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Voices of KidsPeace at 140

When a Dream Becomes a Passion

At KidsPeace, our mission statement explains how our goal is to give Hope, Help and Healing to children, adults and those who love them.  As an employee that works directly with the children in mainly crisis situations, I strive to be more creative and effective than the day before. Typically, at KidsPeace every day will be something new and stimulating, exciting and impactful, difficult but rewarding, especially, when given the opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life. It’s truly remarkable. 

Before my time at KidsPeace, I always knew that working with children was my dream but it wasn’t until I started at the KidsPeace Berks Campus and began working with our children, that I instantly knew it was my passion! The people that work here are great and the culture at KidsPeace is family-oriented but the children have made the biggest impression on my career decision. The children are coming from broken homes, abusive relationships, depressing socioeconomic backgrounds and situations that are not meant for kids! Sadly, it is not their fault that they are in this position. It is our responsibility to provide a safe haven, a structured environment where they feel safe, and sometimes a friendly, compassionate hug while saying nothing more than “I am here for you, we will get through this together.” 

Outside of KidsPeace, these children are given labels, not opportunities to be successful. They are told they are a waste of time, a waste of an education, or simply don’t deserve a chance. In reality, they are just misunderstood children, who should be given a fair and equal chance at life. Almost daily, these children will face some type of crisis situation which could be mentally, physically or emotionally challenging. Most of the children that we provide services for will face taxing obstacles from the minute they wake up to the moment they get to rest for the night. That is why the approach we take while caring for children with mental and behavior health challenges is so important. They need guidance, structure, accountability but they also need compassion, to know their voice is heard, a snack when they’re hungry and most importantly, they need to know and understand that we will not disappoint them or give up on them the way people in their past may have. 

Overall, KidsPeace is like a garden bed and the children are all the different and unique flowers that blossom on their own time. Magic Johnson once said, “All kids need is a little help, a little hope and somebody who believes in them.” KidsPeace believes in them, and I do too.

Christian Burggraf is Head of Crisis Response at KidsPeace’s facility in Berks County, PA

Hospital Teams Guide Families Through Crisis

“Emotional pain is not something that should be hidden away and never spoken about. There is truth in your pain, there is a growth in your pain, but only if it’s first brought out into the open.”  — Steven Aitchison

Clients and their families often come to KidsPeace Children’s Hospital in a state of crisis, many times unaware of their child’s mental health needs, unfamiliar with the mental health system, and unsure of what to do.  Families have to quickly manage their emotions from the time they receive a call from a school that tells them that their child is being transported to the Emergency Room for evaluation, or when they go to the Emergency Room and are told that their child is recommended for inpatient hospitalization, because they need to think about the next step.  

At KidsPeace, as soon as a child is admitted, they are assessed to help identify their needs and establish goals that their treatment plan will address during hospitalization. Every child that is admitted is assigned a treatment team – typically including a psychiatrist, clinician, nurse, case manager, and utilization care manager, and in some cases a physician assistant or certified registered nurse-practitioner (CRNP). In addition, a child interacts with other direct care staff, such as mental health technicians, Expressive Therapists, and possibly a Behavioral Consultant.  The purpose of the team is to provide continuity in care from admission to discharge.

One of the initial barriers to treatment is trust.  From the beginning, staff members seek to build a rapport with both parents and child, and provide consistent updates and communication with the parents.  By doing so, they help parents and children develop trust, not only with their treatment team but the mental health system in general.  

Once admitted, the child has daily interactions with various treatment team members, such as mental health technicians (MHTs) and clinicians.  The MHT staff establish a safe environment and provide daily structure for the child. MHTs have to be knowledgeable in child development as they work with children with different needs.  After family or individual sessions, children may need continued support from their MHTs. MHTs also help children practice the coping and communication skills they learn during their hospitalization.

The clinician assigned to the child meets with them and contacts the family; this initial contact with the child and family is very important in the trusting relationship during individual and family sessions.  The clinician will develop a treatment plan which provides goals for the child.  With support from the MHTs, clinicians also provide daily group therapy to help the child develop new skills that they will need to be successful in a community setting.  The clinician’s role is to help children identify the cause of their stress and anxiety and how to manage their situations differently.  

One of the biggest barriers to developing a trusting relationship has been COVID-19.  Due to the pandemic, many programs in mental health have had to limit contact with outside individuals.  As a result, families have been unable to interact with their children directly, so clinicians had to develop new tools and techniques to improve contact and interaction with families and children, such as video conferencing.  

As soon as a child is admitted, the treatment team begins working on a discharge plan.  Discharge planning will include a mental health level of care recommendation, aftercare services (ranging from outpatient individual therapy to more intensive in-home services), and a safety plan.  Based on the recommendation, the Case Manager will work on identifying the needs to obtain services.  At discharge, the family will meet with the clinician and nurse manager and receive discharge paperwork – including a copy of the treatment plan, any nursing instructions on medications, and a safety plan.  Families will also receive information on aftercare services and appointment times.   

At discharge, our hospital staff has a common goal – to ensure families feel that they have been provided with all the tools and resources to ensure a smooth transition by the child back to their community.  


Barbara Willman is a clinician and Audrey Medina is a case manager at KidsPeace Children’s Hospital in Orefield, PA.

The First Step for Families Seeking Help

When I first started in admissions in 1994, KidsPeace had 450 beds between the Orefield and Bethlehem campuses, and we had two community group homes. Today, KidsPeace’s Pennsylvania residential treatment program has about 145 beds in Orefield. 

Each day, my department receives many referral packets and phone calls from county agencies, managed care companies, and families – many of those desperate for help. I spend much of my time educating families and referral sources on how to get help, describing KidsPeace programs and the services we offer, and telling people about a typical day in residential.  There are many days when a parent says to me, “I have called ten facilities and you are the first to explain the process to me. Thank you.”  Those days, I know I did my job.   

Once the referral is accepted, my job is to help the referral source get the client admitted.   This entails obtaining demographic information, school information, health history, custody, funding and then completing an assessment with clinical information. We document all this information electronically to ensure program staff knows the full history of the client.  

The most difficult part of my job in recent months is how families are experiencing longer waits for a bed to become available, as the number of families seeking help is greater than our available beds.  Throughout this time, I’ve been getting to know the families on a personal level – listening and helping them to feel comfortable about where their child will eventually be admitted. I also often speak directly with the client who is going to be admitted, making that person feel at ease too. I love being able to talk about many of our tenured staff from programs and our doctors who are very invested in the client’s care.  

The development of this relationship with families is key so that by the day of admission, I can just welcome that family and make the transition to this level of care as smooth as possible. I know by the looks on people’s faces when they arrive on that day that they are relieved that help is now in sight.  

Ultimately what I find rewarding is getting that family and client started on their journey to treatment.  No matter the situation, if accepted or denied, many times the most important aspect is just being kind to someone in need.  Kindness and knowledge to help someone is what links families and agencies to the next step of their client’s healing.  

Jacqueline LaTorres is an Admissions Specialist with KidsPeace’s residential treatment program in Orefield, PA

Impact at Every Level of KidsPeace

I started at KidsPeace in 1999 in our local foster care program. I loved having the opportunity to meet and work with so many different foster families and youth. I was inspired to see the impact our foster families have on the kids’ lives and the individual growth and progress made by each youth. I watched these youth, who had come from backgrounds of trauma and crisis, blossom and grow with the help and support of their foster families and my colleagues. 

Two and a half years later, when I was given the opportunity to transfer into a fundraising role, I was torn. Would I still have an impact on the youth and families? Would I still feel inspired if I wasn’t working directly with foster families and foster youth? Would the work I was being asked to do truly make a difference to them?

I quickly learned that the answer to each of these questions is “Yes.” My new experiences showed me that the impact that KidsPeace has on children and families happens at every single level. Every individual who extends themselves to the youth we serve, whether it is directly or indirectly, makes a difference. I began to recognize and acknowledge the “butterfly effect” in our everyday work: the decisions and actions of every person at KidsPeace influences the outcomes for each of the youth in our care.

My role within KidsPeace has changed through the years, but the lesson I learned after first transferring from a program office to a support department so many years ago still follows me in each of my interactions with funders, legislators, foundations and volunteers. Many of the people with whom I speak about KidsPeace will never be fortunate enough to meet, talk with or even see the inspiring and resilient children that KidsPeace helps. But they each have an incredible opportunity to impact these children’s lives. Each decision they make and action they take can influence the outcomes for a child working to overcome crisis, no matter how far removed they feel they might be from the youth in our care. 

At KidsPeace, every one of us has a job to do and a mission to fulfill, and every one of these jobs and every one of our roles is critical to the children we serve. At KidsPeace, we have a unique and wonderful opportunity to not only work with youth, but also to tell their stories to others who can help in countless ways. And at KidsPeace, directly and indirectly, in every role and at every level, we can change lives.


Caren Chaffee is KidsPeace’s Director of Grants & Advocacy. 

Taking on new challenges after the pandemic

I began my education career in 2005, and as I think about the education environment at that time (staff, students, parents, and community), there is really no comparison to navigating the challenges we face with children in schools today.  

I ask you to take a moment to recall your experiences in school. What was your day like? Who were your friends and teachers? What were you worried about and what made you happy? Now, imagine being a student attending school during a pandemic: You begin your week swabbed for COVID. Your teacher checks to ensure you are wearing your mask properly. You are kept socially distanced from your classmates in a “pod” that might or might not include all of your friends. Your contact with peers from other grades or schools is limited, and who only knows for how long? Finally, looming over everything is the uncertainty that your classroom or school could close at a moment’s notice as COVID cases continue to rise.  

These are only a few of the obvious ways COVID has impacted our children most in just the school setting. As children across our country and the world maneuver rules, regulations, and constant changes as it pertains to the pandemic, we cannot discount the impression that it has left on our children’s mental health.  Data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that one in five children have a diagnosable mental disorder, but only 20% of those children received care from a mental health provider. With unpredictability becoming the new reality that taxes children and their families, the resources needed in the schools and our communities are becoming limited to support these critical needs. 

I am so incredibly proud to be a part of the KidsPeace organization that has met this challenge from the start and throughout the pandemic.  I have seen amazingly dedicated professionals who have supported clients and families in many inpatient and outpatient settings.  These services include individual and family therapy, related services, case management, early intervention and school services, hospital and residential settings — all of which that are critical for the continued care of a vulnerable population of youth.  

Thus, truly taking on the challenge, KidsPeace is committed to bring awareness and services to our clients, families, and each other through this unprecedented time and beyond.

Rachel Bousquet, an educator and former school superintendent, is Executive Director of KidsPeace New England.

22 Years, and Never Looked Back

I am extremely proud to work for an organization that provides support to kids, adults and families across our ever-growing/adapting continuum of care. 

Reflecting back on my 22-year career at KidsPeace, it’s easy for me to answer why I started here. I suppose it is the same reason that I am a volunteer firefighter and a softball coach. Plain and simple, I like helping people! I have always felt that I could form great connections and build trusting relationships to offer a helping hand towards better days ahead. Perhaps it stems from being adopted and starting out the first part of my life living in an orphanage or growing up living on the same street as a maximum security facility for kids (which I ended up working at for many years). What I can tell you is that I didn’t know back then that KidsPeace would become the organization at which I would thrive, maintain and hopefully finish my career. 

I started at KidsPeace as a Treatment Team Supervisor for a Specialized Community Residential Treatment Program on 11th Avenue in Bethlehem, PA. I loved working on the milieu and being involved in the treatment process, the activities and all the accomplishments. So many years later, I can still remember all the names of the kids!

But marriage and having kids ourselves caused me to look at other positions where I could find a more typical Monday-through-Friday schedule with regular working hours. Since I had accumulated all this knowledge and experience in working with kids, I transitioned to a position within our Organizational Development and Training Department. Teaching and preparing new employees for their respective jobs was a great fit and, although I missed the direct care element, I was happy.  I rose to a supervisory position within OD&T, then was contacted by our Marketing/Customer Relations Department and learned about the opportunity of becoming a Customer Relations Liaison. The combination of having direct care experience and knowledge of our programs, and the comfort level I had developed with talking to people as a result of facilitating so many trainings made that an easy transition for me. 

From there, I have never looked back. It is a great feeling talking with parents and any potential referral source to provide help and resources in their time of need! Now as Director of our Customer Relations Department, I am delighted to oversee a team that shares the same passion for helping others. 

There are so many great people and positive memories that I have. With such a solid leadership team in place and the commitment of all the direct and non-direct employees here, I find myself always looking forward to what KidsPeace will achieve each and every year.  

Ken Garavaglia is the Director of Customer Relations at KidsPeace.  

A Voice for Kids in Georgia

It is a privilege to serve as a member of the Board of Associates for KidsPeace Georgia. I have the joy of working with others in my community who offer insight and assistance concerning projects at the campus. However, the best part of my role is just hanging out with all of my friends there. On a fairly regular basis, I get to participate in special events that take place on the campus. I’ve attended a nail painting party with the girls, holiday dinners, singing our favorite songs around the piano and special events that help to inspire and motivate the kids to discover their strengths, their gifts and talents.

At the most recent Thanksgiving Dinner last fall, one of the kids at KidsPeace came to me and requested that we form a choir to perform for the big Christmas Banquet. As a professional singer and former middle school choral director, I was super excited about the idea of working with the kids to make that happen.  Our Executive Director, Lou Shagawat, gave us the green light to get the kids together to form the choir. I was blown away when sixteen kids came to the rehearsal, including a student who accompanied us on the guitar. On the night of the Christmas banquet, history was made when the kids took the stage to debut the Georgia KidsPeace Choir. Their performance was amazing. They looked like stars and sounded like a choir of angels as they sang Jingle Bells and Silent Night.  

As a Georgia Board of Associates member, it’s my hope that I can continue to serve KidsPeace in a way that benefits the kids. But my connection to KidsPeace has developed into something much greater. Every time I am on the KidsPeace Campus, it isn’t long until I am greeted with laughter, hugs, special gifts, funny stories, high fives, and all the great things that friendships and memories are made of. 

A wise person once said, “Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you; spend time with them and it will change your life.” That is certainly true. My friends at KidsPeace are impacting my life in countless ways.

Babbie Mason is a two-time Dove Award-winning Christian singer, songwriter, author and TV talk show host. She lives in Carroll County, GA.

Advocacy for Kids Through Partnerships

Over the last few years, children’s mental and behavioral health services have become harder than ever to locate here in Virginia, as well as across the United States. So many more kids are needing services and we have had to become creative in locating those services for our youth, especially during the pandemic. 

Through our partnerships with local Departments of Social Services we have been able to add service lines that assist in keeping kids safe while they are awaiting beds at mental health facilities (which can take up to seven days to identify – in many cases, meaning seven days in a hospital emergency room). Also through partnerships with other community providers, we have been able to immediately help our youth who are in desperate need for management of anxiety, depression and ADHD medications through a trauma-informed provider. 

One young man (at the time only five years old) was on the verge of getting suspended from school and held back from starting kindergarten until the following year due to his extremely impulsive and aggressive behaviors. Through our community partnerships we were able to get him in and seen by a provider within a week, rather than waiting seven months for his 6th birthday. Because of this, this young man has gone from needing 20 minutes time to settle enough to complete 30 seconds of a task to now only needing 30 seconds to settle enough to complete 20 minutes of a task.

Having these conversations and partnerships in the community have increased the number of success stories we are seeing coming out of KidsPeace, and we are also seeing the children in our care stabilize much more quickly than waiting up to nine months to see a psychiatric provider. Knowing that KidsPeace is able to be there for these youth who are sometimes at their darkest point in their lives, reminds me just how great the work that we do is. We are there to support these youth through just about anything, without judgment, and this is why so many of our youth who have left us still call the office to talk and to let us know how they are doing. 

This, to me, is what KidsPeace is about – Relationship and Belonging. One of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is that it takes a village to care for these kids, and we are ever so grateful for our KidsPeace village!


Jessica Mendez, MSW, is Virginia State Manager for KidsPeace Foster Care and Community Programs.

Blending families through foster care

People often misunderstand what foster care is about. One of the most important (if difficult) aspects is the relationship built between the biological family and our KidsPeace staff and foster family. We need the family and children to understand that we are here to help, and to trust us. 

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kingston office of KidsPeace received a referral late one night for a family of five children – who would be sent to a shelter if we couldn’t place them.  Without a moment’s hesitation we had two families step right up; one home took the eldest two boys and the other home the youngest two boys. (The youngest child was placed in a county home.) 

This case was different for us because the biological mother on the case spoke Spanish and very little English and the biological father had been deported to Mexico prior to the start of the case. Despite this, our team did everything possible to make sure the family still received all services available. 

The foster parents and staff made sure to communicate in Spanish as much as possible, using Google Translate because they did not speak Spanish. The children were included in every family vacation, being able to experience so many different things for the first time! Their culture was included in the households as well; cooking meals the children liked, having the children practice speaking Spanish and listening to music they listened to at home. 

The foster families made extra effort to include the biological parents in every step of the way. During the children’s entire foster placement they continued to have visits with their biological mother as well as virtual visits with their father and frequent visits with each other. The foster families rooted for them and encouraged the biological mother at every court case; they sent her pictures and told her how the children were doing. It was amazing to see. 

The foster families even helped the biological mother find housing and, just about 15 months later we were able to send the children home to her! It was so heartwarming to see foster care do exactly what it is supposed to do … but the story doesn’t end there.  

The foster families continue to be a resource for the biological family.  And KidsPeace, through our Community and Family Treatment and Support Services (CFTSS) and Health Homes programs, have been working with the family weekly on life skills, normative experiences, school support, and food support, among other things. This has not only strengthened the family’s sense of trust with KidsPeace, but also helped them find and use the resources they need to be successful. 

Working and/or dealing with foster care is not always rainbows and sunshine. However, it’s stories like this that make it all worth it – because it reinforces people’s trust in the system as a whole. 

Faathyma Clark, MPS, is a Community and Psychiatric Support and Treatment Counselor in KidsPeace’s Kingston, NY office.

Walk-ins: A Welcome Service in Community Programs - Outpatient

Often when a person is in a mental health crisis they find themselves in a life-or-death situation. They generally feel helpless and stuck, and for some who can’t find help, the outcome could be devastating. 

It can take days and even weeks for a person in crisis to get help from a mental health provider. In the medical field there is the option of the Emergency Room (ER) – but most persons in mental health crisis don’t usually think of the ER or an urgent care facility as an option for them. 

KidsPeace has sought to resolve this problem for the communities that we serve, and in 2014 walk-in assessments were made available at our outpatient sites in the Lehigh Valley and Monroe County in Pennsylvania, starting with our Allentown Green Street location.

Walk-ins are free assessments for persons in mental health crisis, including children and adults – with no appointment needed.  They come into our offices from anywhere between 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday.  During the 15 to 30-minute session, a master’s level clinician meets with them individually or as family, and completes an assessment to deescalate the mental health crisis and determine the appropriate level of care. The assessment includes a safety plan with several resources from the surrounding communities listed for the client to access as needed in the future.  The clinician then makes the contact with the level of care within our area where ongoing treatment is provided. Common recommendations are for outpatient, acute partial hospitalization, or inpatient hospitalization, based on the person’s presenting needs. 

The general outcomes of walk-ins include preventing harm or injury to self and others, relieving family stressors and providing feelings of peace of mind and wellbeing for clients and families. Most persons have reported that the walk-in helps them avert a life-threatening crisis or help avoid going to the ER. For example, feedback from clients include: 

  • “KidsPeace was professional and quick to get my son an evaluation”
  • “Very respectable and helpful”
  • “Staff was very helpful in offering strategies and explained things clearly. Overall a comfortable atmosphere allowing patients to open up and confide”
  • “We are very grateful for the peace of mind that the therapist has given, and for the care given to our son”

These are just some insights into what clients experience during a walk-in assessment. I feel proud and a sense of enduring accomplishment in knowing that we here at KidsPeace have continued to  touch the hearts and minds of many with compassion, help, healing, transformation, and an infusion of hope in their times of despair. 


Neville Tomlinson supervises programs at KidsPeace’s Green Street Outpatient office in Allentown, PA.  For more information about the walk-in assessments and other outpatient services and locations, visit

Drawing on Direct Care Experience to Spread the KidsPeace Story

In my role as “Customer Liaison” I share information about KidsPeace programs and services to a variety of healthcare organizations and social service providers across southern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. My work brings me into contact with hospitals, county mental health offices, private counseling practices, and parents of kids in need of our services.

Prior to taking this role I had held a few different positions at our Orefield Campus: recreation counselor, teacher in our on-campus school, assistant facilitator with an experiential education program, and a variety of other roles on the housing units. Now in my work in marketing, I rarely work with kids as much as before. While the hospitals, county mental health organizations, and private counseling practices I speak with are certainly interested in meeting their client’s needs, it’s when I speak directly with parents that I’m most reminded of my time working with kids in our direct care programs.

When I talk to parents they are worried, nervous, frustrated, and hoping so much that KidsPeace can be the answer to their children’s mental health needs. They’re unsure of themselves, and at times they have no idea who to talk to or where to start seeking services. I do my best to help them understand what KidsPeace can do for them, and try to guide them to the next best steps for treatment options. 

When I worked with kids in the direct-care programs, I can say that I noticed the same emotions that I now see in parents: worry, nervousness, frustration, and hope. Many of the kids also were unsure of themselves, and at times they had been through a number of services and programs that have not always served them well. I did my best to help them benefit from KidsPeace programming and watched as treatment helped them overcome their challenges.

I think by seeing, and hearing, and most importantly remembering, my efforts at outreach are influenced by the interactions I’ve experienced in direct care. And I know that the work I do, while removed to some extent from the treatment, is helping to build bridges between parents, their children, families and the treatment they are seeking. 

Jason Haller is a regional customer relations liaison for KidsPeace.

Giving back from career experiences

My journey with KidsPeace started over twenty years ago, and like most great adventures, there were twists and turns in the path along the way. Luckily, I have met some pivotal people who helped me in each new stage, as the work we do takes ongoing learning and continued personal growth. I’ve been blessed to work throughout the various services KidsPeace offers, which put me in the midst of many life-changing people and experiences. 

I started my career in KidsPeace Children’s Hospital before navigating different parts of Community Programs, support departments, foster care services – ultimately landing in our training department. I use my own experiences within the company to help convey to new employees the significance of continued learning and connection that our kids and our staff teach me every day. I’ve learned from watching our kids grow that change can be good, that resilience is in all of us, and it is never too late to try something new. I’ve learned from coworkers that we must remain open to feedback, be flexible, and that it is equally important to take care of one another as we care for and protect our children. Both our kids and our staff teach me that the work we do and the way we treat others, does make a difference – even when we don’t see it in the moment.  

In training, we instill in our teams the importance of trauma-informed care, being proactive and preventative, using the least amount of restriction necessary to manage any situation, and most importantly, the foundational principle of building healthy relationships. Our trainings are comprehensive, and our trainers also work in programs so that we may continuously convey that we must put in equal, if not more, effort towards our teams’ growth when sowing the seeds of trust and feelings of safety in our children and families. Learning is a two-way street and if we open our minds and our ears, stay present in each moment, we can empower one another to make the positive and safe changes for ourselves and our communities. We must remember that there will be challenges and mistakes with each success in the journey. Our children and our staff continue to teach me humility, empathy, gratitude, patience, and resilience every day. 

This company, the services we provide, and the people within have profoundly changed me, both professionally and personally. Every day, I am reminded of the importance of positive connections when working with children and families who have experienced varied levels of disruption, crisis, and trauma.  While my path is my own, I choose to take the lessons I’ve learned and put them into each training I lead and each interaction that I have as I intersect the paths of others on their ever-changing journey through our Continuum of Care.


Gwen Hofmann is a regional training manager in KidsPeace’s Organizational Development and Training department.

Healing by making someone’s day

Working at KidsPeace with youth that have endured trauma has been a wonderful experience.  Many of the youth come into the program sad and hurt, experiencing low self-esteem and a lack of trust of adults.  Staff have to work hard to gain trust by establishing a relationship with the youth, which is a key aspect during their stay.  

This can be a very stressful job but can also be enjoyable.  Seeing a youth light up when you walk into a room and engage in a conversation,  taking a youth for a walk, playing cards, playing one on one in a basketball game: these are all highlights that can make a youth’s day as well as mine.  The growth and healing that comes from youth that complete the program is very impactful.  They leave feeling secure, confident, accomplished,  a positive sense of self-esteem and self-confidence.  Many will continue to work on themselves upon discharge.  

 I have had many memorable experiences at KidsPeace in working with children.  One of my best memories was the go-cart races.   Each unit worked together on their go-cart so that it could be ready for the day of the race.  Everyone had so much fun working together and preparing the go-cart for the race.  On the day of the race, we piled into vans and went up to the Orchard Campus.  Each unit took turns racing each other and all the youth were having a great time.  They asked me to ride in the go-cart so that I could be part of the race.  I was really nervous about it but I agreed to do it.  My heart was racing as I got into the cart and took off.  It was so much fun and the team I was on received a trophy.  The youth were so excited that they won, and at the end they bestowed the trophy upon me.  I still have it and it is a constant reminder of the great day.  Many youth don’t have the opportunity to engage in fun activities and this truly allowed them to be children. 

Sometimes, we don’t necessarily know the impact we make on a youth until they are either about to leave or when they have actually been discharged.  I have many cards and pictures that I have received which are special to me and I often look at them as a reminder.   It brings a lot of joy to me when a youth that has been discharged calls to let me know how they are doing.  It truly makes me feel that I am making a difference in a youth’s life.   

KidsPeace has given me the opportunity to work with youth, make a difference, and help them to heal.

Brigitt Barlow is program manager of the Pioneer Center treatment program at KidsPeace’s Orchard Hills residential campus in Orefield, PA. 

KidsPeace Saved My Life

Have you ever thought that you were useless? Have you felt like dying and unwanted? Ten years, 3,650 days, 87,600 hours, and minutes you wouldn’t believe!! That’s how long my youth was taken from me – but that all changed the day I went into KidsPeace.

Hi, my name is Katrina Hughes. I’m 32 years old and this is my story on how KidsPeace changed my life. This is my story and I’m not afraid to tell it.

15 hospitalizations … two group homes … three residential placements:  that’s how many times people gave up on me. But that all changed in 2005 the moment I walked into KidsPeace.

I will never forget my first day at KidsPeace. I did what Katrina wanted to do and tried getting kicked out. They brought me to the hallway, held me so I couldn’t hurt myself and one of the staff, Trish, kneeled down and said, “You can act out all you want but you’re not going anywhere, missy, you are here with us.”  Believe it or not, that was the first time in 15 years I felt wanted. It felt like the other places destroyed me and KidsPeace helped me become whole.

I never met a program like KidsPeace. When I first entered KidsPeace I was on twelve different medications, and I was always sad or mad. (Staff member) Christina was the first person to make me smile since right before my brother’s death. When I was in KidsPeace I learned dignity, respect, character, honesty and much more. My favorite thing I learned there was music therapy – I still use it to this day, it has saved my life on numerous occasions.

I wasn’t perfect when I graduated the program. I messed up a lot, even developed a drug addiction – but I can proudly say I’m almost five years clean now. When I finally used in life the things I was taught in KidsPeace, life became just a tad bit easier to grasp on and deal with problems.

I never thought I would be writing this .One day I wanna help kids the way KidsPeace helped me for years. I would tell them, “NEVER GIVE UP!!! So if you think or feel that you cannot change, if you feel like giving up — Don’t!  I promise if you have hope, anything is possible!”

Katrina Hughes, a former client of KidsPeace, now lives in New Jersey and is training to become a crisis counselor.

Healing Magazine

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