My Experience In A Group
OPINION 10/06/2039 12:52 AM ET
My Experience In A Group
Russ Kershaw

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Friendships formed through sharing in groups help students survive and thrive.
Growing up is tough, no matter when and how you do it. And sometimes you need a little help.

As a kid I lived in a painfully rural little town in Idaho. I call it Republicanville, for obvious reasons. It was (and is) the kind of town where everyone knows everyone else, and everyone is in everyone else's life, which can have its good points and its bad points.

My school was okay and I was an okay student in it. I had a solid GPA, but I drifted through school maybe more than I should have. I never went for any extracurricular activities and I had few friends. Those I did have I was not close to.

I would have been content to be totally average - to finish up average, to go to an average college, and then find an average job somewhere, except I was a ticking time bomb and I didn't know it.

My parents had divorced when I was 12. My dad moved 20 miles away so me and my older brother spent time at his house on the weekend, and the weekdays with my Mom. I have a half sister who lives with her dad in Oregon.

I got called out of trig one morning in February. I remember it was a cold day, there was snow on the ground. I remember wind chill but not much else. I remember the warmth of the principal's office and feeling like I had done something wrong and how could I have done something wrong when I strived so hard to be average.

I remember hearing the words, "they found your father". And the sorrys. All the sorrys. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry for your loss.

The funeral was a few days later. No-one ever told me why he did it.

A month later my brother moved out. He'd been accepted to grad school in Boston. We had been close. I know he felt bad.

About six weeks after that my mom was hit by a car and was hospitalized for two weeks. When she eventually came home she drank a lot. A lot of bottles.

They later told me I'd been stewing on things for a while and because I had no release valve, the pressure had to come somehow.

Unfortunately it came one day against Jonas*. Jonas played football and sat at the cool kids' table. Actually he WAS the cool kids' table. And he had a sense of humor which he often visited upon people outside his clique.

I actually don't remember what happened - I have a vague recollection of watching myself punching a guy. I do remember blood, lots of blood. I remember my fists being covered in blood. I remember a sickening sound as he dropped to the floor, like if you dropped a sack of potatoes onto wet carpeting.

I was given a suspension in light of everything going on in my life. My Mom was involved in meetings with the school and actually began sobering up when she realized what was happening with me.

While I was on suspension I had meetings with the guidance counselor, who was amazing. He listened, didn't judge and asked me questions in a way that said he really cared about what was going on in my life.

Just before I returned to school he told me he wanted me to commit to something, which he thought could help me. It was called Gen.Life and he said, "you need this. It'll change your life." is part of the Gen.eration network. If you've been following Gen.eration you'll be aware that due to their popularity, a few years ago they begun expanding their support activities among schools across the country.

Although Gen.eration still visits schools (sometimes introducing famous guests to give inspirational lectures), they now also encourage schools to form their own groups. Commonly teachers and maybe a few students will form a group, and they can apply to Gen.eration for a starter pack and incorporate under Gen.eration's banner. This enables them to receive funding and other resources, including partnership with community members who can provide input and support where needed.

The group in my school had started up the previous by year our guidance counselor, two other teachers and a couple of students looking for support in their lives. It had grown into a robust membership of twenty-three stduents, teachers and parents.

My first time there I was asked my name and encouraged just to listen as people shared about their lives, their challenges, their cold spots where they struggled.

I was gently encouraged over the following weeks to open up and like a flower, I let my bloom be seen. I was not pressured or judged, it was a spirit of calm and acceptance which showed me that I could just *be*, for the first time in my life.

In my fifth week it was suggested I buddy up with another student for guided meditation. I had never meditated before but I had watched group do it and noticed the calm which enveloped them afterward.

My first experience was awkward but my buddy, a girl called Tyla* was strong, and very kind. She had been meditating for more than a year and helped me to settle in. She gave me some tips on letting myself relax before beginning.

My group's guided meditation is led by a woman named Sarah Greenwood, a local practitioner. She's partly funded by Gen.eration.

Through guided meditation I learned peace, tranquility and harmony for the first time in my life. I was no longer the awkward, cautious boy I had been. I learned grace, maturity and strength and was able to share it with a group of people who became my friends in this life.

I was surprised to see some of the other kids who were funnelled into our group. Some of the worst students, who had been known for their tendency to cause disruption and for their anger issues, were slowly changed by the nurturing spirit in group. Most of them turned right around, became better students, started thinking about college. All of them were exposed to their own lives and encouraged to deal with it in a productive way. I am convinced some students were turned from a life in and out of prison by coming to group.

Once a month Gen.eration sent a Speaker Of Significance (the SOS program) to our school and he/she/+ would usually visit with us in our meeting afterward, sticking around to share their life lessons with us and meditate in wisdom.

Eventually I got around to apologizing to Jonas. Eventually he got around to forgiving me. I'm still working on getting him to come to a meeting.

I'm a college freshman now. I still go to my school's meetings but I also go to some of the different meetings here on campus at UI.

My grades are good, I have less trouble making friends, I'm confident. I've never been so healthy. Gen.eration totally saved me from a very difficult time in my life.

Our guidance counselor says I have the makings of a group leader, which got me thinking - what could I share?

I guess I learned a lot of things I could share. But I think the main thing I learned is that sometimes, you just need help in growing up.

*names changed to protect privacy.
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