Agency to help troubled teens opens near Akron sites where AA started
By Paula Schleis
Beacon Journal business writer
``The revolution starts today,'' Raynard P. said, again and again, to supporters who showed up for opening day of the P. Institute this month.
And a revolution is exactly how P. sees his new nonprofit agency, which is reaching out to emotionally troubled youngsters for whom traditional counseling is not enough.
``It's time we rethink how we treat these kids,'' said P., who has spent the last 14 years working with abused and addicted teens as a counselor with the Akron Health Department.
The institute is tucked into the ground floor of the Highland Square Apartments and Offices building west of downtown Akron.
It's a location that P. says is appropriate for a mission he considers ``utterly sacred'' -- within a triangle formed by the Ardmore Avenue home of Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bob Smith, Dr. Bob's gravesite at Mount Peace Cemetery and the Stan Hywet cottage where AA was founded.
``We're at ground zero,'' he said.
The institute is reaching out to ages 13-18, with clients invited to explore everything from yoga and tai chi to art, dance and music therapy.
There's even pet therapy by way of Isadora and Duncan, a pair of Bengal cats that roam the rooms looking for a lap to sit on and a soul to work on.
``We're offering a whole range of mind/body therapeutic tools that kids can integrate into their lives,'' P. explained.
The P. Institute's style of treatment might seem unorthodox, but it's already popular in other areas of the country. Ohio ``is about 15 years behind the times in terms of providing the most effective and enlightened treatment services,'' P. said.
The institute officially opened for business at 5 p.m. May 1, just hours after the furniture had been delivered and before the phones were even operational.
But P. was determined to stay on schedule and was rewarded by a steady stream of friends, family and colleagues who turned out to wish him well.
``What also was really edifying for me was how many of my former clients who are now adults showed up and affirmed what we we're doing,'' he said.
The ``we're'' in his statement is a team of about 30 volunteers P. has assembled, most of whom have addiction in their own backgrounds.
``I've brought together what I consider the most passionate, enlightened, talented group of treatment professionals that I'm aware of,'' he said.
Until revenue starts coming in, the unpaid ``adjunct faculty'' has been donating ``tens of thousands of dollars of clock hours,'' P. said.
He can't hide some anxiousness about the new organization's finances. About $10,000 in start-up money came from his own pocket and he has a two-year lease in his name.
``I'm in this for keeps. No surrender, no retreat,'' he said.
He's looking for an experienced grant writer to seek local, county and foundation support.
And some money will come from the clients, who will be charged based on their ability to pay, as well as from those who simply want to participate in some of the institute's classes.
``We will not turn anyone away, but we insist that everyone be invested in their healing commensurate to their income,'' P. said.
But he's been told the institute will have to go without state support for two years, having missed the biennial budget.
Still, the timing feels right, he said.
His dreams were on slow simmer for more than a decade until earlier this year, when things started falling into place, ``as if the planets aligned,'' he said. ``The players are showing up, serendipitous, beautiful and timely.''
So far, the clients have been trickling in through referrals from sources P. has collected throughout his career: probation officers, children's services workers, halfway houses, ministers.
``I always felt in my heart that if we built it, they would come,'' P. said.
That's because P. knows what worked for him.
A self-described ``wild, purple-haired, rockin', rollin' misfit kid,'' he grew up in Akron and then Los Angeles, where he began experimenting with drugs in his early teens.
At 22, he tried to turn his life around by joining the Army and becoming a paratrooper. He left the 18th Airborne Corps and became a member of the Army Reserves, but was booted out in 1990 for drinking.
At 29, he checked into the Veterans Administration hospital in Brecksville and began his climb up from rock bottom.
P. went on to earn a master's degree in counseling and dedicated himself to helping kids who are battling the same demons that once haunted him.
``Adolescence is a painful place to be for the most well-adjusted among us,'' P. said. ``For kids who are susceptible to abuse disorders and those who come from families who know this soul-numbing trauma and pathology, they're in even more need of just growing into their skin and feeling OK on a chemical level.''
But he also learned that there is more to recovery than talking. There is doing.
His personal magic came from running. He's a regular on the marathon circuit and in 2001, he was among a handful of local residents selected to carry the Olympic torch on its way to Salt Lake City.
At the institute, teens will have a variety of interests to choose from, ranging from martial arts to massotherapy.
Brandi, a 17-year-old from Akron, said expressing herself through jewelry-making helped in her recovery from drug addiction. ``Talking is great, but sometimes you don't have someone to talk to,'' she said, remembering how she made 40 bracelets a day while in rehab. ``It was so relaxing; it keeps your mind and body occupied.''
And that's why she predicts success for the P. Institute, where she recently participated in a yoga class.
``All the things the institute offers is just stuff that gets you centered with the person you used to be,'' said Brandi, who asked that her last name not be used. ``It brings you back to who you are.''
Keir Ulrich, who will be holding a weekly yoga class, said it didn't take much for P. to convince him that yoga would be helpful to the institute's clients.
``It's all about harmony, uniting mind, body and spirit,'' he said. And it's a practical way for young people to learn about limits, because ``you have to find your limits in poses, just as you accept there are limits in life.'