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Couple create ‘Safe Harbor’ for teens, familiescomment (0)

October 9, 2008

By Sondra Washington

While most parents expect a few bumps in the road as their teenagers face adulthood, many don’t think their children will stray too far from the straight and narrow. But Paul and Robbie Berry know from experience that parents trying to raise godly children often face crises when teenagers change from compliant to troubled almost overnight.

“We had a 14-year-old daughter that just laid down and went to sleep one night, and it seemed like her brain just leaked out on her pillow,” said Paul Berry, whose daughter struggled for several years with eating disorders, suicide attempts, jail, the occult and drugs.

Seeking help nationwide and finding none, the Berrys eventually found a psychologist who helped their daughter and taught them how to parent a rebellious teenager.

Through their “long journey of pain and suffering, trial and error, heartaches and confusion,” God gave the Berrys a vision for what became Safe Harbor, a nondenominational Christian ministry that combines clinical counseling with biblical principles.

“The program works with the entire family,” said Rock Hobbs, executive director since 2005. “We believe not only does the adolescent have a problem because of his choices, but a lot of times, those choices are based on the home environment. Our program is keyed on helping the parents restore biblical authority and peace in the home by ministering in the home.”

In this program, troubled teens and their parents can attend weekly two-hour meetings in Alabaster, Hueytown, Cullman or Trussville for 12 weeks. Together, parents and adolescents learn how to face and repair their personal hardships in a confidential, positive and safe environment. Teen mentoring and parent support groups are essential to the program’s effectiveness.

Established 10 years ago, Safe Harbor has grown tremendously. Several Alabama Baptist churches have served or are currently serving as meeting sites including NorthPark Baptist, Trussville, in Birmingham  Association; First Baptist, Cullman, in West Cullman Association; North Highlands Baptist, Hueytown, in Bessemer Association; Bethel Baptist, Odenville, in St. Clair Association; and Gardendale’s First Baptist, in North Jefferson Association. In 2009, Valleydale Baptist in Birmingham Association will begin serving families in the Hoover area. Many more churches support the ministry by providing volunteers, finances, prayer support and by pointing families in need to Safe Harbor.

Although about 100 families are served each year by the ministry, Hobbs believes the number of families reached will triple in the future since the Shelby County Court System has begun referring first- and second-time teen offenders to Safe Harbor’s newly developed Community and Court Referral Program as an alternative to incarceration.

Paul Hunter, director of site development, said Safe Harbor is a ministry he looked for his entire pastoral life, which has spanned 38 years. Now, after eight years with Safe Harbor, he believes meeting sites should be located everywhere parents are raising teens.

“Middle school kids have such a need to be accepted that they are willing to participate in just about anything,” said Hunter, also pastor of Church of New Beginnings, Hueytown, in Bessemer Association. “That means parents need to be taught how to meet that need for acceptance in the life of their kids legitimately and biblically.”

Safe Harbor also trains parents to avoid crisis situations and “to identify at-risk behaviors before they become a life-threatening problem,” said Donna McKinley, the ministry’s director of resource and education.

“We have to stay on top of what our kids are doing, especially in the church. That’s where the kids know they are supposed to talk the talk and walk the walk,” said McKinley, a member of The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, in Birmingham Association. “But what I’m seeing in the church is that they have learned how to get around the rules.”

Berry calls the problems facing many of today’s teens an unidentified “suburban epidemic.”

“We want our kids to have it better than we did, but we become who we are as individuals by experiencing trials, tribulations and struggles ... we try to keep our kids from experiencing the very same struggles that made us who we are,” he said. “We tend to get too involved in the kid’s life so that we won’t let them fail.”
Berry believes this type of manipulation is not biblical.

“The Bible says, bring up a child in the way he should go, not bring up a child in the way I think they ought to go,” he said. “What we learn in Safe Harbor is how to release our children to God ... and to take our child on a journey to get them to their prodigal-son hog trough so they can then come to their senses. As long as we are in control, then God is not in control, and God doesn’t get them there.”

For more information, call 205-981-0995 or go to www.thesafeharbor.org.

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