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Starting over Buffalo teen gets a fresh start at Renaissance

"I wanted more and I asked myself, 'Why can't I do it?' " Jonathan, 19, said of the curiosity that led him to start drinking during freshman year of high school.

At the Renaissance Campus in West Seneca, kids are there for one common goal: escaping drugs and alcohol. The campus has 62 beds. The Renaissance House for boys from ages 12 to 18 holds 30. Stepping Stones, for girls, and Promise House, for boys, hold 16 beds each, where residents have more freedom such as being able to get a job and more free time.

Jonathan, who preferred not to use his last name, entered Renaissance House during his senior year of high school. "I just kept messing up; I didn't even think I would finish high school," he said. Jonathan's vice: alcohol and marijuana. "Addiction can come in all forms; whether it be a bag, pipe, or pills, it's all the same." he said.

Jonathan, like the many teens at Renaissance, went too far. "Last year after my birthday, I went on a binge of alcohol and marijuana; I fell off, and eventually my parents pressed me to go into treatment," he said. "When I was a freshman at South Park, I heard about it [drugs], and was curious," he said. "I drank a lot of alcohol, and I would binge drink almost every weekend. I was offered harder drugs, but I would've gotten into it if it wasn't for this help; it would have been a matter of time."

Eventually Jonathan's addiction became too much for his family. Jonathan said. "After I stole money from my father, they pressed charges, and I was put in Buffalo City Drug Court, and eventually went into treatment on April 21st of last year."

After going through Renaissance House and now in Promise House, Jonathan has come to understand his addiction. "I'm looking at this experience in a more positive light now. I was self-centered and stubborn; it would have been a matter of time before I would have gotten into harder drugs."

While at Promise House, Jonathan graduated from Layfette High School with his GED. "When I came to this campus, I was encouraged by the staff and my family to receive my GED, and now I'm at ECC. At first it was hard to go to ECC, adjusting to seeing all my old friends there, but I have a new mind-set now."

Looking back on this experience, Jonathan has many regrets, but more accomplishments. "I pushed good friends away that tried to help me. It's not worth to do all these dirty deeds, like stealing, for drugs; It's not worth to get caught up in it. I was to the point where I was stealing from my parents, and becoming desperate to get my next high."

Amanda Leitten, the special events coordinator for Kids Escaping Drugs, has worked at the Renaissance Campus for three years. "There was nothing in the community that filled that hole to help teens with addiction until this campus. Kids are on a completely different social scale than adults, and are going through so many other issues that they need something like this. The sad thing is that most kids choose jail because they have no idea that they can seek help for their treatment, and we hope we can not only raise money for the campus, but awareness as well."

Jonathan hopes to graduate from Promise House in June and hopes to become a sports broadcaster. "Before this program, I didn't take sobriety seriously: a drug is a drug, and addiction is all the same," he said.

Candace Lukasik is a senior at West Seneca East

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Kids Escaping Drugs, sponsored by Channel 2, has been the fundraiser for the Renaissance Campus. The 14th annual National Honor Society Walk-a-thon will be held from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 29, at Forest Lawn. More than 600 high school students are expected to attend this three-mile walk through the historic cemetery to benefit the Kids Escaping Drugs Campaign.

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