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Mission Academy: Hopes High

A local school helps students and families fight addiction



 



As with our story on opiate addiction (“Human Costs,” May 2017), when telling the story of teen addiction and alcoholism, it is tempting to start with numbers, but numbers don’t suffer – individuals and families do. Numbers don’t die of overdose or take their own lives, and they don’t leave behind grieving parents and siblings. And the hardest truth that parents learn is that no matter how much or well you love your children, it isn’t always enough to save them from themselves.
 

Spencer Mellow started drinking when he was 13 years old. Patti Mellow, his mother, said that for a very long time, the family could not tell whether he was sober or drunk.

“He was such a great actor,” she says. “When he was in ninth grade, he went to nationals for acting, and he was eventually offered full scholarship by the American Musical and Dramatic Academy.”

The acting masked his drinking, but it also hid something true about Spencer, and it was true until he took his own life in 2015.

“From the day he was born, he was never comfortable in his own skin,” Mellow says. “Those are his words.”

The Mellows adopted Spencer after Patti and her husband Mark – a now-retired gastroenterologist – tried unsuccessfully to get pregnant for eight years. They arranged a private adoption, and Patti would not learn the full scope of Spencer’s family history until much later.

Spencer came from a family of addicts, and the Mellow family had no history of addiction, no alcoholism, no mental health issues, none of the afflictions that would beset their son.

“We thought if you love someone, take them to church, give them a good life, that they’d be OK,” she says. “And some are, but not Spencer.”

When the family learned the scope of his addiction, they sought help. In fact, Spencer went to rehab after high school. Patti calls it “a Band-Aid on a gushing wound.” Still, he had sober phases, and the post-high school Spencer took sobriety seriously. He spoke at Al-Anon, and was there able to explain to the families of other addicts that their kids needed support, not anger.

Here’s where numbers may start to help clarify the issue. Spencer was adopted by a great family: doctor father, private school upbringing, Heritage Hills home, most of the comforts and benefits any kid could want. None of those things insulate people from the reality of addiction, though. For every Spencer, there are hundreds of other teens who don’t have the resources or support that the Mellow family could provide.


The Centers for Disease Control reports that 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the U.S. is consumed by young people between the ages of 11 and 20 – in other words, people who are too young to buy or drink alcohol legally. Annually, 4,300 young people die as a direct or indirect result of alcohol usage, according to the CDC. Those numbers are higher than anyone would like, but the means to reduce usage seems to elude us as parents and as a culture.

Spencer was too old to take advantage of Mission Academy High School, the state’s only accredited recovery high school. It started as a program of Teen Recovery Solutions in 2007, two years after he graduated. However, Patti Mellow was on the board, and she chaired the first fundraising gala.

“The school called me and asked me to be involved, and of course I was all for it,” Mellow says. “I remember the first graduation. The kids stood on stage and cried.”

Andrew Rice, a former state senator, is now the principal of Mission Academy, a job he took when he wasn’t even looking for a job. Rice went through his own rehab period when he was 20. He’s been sober since, and the school asked him to take the reins when his predecessor retired. He saw the job as a chance to help kids who were like him when he was their age.

“I went to boarding school in Virginia,” says Rice. “We didn’t have a recovery school then, and fortunately, the school was structured enough that I was able to succeed. I went to rehab after high school.”

Rice said Mission Academy works best after a period of inpatient rehab, sort of as ongoing or follow-up care.

“One of the weaknesses of inpatient rehab is that you can’t just send teenagers back to PC North or Edmond Santa Fe,” he says. “There is no support for them there. The schools don’t have the resources or the facilities for ongoing care.”

(left) Andrew Rice (right) Patti Mellow and Dr. Susan Chambers


Students at the school, usually fewer than 20 at a time, participate in flexible academic schedules – mainly online coursework – as well as group and individual counseling, peer activities and social activities. The ability to work with counselors, teachers, coaches and peers helps them avoid what people in the addiction cycle call the lost years.

Battling addiction can be a comprehensive task; it takes up all your resources and energy. School, work and family connections tend to suffer. Patti Mellow remembers Spencer lamenting his lost years while watching his peers graduate law school or med school while he still struggled to complete a degree and stay sober.

Like most addicts, Spencer had a hard time keeping a job. He went to four different colleges. He struggled in relationships, and all the time, the family was trying to find ways to help him. He was an adult when the voices started. When he was 26, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and psychosis. He was painfully aware of his effect on the family, but he seemed powerless to overcome his addictions.

During this phase, he developed as an artist, and was selling work to friends and family. Joy Reed Belt even arranged an art show for him in The Paseo District. Patti remembers the toll it took on him.

“He showed up drunk,” she says. “The pressure of expectations got to him, so he drank until he was senseless. That was a pattern for him. He would get some success, and then throw it away.”

Mission Academy combines education with counseling, and not just addiction services. If there are discipline issues, they are diverted to behavioral health specialists. Rice said that incentives tend to work better than negative consequences with young addicts. As with Spencer, the cycle of addiction can be incredibly self-destructive, and adding to the destructive cycle with punitive measures does not help. The counselors try to instill life skills for overcoming the tendency to throw away success.

Patti Mellow is getting involved with Mission Academy again this year the same way she did in the beginning: She and Dr. Susan Chambers are chairing this year’s fundraising gala on Sept. 15. Details are available at teenrecoverysolutions.org. Participating is one way to help add hope to some metro families’ futures. 

 

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August 2017

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Cost: Free

Where:
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Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
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Cost: $75-$160

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Cost: Free

Where:
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Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
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Cost: $75-$160

Where:
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Cost: Free

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Telephone: 405.236.3100
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Cost: $10-12

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Cost: Free

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Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.604.0042
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
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More information

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Cost: $75-$160

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary
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Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
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More information

Oklahoma Contemporary’s second edition of Guerrilla Art Park features six Oklahoma artists, ranging from emerging to well established. This year, many of the artists chose to focus on the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary's Showroom
1146 N. Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.604.0042
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
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Telephone: 405.702.7755
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Cost: $35

Where:
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View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
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More information

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Where:
Jewel Box Theater
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View map »


Telephone: 405.521.1786
Website »

More information

A suite of new works by local artist Dr. Jim Cobb fills the newly renovated and restored Depot in this colorful exhibition.

Where:
Santa Fe Depot
200 S Jones
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View map »


Telephone: 405.307.9320
Website »

More information

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Where:
Myriad Gardens
301 W Reno
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Telephone: 405.235.3700
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More information

A joint exhibition of Western portraiture and iconography from Oklahoma Hall of Fame artists Mike Larsen and Harold T. Holden.

Where:
OK Hall of Fame Museum
1400 N Classen
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Telephone: 405.235.4458
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Where:
OKC Museum of Art
415 Couch
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Telephone: 405.236.3100
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Cost: $10-12

Where:
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415 Couch Drive
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Telephone: 405.236.3100
Contact Name: Becky Weintz
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Cost: Free

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Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.604.0042
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

Expand your skills and explore your creativity this summer. Enrollment is open for our four- and eight-week classes designed for artists at any level. Under the guidance of experienced instructors,...

Cost: $75-$160

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary
3000 General Pershing Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.951.0000
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

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View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
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More information

Oklahoma Contemporary’s second edition of Guerrilla Art Park features six Oklahoma artists, ranging from emerging to well established. This year, many of the artists chose to focus on the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Oklahoma Contemporary's Showroom
1146 N. Broadway
Oklahoma City, OK  73103
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma Contemporary
Telephone: 405.604.0042
Contact Name: Lori Brooks
Website »

More information

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Cost: $15 (free for kids 6 and under)

Where:
Exchange Landing
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View map »


Telephone: 405.702.7755
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More information

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Cost: $15

Where:
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Telephone: 405.702.7755
Website »

More information

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View map »


Telephone: 405.682.7579
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Where:
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OKC, OK  73103
View map »


Telephone: 405.708.6937
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Where:
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
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View map »


Telephone: 405.478.2250
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More information

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Where:
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OKC, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.235.3700
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Local music, food trucks, beer and camaraderie fill a stretch of Western Avenue in lieu of cars for this neighborhood festival.

Where:
Western Avenue
4200 N Western
OKC, OK  73118
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Christopher Sergel's adaptation of the Harper Lee classic is an engrossing reminder of the importance of doing right in the face of whatever comes.

Where:
Jewel Box Theater
3700 N Walker
OKC, OK  73118
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Telephone: 405.521.1786
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Get charged up! OKC's soccer squadron returns to Taft to take on their USL rivals from Texas.

Where:
Taft Stadium
2501 N May
OKC, OK  73107
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Telephone: 405.235.5425
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Metro, meet Opolis - you'll make beautiful music together, including this all-ages show.

Where:
Opolis
113 N Crawford
Norman, OK  73069
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A joint exhibition of Western portraiture and iconography from Oklahoma Hall of Fame artists Mike Larsen and Harold T. Holden.

Where:
OK Hall of Fame Museum
1400 N Classen
OKC, OK  73106
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Telephone: 405.235.4458
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Kehinde Wiley: A New Republic presents an overview of the artist’s career including around sixty of his oil paintings, stained glass and sculpture. The exhibition...

Cost: $10-12

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
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Telephone: 405.236.3100
Contact Name: Becky Weintz
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A trip to the amusement park becomes even more tempting with a fun-filled set from the musical siblings.

Where:
Frontier City
11501 N I-35 Service
OKC, OK  73131
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Telephone: 405.478.2140
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Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oklahoma City invites you to taste restaurant samples, sip signature cocktails, bid on auction items and enjoy learning about and supporting its philanthropic mission.

Where:
Sam Noble Museum
2401 Chautauqua
Norman, OK  73072
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Telephone: 405.569.2350
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A slice of American (and Oklahoman) history retakes the spotlight in this exhibition of works created under the New Deal's Federal Art Project.

Where:
OKC Museum of Art
415 Couch
OKC, OK  73102
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Telephone: 405.236.3100
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It's the tenth anniversary of this philantropic bash, where local personalities pair with professional dancers to show off their moves to earn the most dough for Children's Hospital Foundation.

Where:
Embassy Suites Norman
2501 Conference
Norman, OK  73069
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Telephone: 405.271.8430
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The massively popular free monthly festival of live music, food trucks and pop-up shops returns - come enjoy!

Where:
Downtown Edmond
32 N Broadway
Edmond, OK  73034
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Telephone: 405.341.6650
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