Color Guard helps troubled teens find discipline
June 25th, 2015
Providing troubled teens leadership opportunities proves to be recipe for success for some at Heartland Family Service Youth Links facility.
Omaha, Ne-In a large gymnasium, 20-year United States Navy Veteran Terris Bowen barked out orders to a squad of six cadets, members of the color guard.[audio:https://kvnonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/999-Color-Guard.mp3]
But Bowen doesn’t work for a military academy. He’s an educational para professional at the Heartland Family Service Youth Links facility in Omaha. Youth who find themselves on the wrong side of the law are sent to Youth Links as an alternative to jail; ordered by the courts to undergo rehabilitation.
Color guards are those groups you see at ceremonies, civic meetings, and sporting events, usually carrying the United States flag and other significant flags.
This is the first year for color guard at Youth Links, and the group recently performed for the Omaha city council. Participation is voluntary. Bowen said that makes all the difference.
“If a kid is court ordered to be in this program, then they might have a little bit of resistance to it. But once they go into the program voluntarily, that means they’re really interested in it,” Bowen explained, “and that helps them build that respect for constituted thought, leaders and things like that.”
17-year-old Alex is a member of the Youth Links Color Guard. He said color guard “teaches you you gotta [sic] be sharp with it. You can’t be lazy, you gotta [sic] actually work. You can’t be lazy on the color guard.”
Alex said before he was at Youth Links, he was in the Douglas County Youth Center, a secure juvenile detention facility. Alex said he was arrested for “being on the run” from his house.
Alex said the color guard teaches discipline and allows him, for the first time, to be proud of something.
“You get to do something that not everybody gets to do every day,” Alex said. “I mean, who can say that they’ve performed in front of the city council just because? Come on now. That doesn’t happen every day.”
Rondell, also 17, is the Youth Links Color Guard Commander. He said his biggest take away from the color guard is learning the value of teamwork.
“Because when you’re home and you’re doing good teamwork with your family, everybody has a good day. So that’s what it really teaches me,” Rondell said.
Rondell and Alex both said their time on the color guard sparked something inside them. They said the sense of responsibility and being put in leadership positions is empowering.
Each hope the lessons learned through their participation on the color guard will help them find a job when they’re released, and earn what they call “legal money.”
Rondell said, “I need to stay away from the streets and stuff. I don’t like doing stuff to just hustle up a few dollars. I don’t want that stuff to just ruin my life. So I’ve been trying to get a job.”
He continued, “My mom told me to stay away from that stuff, and I try to do that. I try to listen to whatever she says so I can get home and see my little sisters.”
In 2014, 173 children went through the Heartland Family Service’s Youth Links program. Most stayed an average of 30 days before being transferred to a similar facility, group home, or were allowed to return to their own home.
Kylie Homan, the Youth Links program director, said that quick turnaround time makes the 15 kids who’ve participated in the color guard program this year all the more impressive
“You can definitely see the motivation and the mission behind it. These kids really take that as a privilege and honor to be a part of the color guard,” Homan said. “We do see that the kids who have been involved in the color guard are more successful here and usually go to a less restrictive environment once they leave.”
Military man Terris Bowen said he’s happy serving the Omaha community in his current role. He said he will continue to train his cadets, challenging them to be better citizens, because you don’t need a court order to be a leader.