Christine Jamison stood alongside Old Cutler Road across the street from Pinecrest Gardens and her eyes welled with tears as her 18-year-old son, Reese, rode up on a bicycle late Friday afternoon. He and 12 other men had just completed a 76-mile leg of the 700-mile Paul Anderson Bike Ride, a charity event for a home for troubled youth.
The eight-day ride is from Key West to Vidalia, Ga., where the Paul Anderson Youth Home was founded in 1961 by Anderson, the 1956 Olympic gold medalist known as The World’s Strongest Man. The home serves young men aged 16-20 who have run into trouble with drugs, alcohol or the law. They are sent there by the court system, or, in the case of the Jamisons, desperate parents.
Reese was expelled from Boca Raton High as a sophomore, sent to Oak Hill Academy boarding school in Virginia, and expelled from there, too. His parents heard about the Paul Anderson home from a friend of a friend, and it proved to be the right solution. He gained self-confidence and discipline, and graduated from high school there last month.
He is back in Boca Raton, working with a plumbing company and enrolled at Palm Beach State College for the fall. He plans to study exercise science.
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“This program gave us our son back,’’ said Christine Jamison, whose husband rode alongside their son on Friday. “He was hanging with the wrong crowd, never would have gone outdoors and done exercise, or participated in group activities, and now he flourishes in those situations. I am so proud of him.’’
Reese Jamison IV, the father, added: “He’s a different kid now, 180-degree turn. He smiles, looks you in the eye, has confidence. I feel so grateful for the Paul Anderson home, which is why I chose to ride.’’
Reese V said he chose to ride as an alumnus of the program as an example to the younger residents.
“I was very immature when I got to the home, apathetic about everything, had no goals,’’ Reese Jamison said. “I was skipping class, smoking pot in the bathroom, stupid things. I had to learn to respect myself, other people, and the environment.’’
He said the annual bike ride taught him valuable lessons.
“The challenge of it brings something out in you, and gives you a lot of self-confidence, realizing you can achieve something you never thought you could do,’’ Jamison said.
That is exactly the point, said Drew Read, the home’s director.
“I have watched boys literally transform before my eyes on these rides,’’ Read said. “I see them have that light bulb moment where they realize they can conquer a challenge by setting short-term goals to reach a long-term goal. Once they figure out how to get from Point A to Point B, they have the confidence to go further.
“These are kids who felt like failures in school, athletics, with their parents, and then they persevere on this long ride, push through obstacles, and it changes them.’’
On Friday, one of the riders, a teen named Cody, had an upset stomach and had to take a short break. A staff member asked if he’d like to quit and ride in the car, and he replied: “No. If I give up now, I’ll give up again.’’
Another rider, 19-year-old Chris D. (he asked that his last name be kept private) of Pinehurst, N.C., has been at the home for seven months. He said it is the change of lifestyle he needed. The home provides educational, emotional and spiritual enrichment. Residents even run a vegetable garden and small farm where they harvest eggs and provide food for the kitchen.
“It took me a while to sober up, get everything out of my system, and then my eyes opened and I realized you can have as much fun being outside, laughing, doing sports or reading as you can getting high and drinking,’’ Chris D. said. “This bike ride is another challenge for me, a small step in a long process to becoming a better person. The first day, in Key West, I was nervous. By Day 2, I was like, ‘Alright, I can do this.’’’