Passion for Kids Inspires Southeast Student to Mentor Teens at Shelterwood Academy

Stone Cook is fueling his passion for kids and a calling to serve this summer at Shelterwood Academy in Independence, Missouri.

Shelterwood is a faith-based Therapeutic Boarding School for at-risk teens. The residential treatment facility is founded on Christian principles and provides therapy to teenagers 12-17 who have patterns of substance abuse, anger and behavioral issues, and other concerns that negatively affect their lives and relationships with family and loved ones.

“Shelterwood” references a forestry technique in which older, stronger trees shelter and protect younger trees on the forest floor until they grow and thrive on their own. Similarly, Shelterwood offers struggling teens a safe, loving place to heal and flourish.

“My desire to work for Shelterwood came from my passion for kids and a calling from God to serve a group of kids that I had yet to consider helping,” Cook said.

Cook, of Kansas City, Missouri, is a Southeast Missouri State University senior psychology major with a minor in philosophy.  He is a member of Shelterwood’s Direct Care Staff.

Shelterwood Academy offers Stone Cook the opportunity to serve at-risk youth.

“I’m essentially a mentor to the kids that are there, and I provide them with relationships and a voice to their parents, teachers and counselors,” he said.

Shelterwood is located on a 220-acre wooded campus that includes outdoor courts, wilderness trails, a swimming pool, gym, soccer field, classrooms, dorms and counseling offices.

Cook explained a typical day’s work for him begins when he and other staff wake up the youth and assign them chores to be completed before breakfast. Next, they escort the teens to a school house, ensuring they get to their assigned class. While they are at school, Direct Care Staff clean and complete paper work or other business – doctor runs, parent phone calls or incident reports — related to the residents.

Around 1 p.m., staff take the youth to lunch and then escort them back to the school house. During the rest of the school day, staff participate in meetings with counselors to better understand what they have observed from certain residents and provide suggestions on how to move forward with therapy. At 3 p.m., staff pick up the youth from school and return them to the house for study hall, followed by free time until dinner at 6 p.m.

“After dinner, we plan activities for the kids and let them decide what they want to do for the evening,” he said. “Some choose to go off property and others choose to stay and do some kind of aerobic exercise.”

Evening activities come to an end around 9:30 p.m., and bedtime is at 10 p.m.

Stone Cook is a member of Shelterwood’s Direct Care Staff.

“All this may seem very structured and organized,” but it can unravel in a heartbeat, Cook said.

He explained that most Shelterwood residents come from wealthy families.

“Working here has taught me that money, power and possessions cannot fill the void Christ is trying to fill,” he said. “Most of them are adopted, which has clearly caused some hurt in their lives, and it is shown through their actions.”

Cook began working at Shelterwood Academy May 22 and will continue through Aug. 20. He learned about the position from Dan Presson in Southeast’s Career Services. Cook said he applied for the position in summer 2016 but did not meet the age requirement. In February of this year, he was contacted about the position, which he gladly accepted for this summer.

“The biggest thing that I’ve enjoyed so far at Shelterwood is the kids who are funny and very smart, and even though they go through violent periods of anger outbursts, they still have a way of capturing Christ’s heart.”

At Southeast, Cook is active in Catholic Campus Ministry, serving on the Newman Center Apostolate Counsel. He is also a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer.

He plans to graduate from Southeast in December 2018. After working for a few years, he hopes to attend graduate school at the Erikson Institute in Chicago, Illinois.