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Program helps teens transition from life in institutions to community life

Coy Patros
Coy Patras in his office at Lutheran Community Service

Through Lutheran Community Service’s Residential Treatment Care Program, Coy Patras supervises a “step-down” program, helping juvenile offenders transition from an institution to living in community, going to high school or college, or finding a job.

The program, which began in 2003 with the Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration, counsels and mentors six boys and one girl from 14 to 21 years old to modify their behavior by rewarding them for positive actions, rather than trying to find out what “caused” their criminal behavior, said Coy, program supervisor.

It is one of several multi-dimensional foster care programs working to transition juveniles into society.

Youth work for three months to a year with an individual therapist, a skills trainer, foster parents and a family consultant.  The program is geared to change behavior and attitudes so young people can move forward.  It’s coupled with skills training to point them in positive ways.

“We don’t care where their behavior came from, we want to help them change their behavior so they can, for example, take correction without comment, an important skill if they want a job,” Coy said.

The young offenders, who were jailed for offenses from theft to manslaughter, are placed in foster homes or with their own families as they reintegrate into society and learn skills—from budgeting, to ordering a hamburger, to having fun without getting high, to gaining job skills.

The program has a 70 percent success rate, in contrast to 50 percent success rate for group homes, he said. 

Not all succeed.  Some go back to prison if they run away or don’t pass drug screening.  The hardest youth to work with are those who have been in gangs, he said.

 “We engage their families, involving them in family consultation and teaching them basic parenting skills, such as how to say no, knowing where their children are, and parenting in non-judgmental ways,” Coy said.

“It’s not always the parent’s fault that the child is defiant or addicted to drugs,” he said.

To help the young people, LCS offers weekly support and access to Coy 24/7.

“Being on 24/7 is not unlike monastic life,” he commented, noting that he is on a break from Benedictine monastic life.

Coy grew up in Neligh, Neb., graduating from the small-town high school in 1983 and completing studies in religious education in 1989 at Mount Marty College in Yankton, S.D.  He spent two years at the Benedictine mother house in Germany, completing seminary studies at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon in 1994 and studying counseling for a year in England.

He then entered monastic life in Schuyler, Neb., serving as cook, librarian, recruiter and priest taking communion to a nursing home every day.

In 2002, he decided he needed a break.

“I’m still seeking God,” he said. 

Before coming to Spokane as a therapist with Lutheran Community Services of the Northwest, he worked with developmentally disabled and mentally ill homeless adults in crisis services in Olympia.

Wanting to live in the country, he settled near Elk on a 10-acre farm with horses and chickens.

Coy’s work with the Residential Treatment Care Program is varied, including transporting the youth.  It’s his responsibility to know where the youth are.

“We take community safety seriously,” he said.

Youth are given points for the good things they do—such as getting up on time, being ready on time and cleaning up after themselves in the morning—and for their attitudes and maturity at home in the morning and evening—such as telling their parents or foster parents they love them.

They lose points for things they need to work on, such as rolling their eyes or making “snarky” comments in response to correction, lying or back talking.

“It’s like a game.  They have to know the rules,” Coy said.  “The rules help the parents or foster parents learn to see their goodness.  Being in the program evokes goodness.”

He told of one boy asking, “Why are you guys so nice.”

“That’s who we are,” said Coy.

“Rather than talking about God, we try to put God forth in our lives,” he commented about how he sees the role of staff in reaching the youth.  “We’re God dressed in jeans.”

“My faith drives me to help.  How could I be in ministry and not help,” said Coy, who attends Mass at different parishes and is engaged in spiritual direction at St. Joseph Family Center.

For him, faith is about living in ways that lead people to say, “See how they love one another,” rather than being caught up in talking about God and religious things.  He is sad that “Christian” has become a “dirty name” for some.

There is no effort to instill religion. Although the program is sponsored through Lutheran Community Services, it’s up to the youth to decide if they will go to church with their foster parents, on their own or not go.

Coy pulled a ceramic statue from his bookshelf depicting Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.

“This is my idea of being a supervisor or priest.  It’s being a servant,” he said.  “I also recognize that I’m a sinner working out my life but at the same time compelled to do good and to let my light shine.

“It’s crazy to the youth that even if they are in trouble, we are still compassionate,” he said.

“Yes, everyone makes mistakes and may not live up to commitments, but we try to live authentically.  My understanding of conversion recognizes that we all fall down and get up, then fall down and get up.  Even saints like Mother Theresa struggled, praying but needing prayers.”

For information, call 343-5017, 999-1834 or email cpatras@lcsnw.org.