The Graham Windham School in Hastings, N.Y., is home to 300 at-risk day and resident students. As the first foster care institution in the United States, the Graham School strives to meet the needs of children and teens who have been referred to it by the public school system or NYC’s Administration for Children’s Services. Many of its students faceemotional and behavioral challenges or a disrupted family life.
For many of the students who have come to the Graham School, this is their last chance. If they don’t get on the right path and overcome problems with drugs and alcohol or other issues, they may be on their way to New York’s penal system.
At the Graham School, pupils have the opportunity to participate in a workshop called Road Recovery, in which they interact with sober musicians and learn about the power of music and songwriting. And it’s not just any music. Road Recovery is all about rock ‘n’ roll — a genre that is traditionally anti-establishment. Students identify with the long-haired tattooed rockers more easily than other adults, the school has found, and Road Recovery has been shown to reach even the most disengaged among them.
What Is Road Recovery?
Road Recovery (RR) is an organization founded by Gene Bowen, who was a tour manager for several artists, including the Allman Brothers Band and Alice in Chains. He developed an out-of-control drug problem, and, like many addicts, ultimately faced a choice between recovery and death. He chose recovery and got sober in 1993.
Bowen believes that building a relationship with at-risk kids through music can take them off the path to prison. He recognized how fortunate he was to have embraced the message that recovery offers to an otherwise doomed addict, and decided to build an organization that focused on educating young people about the perils of addiction. He founded the nonprofit Road Recovery Foundation in 1998.
Road Recovery And The Graham School
Adam Roth is a member of the Road Recovery staff who has been sober for 10 years. In the workshop, he strums his guitar and invites his students to compose music. The kids involved in the RR workshop have the opportunity to write music, dance or create artwork. The fact that the RR musicians are committed to showing up every week for 14 weeks is the most stability some of the kids have ever experienced.
Graham staff members are also expected to participate in the workshops. When staff members exhibit vulnerability regarding their own artistic abilities, it helps open up communication with the students. And not all of the kids respond right away. Many have behavioral problems, and if things get out of control, Graham staff members step in and take charge. One student had no interest in anything other than basketball, and Bowen encouraged him to bounce two basketballs to make a drumbeat sound.
Programs similar to Road Recovery have now been launched in other states. These programs empower young people to face their struggles and help them build a foundation for a new life — with the help of a little rock ’n’ roll.