Nonprofit provides second chance for teens
November 15, 2012
Richard Barna describes himself as the grand-grandfather of the 30 adolescents housed at any one time in Tahoe Turning Point. The current executive director of the company has worked with hundreds of young men who have passed through the rehabilitation homes over the past 18 years, and during that time he’s seen his share of successes and failures. It’s no wonder that work at the TTP isn’t always rosy, seeing as the staff works with a notoriously difficult population. Tahoe Turning Point — one of the South Shore’s best kept secrets, according to Barna —serves male adolescents, the majority of whom come from the juvenile justice system in Northern California. The company offers counseling services, counseling school and five different group home programs. The homes, four of which are at the South Shore and one of which is in Placerville, focus on teaching teens independent living skills, overcoming drug or alcohol abuse or experiencing the outdoors. The Meyers home in particular emphasizes physically demanding outdoor experiences. The program typically works with younger teens to give them a different life experience then what they’d been used to, Barna said. These are homes, not houses, and the nurturing environment makes TTP different than other rehabilitation centers, mental health counselor Danielle Kauffmann said. “It has a real family-type atmosphere. That’s pretty unique in the group home setting, which can be more institutionalized,” Kauffmann said. One of the reasons the company keeps a low profile is because of misconceptions about the youth who enter the homes, Barna said. The company works primarily with low-level offenders, not hardened criminals or gang members. “Because of the type of population we deal with, we want to meld into the community as part of the community. They’re not all gang members. What they are is kids who smoked pot and got caught,” Barna said. The society within the homes operates on the idea of privilege. Staff reward good behavior, Barna said, and there’s a lot of freedom to be had for adolescents who prove themselves capable of taking advantage of it. If a teen comports himself well in the house, he might get the opportunity to attend South Tahoe High School or apply for a job in the community, Barna said. And since confidentially is key to the company, the teens are under no obligation to share the nature of the foster home where they live. “We want to help them understand what it means to be a normal teen. We’re their surrogate parents. We don’t want kids to suffer from a stigma,” Barna said. The teens participate — often unbeknownst to the South Shore community, according to Barna — in community service events throughout the year. They’ve handed out food at Bread & Broth, maintained trails in the basin, worked with the Kiwanis Club and more. TTP’s ultimate goal is to reunite adolescents with their family and community through education and counseling. “Success for us is pretty basic. You don’t drink, you don’t use, you’re unified back into your community successfully. We’re really big on education and we insist that kids work hard in school,” Barna said. Barna, who used to work as a house manager, said he still communicates with some of the company’s graduates. “Some of the kids I used to work with I still keep in touch with. They even call me on Christmas,” he said.