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New book by renowned journalists recognizes Youth Villages’ work

September 24, 2014

Youth Villages is highlighted as a model organization in the new book “A Path Appears” by renowned journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

Kristof, columnist for The New York Times since 2001 and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, co-wrote the book with his wife WuDunn after years of dedicated journalism by the two focusing on human rights issues in the developing world. They have covered countless global problems with a concentration on Darfur since 2004.

A Path Appears

In the book, they show how individuals, foundations and nonprofit organizations can make a significant difference in solving societal problems, identifying successful local, national and global initiatives.

Youth Villages is one of the organizations recognized. In a chapter titled “Coaching Troubled Teens,” Kristof and WuDunn identify Youth Villages’ intensive in-home services that help troubled youth live successfully as an effective approach.

“YV argues that with the right support and scrutiny, half of the 600,000 kids in America being raised in effect by the state (including foster care) could remain with their families or relatives, saving tens of millions of dollars annually and reducing the trauma and upheaval for those children,” they write.

The book features the story of Fred Burns, a Mississippi native who was helped by several Youth Villages programs and now participates in Youth Villages’ transitional living program.

“With this new stability in his life, Fred began to excel in sports and academics. He became the first member of his immediate family to graduate from high school, and he did it in style: he was valedictorian, with a 4.25 GPA. Fred accepted an academic scholarship to Mississippi State University, was successful as a walk-on to the football team, and later transferred to Jackson State University to major in computer engineering.”

Kristof and WuDunn’s book tour began Sept. 23 in New York City and will end Nov. 18 in Miami. “A Path Appears” will also be the basis of a four-hour PBS series as a special presentation of “Independent Lens” airing in early 2015.

Youth Villages supporters provide backpacks and supplies for more than 300 children in New England

September 12, 2014



Thanks to the generosity of donors and volunteers, Youth Villages 5th Annual Back to School Initiative was a success!

Youth Villages was able to distribute backpacks filled with new school supplies to more than 300 children to our neediest families across New England. We couldn’t have done this without this tremendous support!

Many families were impacted by this initiative and Deborah Gagne, a Youth Villages family intervention specialist, had the opportunity to see this first-hand. Please read about her experience below and also check out a gallery featuring thank-you notes from some of the children and photos from corporate partners and our Backpack Shindig fundraising event.

This was my first time witnessing a family that received backpacks from YV. Mom was not sure where she was going to get the money for school supplies this year, but she was totally thrilled when I arrived, not only with school supplies, but with a new outfit for her children. The elementary-aged girls were all smiles when they saw the backpacks, but when they opened them they actually squealed with delight. Each child pulled out the items one-by-one and examined it excitedly. When they pulled out their clothing they actually danced around. They tried their shoes on immediately and there were “Thank You”’s and smiles all around. Mom was so relieved and the girls were excited to start school. The family was so appreciative and thanks YV — and so do I for letting me experience that family’s happiness for such a generous gesture.

King of Harts clothing by Melissa Joan Hart to benefit Youth Villages

August 25, 2014

King of HartsYouth Villages is grateful and honored that Melissa Joan Hart chose us as the charitable partner for her new boys clothing line, King of Harts. Proceeds from the collection’s Louie Tee will support Youth Villages programs.

Hart, star of the television show Melissa & Joey, recently launched King of Harts with her husband, Mark Wilkerson. Proud parents of three young sons, the pair were inspired to create a line of “cool, durable and quality boys clothes.” Hart was the child star of Clarissa Explains It All and teen star of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.

Check out Hart’s new line here, stock up on great clothing for the boys in your life, and pick up a Louie Tee that supports Youth Villages.

Time In with Dr. Tim: Robin Williams’ tragic death can spark needed conversations

August 22, 2014

They knew him as the genie in Aladdin, from the adventure Jumanji or the Night at the Museum movies. It may be disturbing to children to see that Robin Williams — someone they admired, who seemed to have everything — wasn’t able to resolve his issues in a positive way. But his tragic death may help us talk to our children about mental illness and how people can get the help they need.

It’s another opportunity to remind us to pay attention to our children’s behavior and look for signs that may indicate depression, anxiety or other serious, but treatable, mental health problems.

Remember that the symptoms of dangerous depression may look different in children and teens than they do in adults. You know your child best. Look for changes in behavior, and pay attention to off-hand comments that might have deeper meaning. Listen for things like:

“You won’t have to worry about that much longer.”

“You’d be better off without me.”

“I just can’t take it any more.”

Then do one hard thing.

If you think your child is having serious problems, ask them. Ask “Are you thinking about killing yourself or have you thought about suicide?”

That question may begin the most important conversation you’ll ever have with your child. Don’t worry that asking about suicide will make your child more likely to make an attempt. Research has shown that it doesn’t.

Youth who are in imminent danger of suicide often discuss their intentions, verbally threaten to kill themselves or take concrete steps toward suicide, such as collecting pills or securing a weapon. A young person may talk or write in a journal about death, forming a specific plan.

Substance abuse increases the risk of suicide. Other risk factors include:

  • Diagnosed mental illness, mood disorder, depression or anxiety
  • A family history of suicide or a suicide in the child’s school or peer group
  • A history of impulsive, aggressive or disruptive behavior
  • Family conflict or recent stressful life event
  • Incidents of bullying – both the bully and the victim can be at risk
  • Access to lethal means, like the availability of guns, drugs or other items that can be easily used to commit suicide

So if you ask your child that hard question, and the answer is “yes,” explain lovingly that suicide is never an option, that you love and support him or her and that you will get help and work on this together. Then call a crisis hotline and seek out a mental health professional.

Even if your child says “no” to this question but you think your child could benefit from a talk with a mental health professional, find a good one. Ask for recommendations from people you trust or use one of the online therapist locator links from a trusted group like the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association or the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.

Youth Villages operates crisis response services for children under age 18 in most of Tennessee. A list of crisis telephone numbers is here. In other states, crisis hotlines are available or you can ask your child’s pediatrician for recommendations. If you ever feel your child is a danger to himself or others, call 911 and ask for an immediate connection to appropriate help in your community.

Here are other resources:

It’s important to remember that suicide is more prevalent in Robin Williams’ demographic group than for children and youth. Accidents, especially automobile accidents, are the leading cause of death for young people, followed by homicide and then suicide. Most of our teens won’t have dangerous mental health issues. Almost all of them will be on the road as teen drivers or passengers in vehicles driven by their friends. Stressing seatbelt, mobile phone and texting safety should always be a top priority for parents.

Dr. Tim Goldsmith, Youth Villages' chief clinical officer

Dr. Tim Goldsmith, Youth Villages’ chief clinical officer

Tim Goldsmith, Ph.D., is chief clinical officer at Youth Villages, where he directs a staff of clinical specialists who oversee the work we do with children and families across the country.

Dr. Tim and his core clinical managers have experience helping children with the most serious problems. Together, they oversee the counselors and specialists who work directly with parents, teaching them ways to help their children overcome serious problems and go on to do well at home, at school and in the community. This year, our clinical and counseling staff will help more than 22,000 children across the country.

Now Dr. Tim and his staff of experts can answer your questions, too. All parents have moments when they wish they could consult with an expert. If you have a question about your tween or teen’s behavior, send it to

Rainey finds success through transitional living program in East Tennessee

August 11, 2014

Rainey was tired when she reunited with Youth Villages’ Transitional Living Specialist Vickie Phillips. Only 21 years old, she bore the look of someone with responsibilities, the tired confidence of doing it herself. She took a moment to gather herself before going to get the older of her two children and muster the reserve of energy to make it through the next few hours before bedtime.

Rainey's begun management training at a local restaurant and juggles caring for two daughters with her husband.

Rainey’s begun management training at a local restaurant and juggles caring for two daughters with her husband.

Rainey’s been out of the TL program for about a year. Since then, she’s begun management training at a local restaurant and juggles caring for two daughters with Luke, her husband.

Rainey’s struggled with commitment two previous times in the TL program, but TL Specialist Vickie Phillips never gave up on her. The third time, Rainey was in for the long haul.

“I’m a more practical type of counselor,” Vickie said. “I knew she was smart and needed someone there to keep her going in the right direction.”

Rainey registered for college, then worked with Vickie and found a job and a place to live. She had to leave school because of work and the children, but plans to return. Now, her husband and she are a team taking care of their children.

“We had to suck it up and pull together,” Rainey said. “It was hard to get it to work because we didn’t qualify for assistance, but things worked out in the end.”

Rainey was in foster care for nine months. Her biological father and her husband’s parents provide support for the children, but Rainey believes the TL program and Vickie helped her make significant steps toward independence and self-sufficiency.

“I always told her, ‘I can’t want it more than you do,’” Vickie said. “But she had it – that desire to do something more, and many in foster care don’t. She didn’t get into trouble and didn’t have any behavior issues.”

Even though she discharged from TL more than a year ago, Rainey and Vickie stay in contact with each other.

“She never gave up on me,” Rainey said of Vickie. “She kept pushing me to do more and accomplish more.”

Rainey’s husband has also played a huge role in Rainey’s successful transition as well.

“They did it,” Vickie said. “They pulled together and they’re working hard to make it work. Rainey is a great mother and I’m very proud of her.”

Darrah ends internship with Capitol Hill presentation

August 6, 2014
Darrah Hall, a former participant in our transitional living program, recently presented on Capitol Hill.

Darrah Hall, a former participant in our transitional living program, recently presented on Capitol Hill. See more photos below.

Darrah Hall, a former participant in our transitional living program, ended an eight-week internship with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute with a presentation on Capitol Hill.

Darrah and the other former foster youth shared their personal experience and creative federal policy recommendations on a range of child welfare issues.

Darrah’s recommendation: “Empowering Foster Youth through Case Plan Trainings to Increase Youth’s Acceptance Rate of Extended Foster Care,” is included in “Shaping Tomorrow’s Future with Today’s Minds: Applying Updated Solutions to an Outdated System,” a CCAI publication.

“My experience as a peer advocate for aging out foster youth in Memphis revealed to me firsthand the powerlessness youth feel and the reasons they refuse to accept extension of foster care services,” Darrah said. “The benefits of extended care include transitional living services and financial aid assistance for school and living expenses, and these services are critical for aging out foster youth who are often more vulnerable to negative outcomes.”

Darrah, a YV Scholar, recently graduated from the University of Memphis. Her recommendation to Congress is to amend the Court Improvement Program to include foster youth age 14 or older in the specialized trainings that are available for judges, attorneys, and other legal personnel.

“These trainings will help to create more empowered, engaged, confident youth who will be able to work with child welfare professionals in a collaborative way,” Darrah said. “This will ultimately increase youth acceptance of extended foster care.”

CCAI brings young people with experiential knowledge of child welfare policy and practice to Washington, D.C., to share their firsthand accounts with policymakers.

Recommendations included in this year’s report are:

  • Giving Youth a Voice: Contact After Involuntary Termination of Parental Rights
  • Increasing Stability for Infants and Toddlers in Care
  • Essential Documentation for Youth in Care
  • Addressing the Trauma: Treating Children’s Mental Health with Screening and Assessments
  • Creating Best Practice Standards for the Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System
  • Renewing the System’s Commitment to Child Well Being: Fostering Resilience through Trauma Informed Training
  • Providing Comfort and Information to Children Transitioning into the System
  • Stolen Pasts, Corrupted Futures: Preventing Identity Theft for Youth in Foster Care
  • Empowering Foster Youth through Case Plan Trainings to Increase Youth’s Acceptance Rate of Extended Foster Care
  • Helping Foster Youth Overcome Barriers to Employment
  • Improving Educational Outcomes for Foster Youth: Special Education and Mental Health

The foster youth interns’ reports generate both local and national attention to the critical issues facing the nearly 400,000 children currently in or transitioning out of the United States foster care system.

For more information, go to

Dakota makes the most of his last shot

July 29, 2014
Dakota, center, with his mother, Michelle, and her fiancé, Dave.

Dakota, center, with his mother, Michelle, and her fiancé, Dave.

Michelle was told Dakota was a lost cause — her son, 17, was hopeless, abusing drugs and alcohol and breaking the law.

In fact, Dakota amassed 20 criminal charges in four months, including theft, drug possession, vandalism and other charges.

Today, Dakota is completing his junior year of high school and on track to graduate.

But this story is as much about a mother’s perseverance as well as Dakota’s decision to change his life. It’s about the transformation a family made in response to tragic events and dire choices. Dakota’s father had a severe motorcycle accident when Dakota was 12 and he was left in a vegetative state. Michelle had dual duties of raising a teenager and taking care of Dakota’s father, and it took the tension in the home to extreme levels.

“Dakota was on the wrong path and we couldn’t pull him out,” Dave, Michelle’s fiancé, said.
Read more…


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