach dear friends”.

On that brief excursion i had a lot of meaningful conversations and realizations as i verbally processed through my first month at shelterwood. And here are some of my discoveries.

  • When i was back in boulder sitting in a car listening to some pop music on the radio i started to listen to the words. and i did the same for the next song and the next song and then i became very solem. I realized that the kids i use to work with in youth ministry listened to this music and would at times idolize it like oh wouldn’t it be great to be rich and famous and be able to do whatever the F i want and the kids at shelter wood listen to that music and actually do it. They have bought into the lies that this society, and our media have portrayed. What was supposed to be only  the harmless “entertainment” for the youth of america became attainment, or at least the active pursuit of a lifestyle not meant to be lived by anyone. A life without boundaries and rules is not paradise, its hell, because it allows our fallen natures to do exactly that, fall. And once we start falling in a world world with no boundaries there is nothing to slow us down, (apparently the first newtonian law is applicable to children as well as physics).
  • I realized that one of the hardest things about working at shelterwood is not the kids but actually myself. Working here exposes issues, and sins that for my entire life i have been able to in one way or another, repress, suppress, ignore or avoid. In the words in William Tuell, “Not anymore your not”. On a daily basis these flaws get exposed and brought to the surface and i am placed in situations that do not allow me to ignore or deny them. The only way forward is to deal with these issues and repent.
  • For example, control, I have realized that i am a bit of a control freak and when i am not in control of a situation its really stressful. Turns out at shelterwood the only time i am consistently in control is when i am sleeping, and even then the kids like to open the windows and set off the alarm. A lot of times when the kids are acting up i realize that my desire to give them consequences comes more from my personal frustration than my desire to shape their behavior and make them into better people. This is a huge problem because these kids are amazingly perceptive and can tell when i am frustrated and disciplining out of anger vs. love.
As i was writing this a kid threw a rock through the front entrance windows… And 1 hour later now im back. I have seriously been writing this blog for like the last 3 hours and keep getting interrupted so im just going to post this thing before it happens again.
I was thinking about doing a sort of Q and A for my next blog so if you have any questions comment on the bottom of this blog and il answer it in my next one.
Love you all,
Brian F
Love yo

What im learning

Instead of describing what happened today i felt like sharing random things i have been learning.

  • When people are forced to live in an environment that they cannot control one of two things happen. You either lose hope or learn how to change your reaction to things. Interestingly i think this applies to both the Bigs and Littles in the house. A lot of the new kids have a hard time adjusting to the restrictive lifestyle that Shelterwood provides. All of the restrictions leave them feeling like they aren’t in control of their environment and subsequently lose hope and or become more depressed. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. Most kids start accepting the reality of their situation and begin to change their reaction after a couple months. Even though the staff is supposed to be in charge and running this facility control is often an illusion, especially for the bigs who are on the front line. This has been especially true the last week. Its hard to feel in control of your environment when every time you seek to correct a little he lashes back and continues to do whatever he was doing with no regard for the consequences. Or when a group of kids run back and forth barricading themselves in rooms. If our only means of control is derived from the ability to give consequences then what happens when the kids don’t care about the consequences? I have had to learn to change my reaction to situations that i can’t control because if i don’t, i lose hope, and thats not an option. This leads me to my next point.
  • Don’t own kids mistakes– I have been learning how to detach myself from the kids choices. Being an empathetic person it is easy to take on or carry kids mistakes. This is a costly endeavor and after even a couple hours can wear me down to the point of being completely ineffective. I am trying to learn how to love and be compassionate to the kids but detach myself from their choices. This can also be analogous to the saying “Love the sinner but hate the sin”.
  • Don’t let them see you sweat– A lot of these kids do things just to get a reaction which leaves me in a precarious position because if i react and give them a consequence (as im supposed to do) this may actually be a positive reinforcer for them because it gives them jollies to see me upset. On the other hand, if i don’t react and do nothing i am breaking the other rule of “What you tolerate you validate”. I am trying to learn how to address bad behavior without accidentally reinforcing it. To do this i am trying to learn how to master my emotions, or at least the physical manifestations of them. These kids are extremely perceptive and probably know that i am upset before i do. I can tell that older bigs have more control over their physical posturing when in escalated situations, and this helps to keep the kids from getting even more escalated.
  • Walk away– If your escalated and trying to give consequences to a little, just walk away and do it later. It is better to delay the consequences than to risk further escalation of a little. There have been a couple of situations where i had to tap out and pass the responsibility over to a different big because i was so upset/escalated that i probably would have done something i would have regretted if i had to continue to manage what was going on.
  • Positive reinforcement– (i already knew this from my psychology classes) when shaping behavior positive reinforcement is always more powerful than negative consequences. Even though i already knew that, there are kids that are really really hard to reward. Sometimes because they are acting out so much there really isn’t much to reward them for… Oh hey jimmy, so i know you punched him in the face but i wanted to thank you for not breaking his nose because i know you could have. Other times i honestly just don’t want to reward them for anything because they have pissed me off so much that day. i know that sounds cold and pretty un-christian but i don’t care who you are, its hard to look for good behavior in a kid who cusses you out daily and ignores almost every instruction you give him. With that said, its God will to repay hatred with love and it also just so happens to be my job now, and it actually works. Today i worked on rewarding any good behavior that i saw in the most delinquent, frustrating kids and while there was still enough defiance for everyone to have seconds (supposed to be a joke) they wern’t running around barricading themselves in rooms like they were last night so im going to go ahead and call that improvement. Turns out even the most crazy, “Thug life”, “I ain’t your B*tch” kind of kids are just insecure, scared little boys who want to be loved but don’t know how.
The times they are a changing- Big things are about to happen at shelterwood the next week. We are transitioning from a system that pretty much only provides consequences in the from of work hours for bad behavior to a token economy that uses points. Currently the system is if a kid does something against the rules he/she earns a consequence (generally a predetermined amount of hours they have to work) and if they follow the rules and or do something good they get a pat on the back and some kudos. There are two significant problems with this current system. First, as i discussed earlier, positive reinforcement is the most effective way to shape behavior and this system doesn’t really allow us to do much of that. Second, it teaches the kids that work is a punishment instead of something that you can enjoy doing.
We are still being trained on how this token economy will work but it sounds exciting and i think it will hard making the transition but well worth the difficulty. Basically kids have to earn 10,000 point each day to have privledges the following day. Kids can earn points throughout the day by doing their regularly scheduled things. For example, the kids can earn 1000 points for doing their chores, 1000 points for going to school/study hall. On any weekday if a kid does all the things there supposed to do they can earn up to 6 or 7 thousand points. The kids will loose points for bad behavior (swearing, disobedience, disrespect etc) but can gain points back by accepting no, showing remourse etc. We have a whole new procedure for how to handle disipling and i will try to remember as much of it as i can but my notes are downstairs and im doing night watch and i can’t leave to get them. We are supposed to
1) start with an initial positive (Hey i noticed you did a really good job on your chores earlier
2) Describe the Behavior ( I just saw you flip another kid off)
3) provide relevance (i know you want to get a job once you graduate the program and it will hard for that to happen if your flipping every off who upsets you)
4) ask them to acknowledge ( do you know what im talking about)
5) Consequence ( your going to lose 1500 points for that)
6) another positive (but your a fast learner so im sure you won’t make the same mistake twice)
While we are giving the consequence we allow them to earn point back for good behavior during this process. for example once we get to step 5 we can say so you lost 1500 point for swearing but maintained your composure and your doing a good job of accepting the consequence so you i will give you back 500 points for each of those so you will only lose 500 points. This simultaneously provides a consequence for the negative behavior (swearing) that we wish to extinguish and reinforces good behavior (accepting consequences, maintaining composure) that we want to see more of. In this form of interaction the kid receives 4 complements/rewards for every consequence they earn.
The best part of this is that it allows us to catch the kids doing good things and reward them for it. If we see a kid modeling appropriate behavior or showing growth in an area of struggle we can reward that with points to hopefully reinforce it and see more of it.
Next week two big things are happening. First, we are making the switch to the token economy and second, we are canceling school and working all day. As you have probably come to know from reading my Blogs things have been a little out of control. We are undergoing some major transitions and are short staffed. As a result, a lot of the rules have not been enforced out of sheer necessity (when kids are stealing drugs, stealing vans, fighting its hard to remember to make sure they ask to go to the bathroom). Additionally some of the kids have racked up so many work hours that they become non compliant and we basically have no leverage. Consequently we are going cancel school and have the kids work until everyone becomes compliant. One of the best motivators we have for these kids in their peers. Even though some of the guys “don’t give an F about work hours” anymore if all of the girls and all of their friends hate them because they had to work all day because they are non compliant they suddenly start caring.
I will be in Colorado tuesday night till saturday morning for a wedding so i hope to see some of you while i am back.
And a big thank you to Hannah B for the encouraging letter that i recieved this morning, it was exactly what i needed. If any of you guys are interesting in sending things my address is 3205 N Twyman Rd Independence MO, 64058
Love you all,
Brian Ferguson

The worst

Wednesday was the craziest day i have seen yet in my 3 weeks here at shelterwood. One kid was suspended and when a hall director tried to get him out of bed he got violent and had to be restrained, later that night the same kid barricaded himself in his room and cut himself. Another kid tried to commit suicide by cutting his wrists, and taking some prescription pills. While he was in the ER he told us that there was more stolen drugs that where still in possession of other littles. We put the whole campus on lockdown and after school brought all the boys down to the Gym for Dodge ball while we systematically searched all of their rooms. Then we brought them back from the gym one at time for questioning and to be searched. We got tipped off and found most of the missing drugs in one of the littles water bottles. After we had all the kids back in the house i found out even more dirty secrets by just sitting next to closed doors and listening. I felt like a Cop, taking peoples statements, searching rooms, searching people. Then just before bed the kid who was found with the drugs starting walking off property and i didn’t even know until someone walked in from outside and asked if it was ok for him to be walking by himself. I Jumped up and ran outside looking for him knowing that he had really wanted to talk to this girl but was unable because it was too late. We weren’t able to find him even after driving back and forth down the only road leading off property. He apparently just needed to clear his head and went for an unapproved walk and wasn’t trying to run away. I talked to him later that night for a few hours and it was really good to hear how he was doing and to know him as a person and to share how God has changed my life. After this i was talking to another staff member and he reminded me that i need to take everything with a grain of salt. He said these kids are extremely manipulative and they know that to tell you to make you think they are changing. This was definitely hard to hear but a good reminder that will hopefully help me to prevent learning the hard way.

I will hopefully have more time to talk about my feeling and experiences later but i just wanted yall to know about the craziest day i have lived through.

Love you all,

Brian F

The Shelterhood/ Love & logic

It is currently Sat Sept 3rd 3:45 am and i am on night watch duty until 6:30am  so please forgive me if this Blog is more unorganized and grammatically flawed than usual.

The Bigs have officially renamed the guys house “Shelterhood” due to the habitual “thugish” behavior that one would expect from those who are “from the block”. The only problem is that 95% of our kids are middle to upper class whities from Suburbia.

My day-

Today, well technically yesterday was probably one of the longest days i have had at Shelterhood. Did the normal gig in the morning, wake up, walk the littles to class and then go to training till lunch. This is where things started to get interesting. First, our training for the last two days has been called “Love and Logic” and i will touch on that in the next section. Second i cut down a 100′ tree with a chainsaw (felt pretty good). After walking the kids back from school i started to do “work hours” for people who had consequences who wanted to start working them off. This week i have the littles chop wood and carry wood to be chopped. After 3 days we have a stack of split logs almost 3′ high and 8′ long. Apparently, in the past no matter how much wood has been chopped they always run out after a month. My goal is to be able to make it through the whole winter without running out. After about 1.5 hours of work i took a couple kids who were not PG (property grounded) out to the mall. One of the kids wanted to get some new earn gauges but i couldn’t take him unless i had at lease four kids total to take to maintain coverage number. (coverage is basically the number of littles divided by the number of bigs. The idea is that we don’t want to leave any big having to cover more than 4 littles by themselves. If i had gone to the mall with just the one kid who wanted to go it would have left the other big having to cover 7 kids.) So i go to the mall and it ends up being this whole debacle because the one kid who actually had something to get at the mall was PG but got a special exception only to buy the ear gauges. After we got them we were supposed to meet up with another big who had already taken several littles to a Chinese buffet. The problem was that since that one kid was PG he wasn’t allowed to eat out as part of his consequences and i couldn’t just drop off the 3 non PG kids and maintain coverage, so i had to drive back to property. Once i get back I realize that me and dan( another new big) are the ONLY staff in the entire boys house, the hall director had left property to pick up fast food for the PG kids to eat for hall night. So the two new bigs who have been here for all of two weeks are left to cover all of the most delinquent. (3 littles where property grounded for fighting, and the other three had over 5 work hours of consequences and or drug offenses). The three other littles who were with me who were not PG were super edgy because they were starving but we couldn’t leave until the hall director got back to give those kids their allowances to spend of dinner. Basically it was a perfect storm. Before i know it i am sitting in the main room by myself with 7-8 littles and i have no idea where the other big is. As the conversation in the room starts heading south despite my best efforts to alter its course i realize that i am quickly loosing control of the situation. I discreetly stand up and look outside the front doors to see if i can find the other big and i find him sitting outside with one little so i peek my head out the door and ask him come back inside so we can maintain proper coverage. Just as this is happening all of the kids in the main room jump up and run out the side door yelling “Jail break”. This of course sets off the alarm system, which causes me to look back and realize all of the kids are gone. My heart sinks and my first thought is holy crap all of the kids are making a run for it. So of course i chase after them to see two kids running behind the house and i follow them back into the house. This apparently was supposed to be some kind of joke. Now if i was in doing youth ministry back in boulder and all of the kids jumped up and yelled “Jail break” and ran out of the building it would have been funny. Heck lets be honest i probably would have been the one who started the whole thing but in a Class 3 group house who in the past week has had two kids steal a van, 3 kids start fights it a little harder for me to laugh. After finally getting to go out for dinner i returned to even more craziness mostly caused by one new kid who climbed up onto the ceiling rafters, used the F word a good 40 times in the stretch of an hour and refused to stop talking about how much he loved to do drugs. After racking up a solid 12 hours of work consequences in the course of 2 hours he was still on a role and tried to make it clear through his EMO attitude and choice language that he “doesn’t give an F*&k about the rules”. At this point me and Dan (the other big) decide to go to plan B which was our creative consequence of confiscating all of his hair equipment (hair dryer, straightener ect) that he needed to maintain his EMO lifestyle. After doing this i found out that there is a strict protocol about how and when things can be confiscated as consequence and so he ended up having to sneak it all back into his room before he noticed. But now we know the back up plan. Basically it was a crazy crazy day that was made even worse by the fact that i had night coverage right after all of it. Thankfully i have awesome bigs like Kerry and Courtney  who make me laugh and let me vent my frustrations.

LOVE & Logic

its now 5 am so my mental faculties are starting to shut down, but i still wanted to share a little about the training we are getting because this topic has honestly been the most helpful thing i have learned and i have applied it hourly.

Love & Logic is actually a parenting technique and it is basically one of the cornerstones of the shelterwood program. The basic idea of it is that you never force a child to do anything, you simply offer them choices, inform them of the consequences and allow them to make their own decisions. A good example that one of the videos gave was different ways to get kids to go to sleep. The first is to say, this is your bedtime, you must be in bed at this time, don’t come out of your room after this time. The problem with this is that i leads to power struggles and worst case having to actually force your child into bed. The Love and Logic mentality is that its easier to wake a kid up then to put them to sleep. All you do is say at this time you have to go to your room, you don’t have to sleep, you don’t have to have the lights off, you can do whatever you like, BUT im waking you up at 6am. You allow children safe opportunities to fail and suffer either natural consequences (being sleepy because you stayed up all night) or assigned consequences (being grounded). One of the best parts of it is that it takes a lot of stress off of the parental figure to control the actions of a child. Its like using mental Judo. Judo is a martial art that (correct me if im wrong) focuses on redirecting the opponents momentum and throwing them off balance instead of punching or kicking. Love and Logic works on the same principles, it avoids a direct confrontation which leads to a power struggle and instead focuses of redirecting the child’s frustration.

here are the top ten techniques we learned.

1)wait untill calm

2)Stop talking sooner

3) Lock in empathy

4) Listen and agree

5) Problem for Child

6) Its not YOUR problem

7) Offer choices

8) consequences only (both +/-)

9) Don’t warn or remind

10) Don’t justify or defend

We worked on 2-4 by practicing one liners such as “I hear you”, “I know”, “So what are you going to do about that” . While i thought it was extreemely corny and stupid at first i have said probably 2 dozen one liners today, and they work. It was amazing how saying less was so powerful. A kid was freaking out and mouthing off about “Oh all these teachers hate me” and “This Big is out to get me” or “this sucks, its totally unfair” and i just said “I hear you, what do you thing your going to do about that?” and he was like, “i don’t know” and walked off, and i was like BOOM situation DE-escalated son, thanks for playin. All of these tricks are extremely important because pretty much all of these kids are smart and really manipulative and if you don’t give a short neutral answer they will twist words, gang up, lied, cheat and steal to get their way.

In other news, turns out the two runaways ARE in fact going to return to Shelterhood (dramatic music). Don’t know all the details, but sounds like completing Shelterwood is now a court ordered matter, so they basically get to choose between our program and      3 to 5. (thats 3 to 5 years in Juvy)

Love you all, thank you for your prayers.

Brian F


T minus 365

365 days from today (Aug 31st) my commitment to Shelterwood will be completed.

Yesterday was one of my days off so after finishing my kitchen training i went to one of the other Bigs houses and took a 4 hour nap, then we went to Buffalo Wild Wings and watched a movie. After getting back on property i was distraught to learn that it had been another “crazy day” at shelterwood while i was gone. There was another fight and a different kid cut himself pretty bad. In a weird way these sorts of things are becoming more normal to me which is weird. I feel like im starting to get into the swing of things here. I am finally allowed to take kids out in the vans because our insurance finally came through, and i got medication trained today, so now i can administer meds to the kids.

Today has been pretty easy. We had an all staff meeting and then played dodge ball. 2 of the three games i got out in the first 5 seconds which was frustrating. So even after the 3rd game i had a lot of pent up Angst which i worked off by chopping and caring wood for 3 hours (I was supervising Littles working off work hours they had received as consequences). On that note i don’t think i have fully experienced Missouri’s humidity until that work project today. After 30 mins we were all completely soaked in sweat. It felt good to work hard and i really saw the littles working well together to accomplish the same goal. Especially two littles who apparently were supposed to fight each other.

I am really starting to enjoy this possition. Even though it is really hard i can see God working in my life, refining my faith and my character and the lives of the littles, redeeming their pasts and offering them hope for the future. I have discovered that it is easy to get bogged down in negativity and things that i can’t control. If i worry about those things its hard to imaging working here for a year. When i keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and focus on the things i can control and do those things to the best of my ability i have hope and i am excited to see the things that God had planned for me this year.

God bless,

Brian Ferguson