Troubled Teen

Boot camp style intervention program turns teen's life around


Brett Tierney, and his mom, Stacy Parkerson, knew he needed help getting his life back on track.

Tierney, 16, who lives in Strawberry, said he was getting into a lot of trouble with alcohol and drugs as well as ditching school and failing his classes.


Brett Tierney was struggling with anger and was failing out of school when his mother sent him to the Arizona Project Challenge program.

The final straw came when Parkerson was away at a conference in Laughlin and received a phone call telling her that Brett had taken his grandparents' van without permission, even though he only had a driver's permit.

Upset, she went out into the hall and noticed a booth for Arizona Project Challenge, a boot-camp style program for children who are getting into trouble.

When she came back to Strawberry, she spoke to her son and laid down some strict rules, including counseling sessions he would need to attend at least once a week.

The other option was enrolling in Arizona Project Challenge in Queen Creek, which Tierney chose over the new rules and counseling.

Parkerson said the first day of camp, July 9, was a hard one for her. The instructors took over the moment they stepped on the campus.

He said the school focused on boot-camp ethics and helped the students with job skills, anger management and a lot of physical exercise.

In order to be accepted into the program, a teen cannot be in trouble with the law and a teen must have the desire to change and learn.

Tierney said the mundane and stringent routine at Arizona Project Challenge got boring real fast.

He would wake up at 4 a.m. to do physical training, eat breakfast from 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. before doing barracks maintenance for one hour.

At 7:30 a.m., students met for a mandatory flag formation, and classes began 15 minutes later.

When classes ended at 3:15 p.m., he and the other students were required to spend two hours doing homework before eating.

He ended the day with barracks maintenance and personal hygiene before going to sleep at 8:30 p.m.

This routine was Tierney's life for five months. He graduated from the camp earlier this month.

Tierney said the camp itself did not bother him much, but the July summer heat in the Valley was an eye-opener.

For the first three weeks in July there was a lot of physical training and explanations of what was going to go on at the camp and what was expected of him for the next five months.

Tierney's contact with his mother in the first week was restricted to handwritten letters, and beginning in the second week he was allowed to make a two-minute phone call.

"Those two minutes went by very quick," his mom said, adding that she did not see her son for more than three months until the camp held a family-fun day in October.

Tierney said the camp taught him how to cope with different people because there were 60 other teens in his barracks.

The camp started with 154 students, but only 64 graduated.

Parkerson said she believes Arizona Project Challenge saved her son, because he was always angry and there was almost no communication between the two.

She said her son now talks and discusses things that are going on in his life. He now pays attention to his surroundings and is more attentive to his personal hygiene.

"The respect is there. I can now trust him," Parkerson said. "He knows right from wrong. I know he will make the right decisions now."

She said she allows her son to see his old friends because she knows he will not fall back into trouble, and added his friends seem to look up to him now.

Tierney, who is now back home, is not completely out of the program, which lasts 18 months. The program includes mentor contacts with John Lenzmeier, who works for the Arizona Department of Transportation in Payson. The Strawberry teenager received his general-equivalency diploma at the camp, and plans to enroll at a community college to study welding.

For more information on Arizona Project Challenge, e-mail Parkerson at

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