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What's New at KidsPeace

News and Notes from KidsPeace

Kids of Character Conference to be Held at KidsPeace

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Kids Of Character, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote character education and development for youth in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. On October 23, 2009, the organization will be joining forces with KidsPeace to hold the "Communities Building Kids of Character Conference" at the Donley Therapeutic Education Center on the main campus of KidsPeace in Orefield, PA. Leaders of the community will come together to hear a number of guest speakers describe how the community can make a difference in children's lives and help them to grow into respectful, responsible community members. Among the presenters are Dr. Len Marella, Founder & President of the Center for Leadership and Ethics and retired U.S. Army Colonel; Elmer Gates, Chairman of Embassy Bank, Lehigh Valley and co-founder of the Gates Leadership Initiative; Beth Fritz, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer of Lehigh County; Gwen Pongracz, founder of Kids of Character; and Dr. Gregg Amore, Director of Counseling & Student Development, Character U, DeSales University.

KidsPeace, whose mission is to provide hope, help and healing to kids facing crisis, is proud to be hosting this important conference, which will inform community leaders about how they can promote character education and development in the children who will become tomorrow's leaders. Attendees will also have the opportunity to voice their opinions and learn how to take action.

For more information on this free, invitation only conference, please email Kids of Character at gwen.pongracz@gmail.com.

Open House and Training Scheduled for Northern VA FCCP

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KidsPeace Foster Care and Community Programs (FCCP) has scheduled an open house for its new Alexandria, VA, office on Thursday, October 29, 2009. The event will introduce the basic, therapeutic, and intensive foster care programs KidsPeace offers in Northern Virginia, as well as the highly skilled staff who will serve the families and agencies of the area. The Open House will take place from 9:00 a.m. until noon and allow local, county and state caseworkers to learn about our portfolio of services and potential foster families to discover why the KidsPeace matching process is the best of its kind. 

On the same day, from 1:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m., we will be presenting a highly informative training session to all customers who wish to attend at the Woodrow Wilson Library in Falls Church. Our guest speaker will be Pat O'Brien, founder of "You Gotta Believe" and expert in adoption and permanency for older kids. A graduate of Columbia University, Pat is a regular on radio and television and at true champion of older children in the foster care system.

During the training, Pat will discuss recruitment methods for adoptive families for older teens, preparing families to take teens, helping families deal with difficult behavior, services and supports to ensure successful outcomes and how to prevent foster and adoptive families from giving kids back when things get rough.

The training is free, but space is limited, so contact Alana Marino to reserve your seat: 410.964.9329 or alana.marino@kidspeace.org. Regional Manager Diane Sancilio and the leadership of KidsPeace are eager to meet members of the Northern Virginia community and familiarize attendees with our wonderful services.

KidsPeace Names Michael Slack EVP

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New Position Seeks to Diversify and Strengthen the 127-year-old Charity

To help strengthen and diversify its efforts and better meet the needs of local children and families, the 127-year-old Lehigh Valley-based nonprofit KidsPeace has named Michael Slack executive vice president for marketing and development, a new position overseeing new program development, strategic planning, fundraising, marketing and contracting.

 

"In changing times, service organizations must also change," said William Isemann, president and CEO of KidsPeace. "Michael has already played a significant role in helping KidsPeace evolve to match the changing needs of children and those who refer children today."

Over the past year, KidsPeace has created new programs to meet the rising demand for therapeutic foster care, autism and community-based services, creating a broader base of offerings for kids and families facing crises.

"My goal is to continue to strengthen and diversify the services KidsPeace offers, while responding to the needs of the local community," Slack said.

Mr. Slack has been with KidsPeace for eight years, most recently as vice president for marketing and business development. Before joining KidsPeace, Michael served as Director of Business Development for Genesis Health Ventures, a national for-profit provider of elder care services. Slack holds an MBA in Health Care Administration from Temple University and lives in Lehigh County with his wife and two children.

KidsPeace is a 127-year-old children's charity dedicated to giving hope, help and healing to children facing crisis. Founded in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, KidsPeace directly helps thousands of children each year with life-saving treatment and millions more through prevention and awareness campaigns. KidsPeace was named "The Outstanding Organization" of its kind in the country by the American Association of Psychiatric Services for Children, was recently awarded a Gold Seal of Approval by the Joint Commission, and was called "a prototype of what we need for all children everywhere" by the late, nationally renowned child and family expert, Dr. Lee Salk.

 

Contact - Sharon McCarthy, Director of Public Relations at 610-799-7797 (desk) or 484-788-9842 (cell) or 800-25-PEACE or E-mail Sharon.Mccarthy@kidspeace.org.

 

Oh, How the Berks Garden Grows!

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A recent visit to the garden at the Berks County Campus proves to be an exciting nature lesson and a feel for how gardening is truly therapeutic for the children who are lucky enough to participate in the project. Clinician Fred Indenbaum proudly displayed the 2,200 square foot garden. The 20 beds contained a variety of crops. Root vegetables like beets, potatoes, and carrots will produce a fall harvest, along with leafy greens, such as, spinach and lettuce.  Tomatoes, spinach, green beans, and herbs are still plentiful. Decorative gourds and pumpkins are bountiful, as are huge sunflowers and cabbages. There is much work to be done now that the larger student body has returned, and Fred is very busy supervising the garden, the worms in the vermicomposting bins, and planning for next spring.

 

Fred plans big, and he usually attracts donors to fund his new projects. This year, he would like to build a greenhouse, containing a water garden with plants and fish and grow lights that would allow the children to garden year round. “This fall we will be very busy clearing the garden beds, planting a cover crop, collecting and mulching leaves, beautifying the beds in front of the school, and building a border around the garden.  We also need to clean out our birdhouse to make room for next year’s residents,” Fred explains.

 

The Therapeutic Effect

Fred is producing some incredible therapeutic effects through the garden and vermicomposting projects. He works with kids from grades 1-12, in all three levels of the Berks Partial Hospitalization program. “I design group activities to address our common themes – learning to respect all living things and living responsibly.”

 

For example, Fred takes the children out to the garden to observe bees. Some children are afraid that bees will sting them. Fred observes that the bees are very busy working to collect food for their hive. They have no reason to sting unless the children tried to harm them. “The garden is not a metaphor for life,” Fred explains, “It is life. The children are learning to respect others, bees and human beings, so they can live more peacefully, more harmoniously.”

 

According to Fred, there are many life lessons for the children to learn in the garden. He tells the children that the plants are providing them with gifts, and that they should always be thankful for these gifts. “I suggest that when they harvest vegetables, they give thanks for what the plants willingly given them.” Fred continues, “I relate garden gifts to their parents, who care for them and willingly give them what they need.  Gratitude, love, and respect are important lessons.”

 

Many of these children have been abused, mistreated, or neglected to the point that they do not respect others. Fred starts fresh with them, helping the children learn to love and respect plants and then extend those feelings to the people in their lives. He encourages them to care for the plants and learn to understand them. He teaches the kids that they can communicate with all living things – plants, pets, people. Communicating across different languages requires greater effort. “We should embrace, not dismiss others just because they speak or look different from us.  The garden teaches us diversity with its many textures, colors, and sizes,” Fred explains. “All of the plants are different, and they need to be, because they all contribute to the health of the garden community.”

 

Many of the children with whom Fred works are low functioning, and many have significant anger management issues. He has found that having an angry child water the garden can be very calming and healing. He also tells them that, without water the plants will die.  “The sound of water is very soothing.  It sparkles in the light.  It pulses in their hands.  The kids also take this task (watering) very seriously.  The plants are counting on them.  The child’s job is important, which makes the child important.”

 

Seeds are another learning tool for Fred to teach the children about life and responsibility. “Seeds are invigorating because they bring forth life,” Fred says enthusiastically. “I tell the children that the mother plant protects her babies by putting them inside a hard shell called a seed.  The babies are inside the seed. The children become more protective of the seeds as soon as they understand that they are holding babies that need gentle care.” He adds that seeds and plants do not look or talk like us, but we are all living things and have much in common.

 

The Worms

The Berks County Campus now has four bins of red worms.  Each bin is 8ft long, 4ft wide, and 1ft deep.  Each contains 32 pounds of worms, which will reproduce to 64 pounds to fit their new home.  The worms are very industrious, eating half their weight every day.  The children collect their food waste – compostable tableware and uneaten food – and deliver it to a pulper that chops it.  The kids feed this mixture to the worms and provide water as needed.  The worms turn this mixture into compost every few months. Fred explains that the worms move to new “food” once they have digested one section of the bin. Not only do the worms produce rich compost for the garden, but they have also reduced the school’s waste by 80%, saving the program approximately $4,000 annually in trash hauling costs.

 

“These bins contribute to the community,” Fred explains. “They save landfill space, which is beneficial for the environment and helps reduce local taxes related to trash pickup. The children are very proud of their efforts and many have adopted recycling into their home lives.”

 

Because President Obama is promoting green schools, Fred and the children are eager to share their success with him. They are inviting their local congressional representative to visit the school, learn about the Garden Program, and deliver an invitation to the President from the children. With the help of the art teacher, the children completed a 10ft X 6ft painting of the President, which they intend to give him.

 

Fred’s work is driven and focused and wonderful for the children. They are learning to love and respect nature and to see how all living things are interconnected in a larger community of life.  Most importantly, however, the kids are healing the wounds that limit their success and happiness.

 

 

Former Foster Children Give Back in a Big Way(2)

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Thousands of children age out of the foster care system every year, and the statistics related to where many of them wind up are appalling. Many become homeless, are unable to find employment, do not finish school, become incarcerated or turn to alcohol and drugs. Diane Sancilio, Regional Director of Foster Care and Community Programs for Maryland, Virginia, DC and New Jersey, is very concerned about these statistics, and she organizes training for foster teens who are served by the KidsPeace offices in DC and MD. KidsPeace has offered the Money Club to teen foster kids in the area for three years, teaching them about saving and investing and helping others and managing their income. This year, however, the program will be expanded to contain many more hands-on activities and life skills training. This expansion is thanks to two amazing young women.

As a member of the Maryland Association of Resources for Family and Youth (MARFY), Diane met Shalita O’Neale and Shantel Randolph, two former foster children who are on a mission to help foster children learn the skills they need too live independently. Shalita is the founder of Maryland Foster Youth Resource Center (MFYRC), a nonprofit that was funded by a grant from MARFY, Casey and DHR to provide training and resources for older foster kids. She has a MSW that she wants to use to help kids in the system today and in the future. “There are so many scholarships and grants and opportunities for foster kids, but most are not known. I want to get the word out to as many foster kids as possible and give them the tools to continue their educations or find good jobs after leaving the system,” Shalita says. 

Shantel established a youth advocacy group (FYI) with a community fellowship, working with Baltimore kids in the foster care system. She does public speaking and testifies about foster care issues and performs outreach to the community. When she met Shalita, she realized that her activities were a perfect fit with MFYRC and joined the organization to continue her advocacy efforts.

When Diane learned that MFYRC needed office space, she offered them an office in the KidsPeace Baltimore suite in exchange for their running an independent living skills training program to KidsPeace foster teens. The result is an exciting program that will prepare these foster teens for life on their own.

Independent Living/Prep for Success

Shalita and Shantel have ambitious plans for the class that will begin in September. There will be an evening class twice a month followed by a Saturday field trip to practice what has been learned. Guest speakers will present to the class on such topics as banking, buying or renting living space, applying and interviewing for a job or college, Investment, purchasing and insuring a vehicle, budgeting and social skills that are necessary for adult life.

Shalita explains that life in foster care often does not prepare youth for these kinds of activities. “If a youth has had many foster placements or lives in a youth house, there is no opportunity to learn how to do these things.” One Saturday, program participants will visit banks to open accounts, learn how to write checks and practice filling out applications for loans. The following week may find them looking at vacant apartments and filling out applications and providing references to lease living space. They will apply for jobs and go through interviews another Saturday, and see what is involved in purchasing a car and insurance another.

According to Shantel, “We will also cover health issues and mental wellness, as well as social skills that they may not have learned while in the system.” They will also visit vital statistics offices to learn how to obtain important documents and meet with college admissions counselors to learn about higher education options. The original Money Club curriculum will also be included, utilizing the Merrill Lynch curriculum which teaches the kids about investing, budgeting, saving money and other important information about finance.  As has been done in the past, through the fundraising efforts with Corridor Fine Wine, each youth receives $25.00 after completing a section of the curriculum and $25 is placed in a savings account that we be given to each youth as they age out of the system. The teens will also learn about their legal rights, transportation and even shopping for groceries or furnishings for their apartments.

 

Diane is hoping for a big turnout of foster teens for the program that will meet every two weeks through May. KidsPeace interns from the University of Maryland and Howard University will assist Shalita and Shantel with the program. Diane is very excited about the program and asks, “Who can better help kids than those who have been in their shoes? These wonderful young women will pass along their experiences and what they have learned to try to make the transition to adulthood easier for this next generation foster kids about to become independent.”

KidsPeace FCCP will be holding a wine tasting fundraiser for the Prep for Success program on September 16, from 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. at Corridor Fine Wine, 3321 Marketplace, Laurel, MD 20724.

For more information on KidsPeace Foster Care and Community Programs, visit fostercare.com. To learn more about Shalita’s and Shantel’s efforts on behalf of foster teens, visit MFYRC.org.

 

 

Georgia Child Helps Raise Funds for KidsPeace

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Gina* came to KidsPeace in more than a year ago with a small, skinny body and a huge head of hair that only became larger when she would become angry. She was a 14-year-old girl who had already received treatment at another facility for six months and had been successfully discharged to her foster-to-adopt parents. One week later, the parents had to call 911 because Gina was throwing a tantrum and was destroying items (screaming, slamming the front door so hard that she broke the door jam, knocking family photos off the wall, etc.) and was threatening the family. She was a 90-pound ball of fire. Gina originally came into DFCS custody five years ago when she was removed from the home due to neglect and disclosure of sexual abuse. She was raised by her mother, grandmother, aunt and more than twenty different foster parents. Her father died of a heart attack on the day she was born. Her foster families all would report her "rages" would occur when she would not get her way, and reported self-mutilation behaviors including hitting herself in the face and the head, pulling out her own hair and yelling at the top of her lungs. Her foster parents were at their wits’ end and were ready to give up on Gina even though they had already adopted her older sister. Her behaviors were taking their toll, and her foster father had health problems that were making it more difficult to endure Gina's behaviors.

 

When she first arrived at KidsPeace she was very angry and felt rejected again. She would meet with her therapist, and, as soon as the therapist asked any question about her past, she would become angry and loudly proclaim, "I don't want to talk about what happened to me.  She would curse at staff and peers and would get angry if somebody just looked at her the wrong way. The therapist was able to engage Gina in play therapy and use games as a way to teach her about impulse control and build a strong trust before talking about those secrets she was keeping hidden in that little body. Gina began to make some connection between thinking before making a move during a board game (she is quite competitive) and thinking before she cursed out a peer who gave her an angry look. She predicated in an anger management group and also worked one-on-one with a Community Support Specialist to help her explore reasons for her anger and to help her build self-esteem and practice positive social skills. The therapist was able to convince the adoptive parents to give it one more shot, and they participated in family therapy. She also participated in a grief and loss group, a physical abuse survivor's group and a sexual abuse survivor's group. About mid-way through treatment, we had a visitor come to campus to get a tour and talk about our quest to build an on-campus recreation facility. Gina provided a tour to this esteemed visitor and did such a great job convincing him of our need that we received a gift for twice the amount we had requested, and Gina got a personal thank-you letter and a small cash donation. Her self-esteem shot through the roof, and she began to consider how her energy could be used for good. 

 

Eventually, Gina was finally able to talk about some of the physical and sexual abuse she had suffered at the hands of multiple relatives, began to understand her own triggers and even shared that, at her previous placement, she had been molested by a female resident. She has had multiple home-visits where they report that she is doing much better, and, now when she gets angry, she asks her foster mom if she can take an "appropriate time-out," which is met with an eager approval. She left us recently, and went from our campus directly to DFCS where the family signed adoption papers to make this a permanent commitment. We all know that, when we begin to use our new recreation complex, we will always remember this injured girl who turned into one of our most effective fundraisers.   

 

 *Name changed to protect privacy

    

 
   
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