Making Their Mark

When clients are enrolled, we hold an orientation for the family. All parents must participate in a three-day parent workshop close to the time their child is admitted. Afterward, we offer six complimentary hours of parent coaching over the phone. This is a curriculum specifically designed to coach mothers and fathers through parenting their son or daughter through the program. The families receive weekly updates from case managers on their child’s progress.

RC: What are the challenges you see parents face when their children are admitted for treatment for substance use?

SS: The hardest thing for parents is to learn to let go. Usually, they don’t suffer from loving their kid too little; they love their kid too much. Parents often have had to do so much for their young adults starting in kindergarten, struggling with issues such as attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities, social concerns and substance use.

Parents need to let their children fall on their faces and skin their knees a little bit. They need to allow them to have consequences — and learn from them. Parents want to prevent their children from failure and hurt, but it is from that struggle that resiliency emerges. Parents must learn how to walk the line between having a safe, structured, nurturing, therapeutic environment and allowing them to have consequences for their choices and behaviors.

RC: There is a certain vibrancy at Benchmark Transitions.

SS: Yes! When people visit, they see a lot of activity, not groups of people sitting in a room talking. The therapists take clients off-site to get fro yo and sit under a tree rather than sit across from each other in a sterile room.

It’s important for young adults to get out of their head and be active. We make their time here fun and busy with activities such as yoga, art therapy, kickboxing and equine-assisted therapy. Magic sometimes happens when we least expect it. Recently, one client who is musical brought his guitar and played music to the horses like the Pied Piper. The horses all circled around him listening to him playing classical guitar. It was a very profound moment.

Side Note

Jaynie Longnecker-Harper: In Her Own Words

We often are asked how Benchmark came to be and how we, as a family, got into the work of serving young adults who suffer from substance abuse and other disabling kinds of mental health disorders. As with most people who find this work to be a life devotion, there is usually some driving force that accompanies a deep desire to make a difference.

For us, that is true.

On April 21, 1986, I found the father of my four children dead with a self-inflicted bullet wound to his head. This was the most profound shock of my life. Although I knew he was very much in trouble with alcoholism, I never dreamed that his life could be robbed from him in this way — and by his own choice. The kids and I were devastated. He left a note to us that said, “I can’t live with it, and I can’t live without it. … We will all be better off if I am not here.”

As the reality of that note set in, I began to ponder what lay before me. First, I just wanted to run away from the sadness and horror of the scene in my mind. What I was left with coming out of that room was a profound fury toward the disease that had robbed our family of this man — and a desire to do something to make a difference.

As life does, one step led to another, and I found the right people to lead me into working with young adults.

The following year, I came to California and was blessed by working with the original emotional growth program in the nation, which centered on adolescents and young adults, helping me realize that out of tragedy can come healing and purpose. That experience inspired me to create Benchmark.

All four of my children — Shelley Skaggs, Dana Drury, Joelle Walters and Darren Longnecker — have embraced the family business, and together we work to honor the memory of their father and to fight the disease of addiction and its accompanying mental health issues.

We strive to do this well.

Written by Patti Zielinski

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