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Kalem Blitzes Problems!

July 15, 2011

By J. Blake Ragsdale

The whistle blows. Kalem and his teammates rise from the sideline bench and quickly strap on their football helmets.

“Blitz the quarterback!” the middle school football coach shouts as the boys run onto the field. The blitz is Kalem’s favorite defensive play. The fourteen-year-old crouches in his defensive stance anxiously waiting for the opposing team to hike the football.

Kalem springs forward the instant he sees the football reach the quarterback’s hands. Bits of earth and grass fly into the autumn air as Kalem speeds past his opponents tackling the quarterback to the ground. Kalem lifts himself up to the spectators’ cheers.

On the football field, everything in Kalem’s world is perfect.

“I love football,” the boy explains. “It’s a good way for me to release my anger.”

Kalem has experienced difficulty managing his emotions since losing his mother in a car accident. Phyllis Gaines, Kalem’s grandmother, did her best to care for her grandson even while working through her own grief. However, Kalem’s anger led him in a wrong direction.

He began to skip school and make choices that placed him at risk.

“We would try to talk, but I couldn’t get him to open up,” Gaines says. “He would say ‘off the wall’ things that hurt my feelings, but it was the anger in him. He was depressed, and I was hurting, too.”

In January 2010, Gaines turned to Baptist Children’s Homes. A call to Odum Home, BCH’s residential campus in Pembroke, was her first step in helping Kalem.

“I agreed to come to Odum Home, but I didn’t like it,” Kalem admits. “I didn’t want to be away from my family and friends.”

Kalem stayed for five months, but the teen never viewed Odum Home as a place that could help him and his grandmother. At the end of the school year, Kalem returned home where he continued to let anger and grief dominate his choices. When the Department of Juvenile Justice became involved, Kalem returned to Odum Home. This time, Kalem recognized his family needed help.

“I didn’t think people here would really help me, but they do,” he explains. “They take the time to listen to me and spend time with me.”

Kalem’s grades, particularly during the last grading period, have improved. He’s learned to deal with his anger differently with the aid of Odum Home staff and houseparents.

“I used to punch things, but now I can go outside and walk and ask God to help me,” Kalem says. He attends services at Bear Swamp Baptist Church in Pembroke with the children and staff from his cottage. “I pray, and it helps.”

Kalem’s job working with Odum Home maintenance supervisor Jackie Spillers has become another positive focus for the teen. Kalem assists Spillers with a variety of age-appropriate projects around campus.

“My job keeps my mind off things and keeps me active,” he says. “I want to save money for school and start my own bank account. I’m learning responsibility.”

Of course, football continues to be an outlet for Kalem. He plans to play this fall as he makes the transition from middle to high school.

And through it all, the relationship between grandmother and grandson is becoming stronger.

“It’s been a long road of both therapy and love,” Gaines says. “We can sit down and actually have a conversation. It’s a really great feeling. Odum Home has made a difference. . .a lot of difference.”

Kalem agrees. “I’m thankful that my staff at Odum Home didn’t look at me and see a bad child. They saw that I could become something. It means a lot to me.”