GENEVA, Neb. — Improvisation.

Maybe that’s what the lives of Molly and Braeona have always been about.

No real plan. No expectation of what will happen next.

That’s what it can be like for kids like Molly, who when she is home, away from the Youth Residential Treatment Center in Geneva where she lives now, she mingles among gang bangers, drug addicts, alcoholics and chaos.

“I had to grow up very fast,” she said. “So coming here, I am able to be a kid again and act how I want to act. Be myself. And I don’t have to look over my shoulder all the time.”

She doesn’t have to worry about where her next meal is coming from. Where she will be able to lie down to rest. What clothes she will find to wear.

“We’re taken care of here,” she said.

The Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/2cs8LiV ) reports that the Youth Residential Treatment Center in Geneva, a division of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, is where young women, ages 14 to 18, come for treatment, for help or safety, and to figure things out. For some, it seems more home than the home “out there.”

For most, it’s a place of last resort.

Molly and Braeona are state wards there. And last month, they were able to participate in an improvisation camp with other young women in their cottages. This improvisation had more of a plan, was scripted. But it was their script, one they wrote to help improve their relationship skills and ways of thinking. To give them more experience in how to cooperate and stay on task.

For Molly, who is nearing 19, it’s her second stay in Geneva. She calls this a “life put on pause.”

“Out there is where everything turns real, and it can be struggling, it could be anything,” she said.

She hopes this last commitment will bring changes for her. She knows she has to want that change, but she struggles with it.

She doesn’t know what she will do when she is free, other than try out the Bridge to Independence program for former state wards and hope for the best.

“I’m so used to living this life. I can honestly say that I’m not ready to give it up,” she said.

She is separated from her family right now — no calls, visits, mail — rejected by those who had been trying to support her until she tested that support once too often. The last straw was her addiction to meth.

She kept telling them she was going to change.

“I’m going to stop doing this. I’m going to stop doing that. I just kept telling them I’m sorry. I’m sorry. But I just kept getting in trouble and getting in trouble and doing the same things over.”

Finally, family members were done. Or so deep in their own troubles they couldn’t take on hers.

So all she has out there now are her homies, she said. They are her family.

“And, you know, you’ve got to do a lot to keep that family.”

Braeona also has been at Geneva twice. This time she is expecting a baby at 17. She is comfortable in Geneva, would rather be there than a foster home.

“I feel like the staff here and everyone all around get really close and personal with you, whether you want them to or not, whether you like it or not,” she said.

She is older now and watching the younger ones, 15 and 16 years old, go down the same path she did. It’s frustrating. But it keeps her motivated to do the right things, to get what she can from the programs offered her.

At the improvisation camp, Molly, Braeona and the other young women at the treatment center pulled things from their experiences and knowledge to create scenes about the lives of teens, on the choice to drink and drive, on sex trafficking, gangs, sadness and how friends help or don’t help.

They explored who they were and learned more about their cottage mates through personality inventories, something they wish they had known more about earlier in their lives.

They talked about how they judge people and why it’s good to focus more on being curious about someone rather than being judgmental.

The scene Braeona’s group chose was about how teens sometimes manipulate parents, to their own detriment.

The scene Molly’s cottage chose was about gangs and what young members have to do to be down with the gang. Like initiation, Molly said. If you’re younger, you’ve got to do whatever the gang tells you to do, if you really want to gain their trust and respect.

John Beranek of Intersections Consulting of South Dakota led the camp at Geneva in early August. It’s a drug and alcohol prevention program that included workshops, talent shows, exercises on life challenges and lessons, and ways of self-expression.

It helps the young women, who live and work together daily, who sometimes bicker and get irritated with each other, to come together and work together, one of the teens said.

But the magic of the program is the audience participation when they perform the scenes they wrote, Beranek said.

“There seems to be some safety in theater for a young person to ask a question that’s happening in a scene. And you can feel they’re living it or have experienced it by the way they are asking questions,” he said.


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com