For several years, the courts have ordered youth offenders to participate in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings as part of their probation. Many kids returning to the community from inpatient treatment programs have also been required to participate in the meetings as part of their "after-care" program.
But the adult AA and NA programs aren't always a good fit.
"I heard a number of complaints," said Circuit Court Judge Paula Brownhill. "They smoke cigarettes, so it's really smoky. They felt like the adults monopolized the time. They didn't like being hugged a lot by adults they didn't know. They were too shy to speak up."
Danny Yates started drinking in sixth grade and eventually was told to attend an adult AA meeting. He said the stories he heard there were intimidating, and made him not want to talk.
"It made me feel like I didn't have a problem," he said. "They were talking about heroin and doing all these hard drugs. They look like they're lost and run down. I go, 'That isn't me.'"
Kids asked if there were any teen groups to attend. There weren't.
So Brownhill's judicial assistant, Joy Brewer, took over. She formed a core group of teens from the Juvenile Intensive Treatment Court to plan and develop AA and NA groups for youth their age.
Jessica Andrews, Dylan French, Jostien Buckman and Yates now head "New Beginnings," youth Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous groups that cater to youth up to age 20.
Much of their initial support came from the community. The youth leaders gave speeches at the Rotary and Lions clubs, which brought them $1,000 in startup money. Stores donated soda, water and snacks for a fundraising dance New Beginnings put together.
Now New Beginnings meets Mondays from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church, 1545 Franklin Ave. in Astoria. The NA members meet in the parish hall, while AA members gather in the library.
"This group teaches kids to take the right path at a young age, and makes a comfortable environment to do it in," said French, who plans to get a tattoo of Ezekiel 25:17 - the "Pulp Fiction" verse about the "path of the righteous man ... beset on all sides" - on his body.
If a group for young alcohol and narcotics addicts had existed six months ago, French said he would have been off probation that much sooner.
Instead, he was compelled to attend treatment led by adults, often for adults and including mostly adults. Their experiences were far from the same, French said. "'I ride the bus and smoked pot and walked down the street' versus "I'm a longshoreman and I went to a bar, got drunk and drove home.'"
Some kids will be court-ordered to attend the meetings, which will mostly involve teens giving other teens the information they need to straighten out their lives. Activities such as movies, bowling and snacks will be used as rewards.
"It teaches them new things to do when they're sober instead of sitting around thinking about using," said Andrews, who tried methamphetamine at age 11. She spent 19 months in lock-down treatment before deciding to start fresh.
Brownhill said the program has already been a success.
"Just looking at the four kids who are the current board of directors, they have been clean and sober for many months now," she said, adding that she is hopeful the impact will be much broader.
"I think it will help lots of kids stay clean and sober," she said.