Breaking the Barriers: Texas Teens Use Sledgehammers to Break Through Negative Influences

Many of the youth who enter the Samuel F. Santana Challenge Academy have barriers that contributed to their negative behavior. Without overcoming those barriers, many of our youth will continue their negative behavior long after they are out of the juvenile system.
While working at the Challenge Academy, I came up with an idea for a way our challenge youth could identify their own barriers and move forward. On the track, there was a 4x4 cement slab that was used for Challenge's flag pole. That slab was not being utilized and had to be removed for a future project. I had a vision for the concrete slab that involved giving the teens an opportunity to write down barriers that they wanted to break on the slab and then literally breaking them.
In their own words, each teen had a section of the concrete to write and draw their barriers down. One section of the concrete was dedicated for all of the juveniles to trace their right hand in a promise to make a commitment to break their barriers. Once the entire slab was complete, on May 7th at 5:00 pm, a Break the Barriers ceremony was conducted.

Challenge Counselor Correra was our guest speaker and he gave the youth encouraging words of wisdom and support. Each teen was given chances to strike the concrete slab with a sledgehammer. Prior to hitting the slab, each teen yelled out what barriers they wanted to break. Senior Officer Mike Tillman and the on-duty officers gave encouraging words to the teens as they broke the concrete slab. The Officers were so inspired by what they were witnessing with the youth that they made their own pledges and hit the slab as well.
From start to finish, the entire project took four days to complete due to the thickness of the concrete. The top part was destroyed by the sledgehammers but the base of the slab was four feet deep in the ground. It could not be lifted out of the ground, so the youth dug a seven foot hole next to the slab and pushed the slab into it and buried it. One of the teens called this the "Challenge time capsule" and in 20 years he wants to come back and see where everyone was in life. All the youth who worked on this project felt very proud of all the hard work and commitment to this project.

Lee Camack was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. He is the youngest of four children. His father was a U.S. Army Major and his mother a Civil Rights Activist. He attended Dakota State University in South Dakota on a football scholarship. He transferred to the University of Texas at El Paso where he played on the football team as well. He has over 27 years of experience working with children of all ages. He has been a certified Personal Trainer since 1993.
He began his career at the age of eighteen, working at the Fort Bliss youth center in the sports department. In his spare time he coached youth in basketball, football and soccer at the Fort Bliss Youth Center. The youth center was the foundation for his future endeavors. For the past twelve years, he has worked for the El Paso County Juvenile Probation Department. He worked as a line officer for seven years and worked his way to becoming a Team Leader in the Challenge Program in 2005. He is happily married to his lovely wife of six and a half years.

Updated: February 08 2018