Sam's Story - Project Atlas

This case study aims to describe the positive impact on the life of a young man brought about by an project known as “Project Atlas”. The project was jointly run by a community youth work project that had been running for a number of years and Adventure Education (AE), AE specialise in working with young people from dysfunctional backgrounds presenting with challenging behaviours. Sam has given his permission for this case study to be used if it means that AE can help other young people. For that reason he is keen that his real name is used.

Sam is the youngest of six children and was born in a village Somerset in 1991. He has five older brothers. His father was absent due to periods of time in prison when Sam was very small and has been estranged from him ever since. His mother had a number of partners all of whom brought a high degree of violence into the home, often as a result of an excessive intake of alcohol. Police visited the home very regularly to intervene in the domestic violence taking place. At one point Sam and his mother were kept hostage in the garden shed at gunpoint whilst the riot police were called from 40 miles away. As a child Sam was devoted to his mother and believed it to be his place to protect her despite the fact that she constantly welcomed the perpetrators of the violence into her home. He was often severely chastised for protecting her after the event.

All through his childhood Sam was short for his age, very slim and considerably malnourished. Never the less he became very strong and well able to defend himself should the need arise. He has blond hair, blue eyes and a very endearing smile despite the challenges that he has faced from a very early age.
Sam was brought up on a council estate where he made firm friends with other boys from the estate. They became almost tribal in their loyalty to one another and their corporate sense that the world and most people in it were against them. From an early age they were frequently cautioned by the police for anti-social behaviour. Sam managed some of his junior school years but very little of his secondary. This was mostly as a result of an anger within him that erupted frequently at any suggestion of injustice or authority. He was not violent towards other people but caused damage to school premises frequently.

When Sam was 13 his mother left to go and live 150 miles away with a boyfriend leaving him at home with two brothers. Sam experienced this as a devastating rejection adding to his anger. She contacted them infrequently to check how they were doing but did left them with very little food or money
Sam was expelled from a number of schools and was being home tutored by the time he reached year eleven. This too failed as he did not like his tutors and generally went out when they were expected to call. Social services were at no time aware that he was living without the supervision of an adult. He attended a number of anger management course all of which he describes as “worse than useless”
Throughout these turbulent years Sam developed a passion for cooking and dreamt of one day owning his own restaurant.

Presenting difficulties at the start of Project Atlas:
• Very few qualifications
• Poor school record
• Uncontrollable anger
• A tendency to withdraw for days on end once something made him angry.
• Difficulty with relationships
• Inability to deal with conflict
• Intolerant of people
• Extensive dental decay (having never been to the dentist)
• Severely underweight

Sam joined Project Atlas in February 2010 and completed the first phase of it in September 2011. Project Atlas is a programme for boys aged 17-20 years comprising of day activities, and residentials. It incorporates activities such as rock climbing, canoeing and hill walking together with mentorship and goal setting. Each contact with the boys is designed to bring about significant change using Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), and a dissociative talking therapy as the change agent. As stated by Adventure Education;

“Our strategy is a simple one and is based on a holistic experiential education model. This allows us to directly relate cause and affect to the learner. All too often young people today do not realize the consequence of their actions, because of the environment they are in, and so refuse or are unable to make the connection between what they have done and the effect it has on themselves and the world around them. The outdoor environment allows us to demonstrate the link between cause and effect in a very short time scale, the link between their actions, attitude and behavior and the effect that this is having on them and the world around them becomes unavoidable. 

The structures, progressive approach that is applied is totally effective, bringing out the best in young people through innovative practical tasks, which build confidence, self-satisfaction, personal achievement and self-belief. We also ensure that the skills and principles developed during the course are not only directly related to scenarios that the learner may currently be encountering but also those they may experience in the future such as in the work place”

Sam responded very positively from day one of the project and was able to engage with the interventions on offer. He was astonished at the impact that the underlying principles of NLP had on him. Whilst he did not fully understand how the changes were taking place, he developed faith very early on that the project would offer him the changes that he had been seeking for many years. Traditional youth work seeks to create good behavior when young people are together. Project Atlas with the help of the Adventure Education team sought to create real behavior and therefore offer interventions to bring about deep and long lasting change. The team consistently demonstrated the presuppositions that are guiding principles within NLP and Sam was able to recognize them and respond in a way that brought about real change.

Project Atlas included a 10 day trip to the Pyrenees Mountains during which time Sam engaged in some change work, a talking therapy and the primary objective of the residential, aimed at identifying the root cause of any negative emotions and resolving them. He was very motivated to do this for the sake of his girl friend that constantly bore the brunt of his anger. The change in him was noticeable immediately and has continued to astound those who know him well.

Outcomes of Sam’s change programme:
• Sam has been employed on a part time basis as a chef in a hotel a few miles from his home. He has recently been given a permanent full time contract and a substantial salary increase in recognition of the excellent work he is doing in the kitchen.
• Sam has moved into a flat with his girlfriend. He is able to deal with disagreements without becoming unduly angry and if he does become angry he is able to recover quickly. His girlfriend asks what ever has happened to him on a regular basis and is delighted with the change in him.
• Sam finds himself singing walking down the street and wonders why he has never been able to do that before.
• He is in the middle of a course of dental treatment to correct his tooth decay.
• He is no longer afraid of heights
• Sam frequently uses NLP techniques to help his girlfriend and work colleagues.
• Sam has put on weight and is now eating a healthy diet.
• Instead of acting as an aggrieved person he is now warm, friendly and keen to watch over other people rather than just look out for himself.

When Sam climbed a mountain whilst in France this September he acknowledged openly that the mountain was not only a real mountain but also a metaphor for all of the other mountains in his life. He was able to identify and articulate that the change programme had relieved him of much of the baggage that he had been carrying around for a very long time and allowed him to climb any mountain that he set his dreams upon.
“I went up the mountain a boy and came down a man”

There are many more details regarding the changes that have taken place in Sam’s life. These are available on request.

2015 update

Sam is currently the head chef in a small bistro, he is the father of a young healthy 2year old boy and lives happily with his partner of long standing.

He is in short a changed man and is enjoying the fruits of his hard work and achievements. AE are in regular contact with Sam and he knows he can call for support if and when he needs it.