The Positive Peer Culture (PPC) model, a pillar of In Balance Ranch Academy, is consistent with the philosophy we have used since the inception of In Balance services for youth starting in 1996. This philosophy involves guiding young people to help each other. This is the basis of the positive peer culture. Young people will start to heal the shame that contributed to the mess in their lives by helping each other with day to day difficulties. It is an interesting and difficult process to watch these youth struggle, but it is in these challenging times that true growth takes place. The other night I sat through a community meeting and witnessed two young people try to sort out a conflict with each other. There were several points when I wanted to intervene but I let it play out. They did an amazing job of bringing it to a productive resolution. You see, the heart of our philosophy is that young people can sort out most of their own difficulties with the proper support and guidance. In each step we take with these young men at the Ranch the message is clear and consistent: “You are capable.”
It is this message that is reinforced in all aspects of our program, whether it be in an equine experience, a community meeting led by the leadership council or fifteen mile hike, we continually go back to the idea that they are capable and we treat them as such.
Often drugs, alcohol and other self-defeating behavior leave an individual's self-esteem in serious jeopardy and diminish their ability to problem-solve. This is typical of many young men that enter the Ranch. After being at the Ranch for a period of time, it is a rare occurrence that our students are told what to do; instead, they are guided to solutions that they feel ownership of. It takes a lot of time, faith, patience and fortitude to graduate from In Balance Ranch Academy. Those that do graduate, often have a new belief system about the endless limitations of their capabilities. This belief system keeps our graduates successful long after their ranch experience is over and is a credit to the positive peer culture, under the careful watch and guidance of our dedicated and competent staff. When I was in my crazy teenage years, (yes, they were crazier than most youth we treat) a coach from my junior high reached in and helped to re-direct my life. His words were not profound but his message was. He had a constant belief that I was capable of a different life than what I had created for myself. I often wished he had just given me the answers to solve all my problems. Instead, he simply guided me through my problems until the solutions became known to me. It was his influence that helped launch Patrick, the counselor. My senior year in high school marked the beginning of the transformation in my life.
I began to believe I was capable and once I had a new belief system, people started to seek me out to help them. This process started to reinforce that I was a good person who could contribute something positive to my community. Once this shift took place, I also realized that I had to give up my negative peer subculture and surround myself with a positive one. One of those peers is my wife, now of 27 years. This model that we use has changed the lives of thousands of young people across this world, including my own. Even though that coach had no idea what a positive peer culture was, he helped me believe in myself and encouraged me to help others. This is what we do every day at the Ranch, we help young people believe in themselves and in turn help each other.