Standing strong

HERSEY – Bending steel bars, tearing a phonebook in half and breaking baseball bats, members of the Stand Strength Team presented a positive message and encouraged residents at Eagle Village to make good choices on Monday.

T.A. Nalian, Stand Strength Team founder, who also goes by “Shrek,” shared with youth the struggles he faced as a child, including an alcoholic father and bullies at school.

“When I was in the first grade, I was put in the special education department of the public schools,” Nalian said. “I never saw the inside of a regular classroom, ever. I was the kid who was segregated to a few little classrooms in the back of the school somewhere.

“Because I looked different, acted different, and spoke different I was bullied and picked on in school.”

Nalian – who described himself as having been "written off" as a child – became a successful motivational speaker and today uses his strength and experiences to reach youth across the country. He told Eagle Village residents they are special, unique, important and rare.

“Everyone sitting or standing within the sound of my voice today has something special to offer, something special to give, and you all have something special to do in life,” he said. “There is no one here right now who is second rate or inferior to anyone or anything.

“You are the next generation of our leaders to come. We need you strong. We need you confident. We need you competent, because it will be you, it will be your generation making decisions for our country. We need you to make the right decisions.”

Nalian asked residents about what troubles them, and Matthew Lake, known as “the Animal” wrote each of their answers on a phonebook.

Fear. Anger. Rage. Drugs. Regret. Feeling insecure, ignored, worthless, disrespected.

Then, he ripped the phonebook in half – vertically and unopened – destroying the painful words written on it.

“God can use these tough times you are going through right now to make you wise, to make you strong, to give you something you can use to help other people one day,” he said.

Stand Strength Team members went on to perform other feats of strength. One blew a hot water bottle to pieces using the air in his lungs and another bent a steel bar over his head, then formed it into the shape of a “U.”

“God wants to shape and form your life into something special because you are special, you are important, you are unique and you are rare to the Lord,” Nalian said.

Ashley, a resident at Eagle Village, said the Stand Strength Team’s inspirational message was enjoyable and relatable.

“Just because my past or anyone’s past has been rough doesn’t mean you are unloved, because God loves you,” Ashley said. “So many people in my life have just left. No one has been there for me for my whole life, but then I thought, ‘God has been there.’”

It is important for Eagle Village residents to hear stories of people that resonate with their own experiences, said Jeremiah Ketchum, past pastor at LightHouse Chapel at Eagle Village.

“When they get to see guys bending bars, breaking bats, it is just fun,” Ketchum said. “A lot of our residents missed their childhood. They missed having fun and laughing and going to fun events with their family. I think these guys bring a good combination of fun, athletics and they bring a message of God’s word from a standpoint our residents can understand.”

“Any chance these kids get or any adults get to hear a mention of healing, redemption and forgiveness brings them a step closer to being able to accomplish that in their own lives or to let God accomplish it in their lives,” added Joe Wentworth, advancement officer and interim pastor at LightHouse Chapel.

Eagle Village is a non-profit family treatment center providing intervention services and camps, residential treatment, foster care and adoption services for all counties in Michigan. If you know of a family in crisis that may benefit from these programs, or are interested in volunteering to do hair, makeup or take photos at Eagles Pride, contact Eagle Village at (231) 832-2234 or visit