Carson Newman Bonners serve at Journey program a confidence-builder for at-risk teens

The Journey program, a life skills class for students and parents referred by Jefferson County Juvenile Court, is a proven confidence builder for at-risk teens. The program, designed by Youth Services Officer Michelle Nix, graduated 37 teens this school year, most of them referred for truancy — and boasts an 85 percent recidivism record.

The program costs less per child than one night in juvenile detention.

“The greatest change that I see in the kids from start to finish is how they present themselves,” said Nix, who started it in 2009. “In the beginning, there is a bit of chip on their shoulder about court, school, parents, and so on. By the end, they seem happier, more focused, and more engaged with others.”

Held after school and in summer, activities and session topics focus on skills that develop positive self-image, build confidence, team-building, and accountability. Students complete several hands-on activities to demonstrate their own abilities, often completing goals they previously thought impossible. Lessons are often wrapped up with discussion of how they can be applied to other aspects of the youths’ lives. Hands-on activities range from simply changing a tire to climbing a rock wall to kayaking across Cherokee Lake.

This year, four graduates voluntarily returned to complete the program again. There were three sessions (fall, winter, and spring), and each included an excursion trip lead by Tommy Clapp of B.O.L.D. Counseling in Jefferson City. Four Bonner Scholar mentors from Carson Newman University assisted: senior Hannah Pierce, junior Nick Cockrell, and new mentors Tanner Shivley and Diana Garber.

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