The Truth in Consequences

February 1, 2008 by  
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Teens learn how CHOICES Impact future

For teens and their parents, life has its fair share of growing pains. Among the biggest challenges they face is learning to communicate effectively. Gary Frizzell, an employee from Seattle-based Qwest Communications, faced a similar problem when he tried connecting with his troubled 14-year-old son. Instead of making progress, he found himself constantly butting heads with his teen. Before losing all hope, Frizzell wrote a series of letters to his son. He carefully thought of what he had to say, how to logically say it and demonstrate how consequences come from choices made each day. By giving his son the simple facts about life in an objective voice, Frizzell hoped he could break the communication barrier between the two of them … and it worked.

He wondered if this could work for his son, would it work for others?

In 1983, with the encouragement from a local school counselor, Frizzell founded CHOICES, a workshop that helps teens realize the important role academics play in achieving success. No nagging, lecturing or confrontations – just straightforward conversation to get facts and insight from a person who has experienced the real world.

It takes a village
Within a year, Frizzell successfully amassed a team of about 400 co-workers to work with teens across the Pacific Northwest giving CHOICES presentations. More than 20 years later, the program touches lives coast-to-coast. By licensing the material and providing training to volunteers, the social enterprise reaches out to 1,000 students in 260 different locations each school day. Texas’ six program sites alone will reach more than 11,000 teenagers in 2008.

Entergy Texas and the Education for Tomorrow Alliance brought the program to the Houston area. Business people and students tackle challenging questions about school, the working world, life and the future.

Keith Hazelwood, a 55-year-old financial planner has volunteered for the program in Conroe since 1998. He first heard about CHOICES at a chamber of commerce meeting. Since then, he has given more than 50 presentations. “The fact that I’m not [the student’s] parent or teacher gets them to listen to me more often than not,” he says.

CHOICES incorporates activities into its workshops where Hazelwood points out the importance of self-discipline, goal setting, time and money management and personal responsibility. Through interactive role-playing situations, Hazelwood helps teens understand the importance of education to their future.

“I start with an introduction that compares today’s teens, to teens [from when] I was in ninth grade,” says Hazelwood.

In two 50-minute sessions, volunteers take students through real-world exercises to show teens they can take charge of their lives. Following the workshop, teens should be able to develop positive skills and habits for success in high school and beyond.

At the end of each presentation, the teens get a chance to speak their mind about their experience with CHOICES through a survey. “The feedback for me is mostly positive,” notes Hazelwood. “My daughters never thought I was ‘cool’ when they were in high school, but I get that comment quite often.”

What is the key to crossing the generation gap?

“I talk to them the same way I talk to my customers – with respect,” says Hazelwood. However, he does recount one memorable comment on a survey where a teen wrote: “It was all good information; he can’t help it if he is a boring speaker.”

“Guess you can’t win ’em all,” jokes Hazelwood.


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