The Youth Villages team in Middle Tennessee is thankful for the support of so many companies and individuals who have volunteered to help children and families since last fall.
[More details about the volunteer activities are below photo gallery]
If you want to learn more about group volunteer projects in Middle Tennessee, please contact Lyndsay Berry (email or 615-250-7323).
This past fall, Youth Villages completed the first year of its equine therapy service activity in Middle Tennessee, giving eight children in Youth Villages’ foster care program the opportunity to improve their behavioral skills.
The youth visited the barn regularly for interactive sessions with the horses and other barn animals under the guidance of licensed therapist Dede Beasley, M.Ed., LPC. The activity helped the children focus, learn patience and develop trust while working gently with the animals.
Youth Villages appreciates the generous donors who made this activity possible. Sessions for more youth began in April.
To look at him now you would not know that just a few short months ago Baron had thoughts of harming himself.
Baron had more to deal with than the average 17-year-old. His family had been homeless for three years – living in motel rooms and shelters. Neither parent was able to work, so Baron was forced to provide for the family and care for his little brother. He was struggling to find a balance between academics and sports in addition to maintaining a job.
“I was having trouble sleeping,” Baron said about that time in his life. “Everything was getting to me.”
He hated his job. He hated school. He hated life.
Youth Villages Specialized Crisis Services Specialist responded to the call about Baron at the nearby hospital emergency room.
“Baron had a great deal of pressure put upon him,” said Debbie Robinson, program supervisor for SCS. “He did not have a stable environment at home.”
During the next few days, SCS specialists continued following up with Baron, and he was referred to a local behavioral hospital.
“We were in contact with Baron weekly for three months, checking in on him and his family,” Debbie said. “We made sure Baron was getting the help he needed, and directed the family to resources that could help them.”
After his discharge from the hospital, Baron was referred to Youth Villages SCS’s Enhanced Follow-up Services (EFS).
Youth who are seen by crisis services and are determined to be high risk for suicide are referred to the EFS program. The program provides ongoing follow-ups to reduce further risk.
Youth Villages’ Friend In Need program stepped in and multiple donors provided Baron and his brother with clothes, shoes and school supplies. In addition, money was given to help with the family’s financial needs – including tuition for Baron’s night classes, rent money for an apartment and utilities.
Baron made the A/B honor roll and is on track to graduate high school. He was discharged successfully from the EFS program in October. He said if it were not for EFS, he would have dropped out of school.
“I’ve just got a better connection with everyone in the family,” Baron said. “Before I wouldn’t talk about things, but you’ve just got to get that stuff out.”
Kim, Baron’s mother, has recognized a positive change not only in her son but in the entire family.
“Debbie and Youth Villages really went above and beyond,” said Kim. “She really cared about us and helped us through an extremely difficult time.”
Maria’s arguments with her mother were a daily occurrence. They escalated, sometimes becoming nearly physical. It wasn’t a good situation for Maria, 17, let alone her mother and four siblings.
“It was chaotic,” Pamela, Maria’s mother, said. “She would derail any attempts to make rules. Maria would disobey me and do things I told her not to do.”
Maria was cramped in a trailer home with her family, and had to take on a parenting role when Pamela began working more.
“Maria was troubled,” Youth Villages Multisystemic Therapy Counselor Leroy Payton said. “She would leave the home and go run around with a group of girls that weren’t a positive influence. She was getting kicked out of school two to three times per month.”
It was affecting the home. The younger children began imitating the behavior, arguing, fussing and not following home rules.
Maria was referred to Youth Villages’ MST in-home program.
“I was looking after the little kids a lot and always fussing,” Maria said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect with Leroy.”
First, they worked to establish what they wanted to be different in the home.
“Mom wasn’t sure what to do at first,” Leroy said. “But she did whatever it took, taking my suggestions and implementing them right away. Maria saw that and it made a big difference in her behavior.”
In a small home with four girls, disagreements can quickly get out of hand. Leroy showed the family how to communicate and treat one another so situations wouldn’t escalate to shouting matches. Also, Maria needed privacy so she could do her schoolwork.
“Space was a big issue,” Leroy said. “But mom was a champ, and gave Maria time to herself when she came home from school.”
Maria learned better ways to communicate and strategies to cope with frustrating situations. Leroy made sure every family member had an opportunity to speak without being interrupted. He stayed calm during the family sessions, which kept the family at ease.
“We worked on what I say and how I say it, and what I can do to stay calm,” Maria said. “Most importantly, we worked on doing better.”
They are a loving family, and have a deep affection for one another. Leroy said the family is like the Waltons when they aren’t arguing. Maria says school is fun again, and she has friends who help her stay on track. After high school, she wants to go to culinary school.
“Maria’s polite and fun to be around,” Leroy said. “She’s come a long way.”
Best of all, Maria likes to be at home.
The difference was staggering.
Even people outside the home noticed the change for the better.
Here’s Rodney playing football, sitting in class without disrupting, being respectful to his teachers and his mother. But mom remembers the near decade before this change.
“He could go from zero to 10 super-quick,” his mother, Kimbella, said. “People told us it was him just being a teenager, or it was just him acting out. But I know Rodney, and it wasn’t him.”
Youth Villages Family Intervention Specialist Zaneta Barnett’s first priority was to get Rodney set up with a physician.
The family found out Rodney’s bipolar disorder could be treated effectively with proper medication, which almost eliminated his behavior issues of physical and verbal aggression.
Pam’s seen quite a bit. So has her grandson, Eric.
Just 12 years old, Eric is on his way toward success. Part of this success can be attributed to changes in the home. Another part of his success can be attributed to Youth Villages Family Counselor Cindy Swartz, who worked with the family.
Eric’s grandparents, Pam and Peter, adopted many children over the years, and are now raising some of their children’s children.
“We always wanted to adopt,” Pam said. “I had an aunt who adopted children and they were my cousins.”
Eric’s early years were very unsettled, and it resulted in behavior issues. When he came to Pam and Peter’s home, his older siblings quietly gave him the message that they didn’t want him there.
“Eric wanted to be liked,” Pam said.
Multisystemic Therapy (MST) has been demonstrated to be successful in helping young people ages 12 to 17 who display serious antisocial behaviors and are at risk of placement out of the home due to their behaviors.
One of the younger children in the home referred to Cindy as “our Cindy,” as she visited the home three times a week, sometimes more. Pam said it helped having Cindy to speak with concerning certain issues.
“It made a huge difference to have her suggest solutions and talk through things,” Pam said.
Eric felt left out when he was younger, and he needed help dealing with that. But after working with Cindy, the tension in the home eased. Eric began pursuing positive interests – he enjoys drawing and reading. Pam and Peter make more time for him, and his school has also made a commitment to helping out.
“It’s nice for them to be able to point out Eric’s positive behavior rather than the negative,” Cindy said. “Eric is very bright and has a lot of potential.”
“We caught him – MST caught him before he went off the cliff,” Pam said. “Before, our concern was on what he was doing that wasn’t OK. Now, our focus is on what he does right. It’s a much better place to be.”
Author Series Luncheon with Col. Lee Ellis, a set on Flickr.
Col. Lee Ellis, author of “Leading With Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton,” was the guest speaker at Youth Villages’ Georgia’s most recent Author Series Luncheon, held at the Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta. Ellis shared his story of being shot down over North Vietnam and serving as a prisoner of war for more than five years. He presented many of the lessons he learned as a POW, including how to inspire a team, engender devotion and stay focused on perseverance and teamwork, even in the toughest situations. Aaron, a TL youth in Georgia, also shared his story with guests.