GREENFIELD — For so many, the path to addiction is forged at an early age, experts say. Through the brambles of a broken family, children can lose themselves and develop aggression and anger; and one day, drugs or alcohol might become sources of comfort.

A new program launching next month targets at-risk youth as part of an ongoing efforts to curb addiction in Hancock County.

Leaders of Greenfield’s Brandywine Community Church have developed a 52-week treatment program — one that mirrors its Celebrate Recovery group, an adult, faith-based 12-step recovery ministry with an eight-year reputation of success locally — that will bring together kids whose parents’ struggle with drug dependency, alcoholism or other forms of addiction that so often rip families apart.

Organizers say the goal of the new Recovery Zone 4 Kids program — which is provided at no cost to families — is to address the anger, disappointment and loneliness a parents’ addiction can cause a child. By giving kids the tools they need to cope with difficult situations, organizers hope to prevent the hurt, habits and hang-ups that landed the child’s parents in Celebrate Recovery.

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Having a caregiver who struggles with substance abuse makes a child more susceptible to addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The organization considers addiction to be a developmental disease that typically begins in childhood, its website states.

And that’s the scenario Gina Colclazier, the director of counseling at Brandywine Community Church, has heard time and again from the adults enrolled in the church’s peer-counseling program. Confused, lonely and scared, the adults who come to Celebrate for help confess they turn to drugs to deal with their feelings or to fill a void, she said.

The church began brainstorming ideas for a youth program last year in hopes of preventing another generation from facing this kind of adversity, Colclazier said. The program is unlike anything offered in the county currently, she said.

“Once they choose to go down that path (to addiction), it’s so hard to get them back,” she said. “If we can prevent them from going down that road at all, that’s important.”

The counseling team at Brandywine morphed together several peer-counseling programs for children in order to create the 52-week curriculum that Recovery Zone 4 Kids will follow, said Jennifer McQueen, who will serve as the program’s director once it’s up and running.

The kids recovery program is open to students in first through ninth grade. Each week, they will sit through lessons that address topics like family dynamics, healthy choices and dealing with emotions like grief and anger. Parents don’t have to be enrolled in Celebrate Recovery for their kids to participate in Recovery Zone 4 Kids, though organizers say they see great value in having full family participation.

Church-trained volunteer counselors will meet with interested families ahead of enrollment to discuss issues at home that might be affecting a child’s behavior or emotions, McQueen said. This will help the group’s leaders to better identify how to best serve the students, she said.

Brandywine always has offered childcare for those enrolled in Celebrate Recovery, and it was those youngsters that inspired the new youth counseling program, Colclazier said.

Many turned up each week to play in the church’s gymnasium and listen to the occasional life skills lesson while their parents were across the hall in the sanctuary working through their struggles with substance abuse, Colclazier said. As they eventually warmed up to the volunteers, the kids would share insight about what was going on in their homes.

It was heartbreaking, she said.

In 11-year-old Peyton Willits’ case, it was his father’s alcohol abuse that brought the entire family to Celebrate Recovery for the first time three years ago, his mother said.

Peyton grew up watching alcohol strain his parents’ marriage; he heard the arguments, the threats of divorce, Michelle Willits said.

Even Peyton began to notice the toll the family problems were taking on him, he said. He became easily frustrated by anything that challenged him and occasionally lashed out in times of peak exasperation.

As Celebrate Recovery helped heal his parents’ marriage and bring his father to sobriety, Recovery Zone 4 Kids – even in its fledgling stages, when childcare is still the primary purpose – taught Peyton about how to work through his feelings, particularly his anger, he said.

It gave him a safe place to talk about what was going on at home with other kids his age who really understood what he was going through, Peyton said.

More importantly: “It brought my family closer together,” he said.

Other recovery parents are eagerly awaiting the launch of the Recovery Zone 4 Kids program to see how it will benefit their children.

Val Bryant hopes to bring her two kids to Recovery Zone once it’s up and running. She’s learned the hard way that time doesn’t heal all wounds, despite the saying. She wants to prevent her children from having to face the same hardships when they are adults that she’s facing now.

“If I had something like this to go to when I was a kid, when my parents went through a divorce, maybe I wouldn’t be here (in Celebrate Recovery),” Bryant said. “If time did heal all wounds, I don’t think any of us would be here.”

How to help

Brandywine Community Church is searching for volunteers who can help oversee the Recovery Zone 4 Kids, a program aimed at helping youth at risk of developing addictions.

For information about how to volunteer, call 317-462-4777.

Get involved

Brandywine Community Church now offers a recovery program aimed at helping county youth. The free faith-based, peer-counseling program is open to students in first through ninth grade.

Each week, participants will sit through lessons that address topics like family dynamics, making healthy choices and dealing with emotions like grief and anger.

Meetings take place from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday evenings at the same time as the church’s Celebrate Recovery program.

Space in Recovery Zone 4 Kids is limited. From more information, call 317-462-4777.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.