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What's New at KidsPeace

News and Notes from KidsPeace

Follow KidsPeace on Salisbury Patch

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KidsPeace has a new way to interact with the community.

 

News about our Orchard Hills and Broadway campuses in Pennsylvania, as well as some general highlights of our organization, will now be featured on Salisbury Patch.

 

Patch, which has websites in communities around the country, is a news organization that focuses on hyperlocal events.

Gardening teaches empathy, self-esteem at KidsPeace’s Temple, Pa., campus

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Two girls pick the first strawberries of the season, a boy exclaims over the size of a red onion and another group works together to dig up a particularly stubborn dandelion.

 

This is a typical morning in the garden at KidsPeace’s Temple, Pa., campus, where students have a chance to get their hands dirty, learn life skills and forget some of their troubles for a short time.

 

The garden plot, which has expanded every season since the first bed was created six years ago, is packed with organized sections of produce. Carrots, beets, spinach, lettuce, herbs, onions, garlic, broccoli and blueberries are planted in neat rows. Trellises surround cucumbers, pumpkins and gourds, and a bright patch of sunflowers and marigolds will soon line one side of the garden. See more garden photos.

 

Nearby compost bins stocked with worms – to speed the process of breaking down waste – turn food scraps and paper into nourishment for the garden. Strategically stacked piles of cinderblocks, wood and dirt scattered around the garden serve as houses for toads. Since the garden is organic, it’s important to utilize toads and other natural forms of pest control.

 

“It’s all kid-driven,” said Fred Indenbaum, a master’s level therapist who leads the garden project.

 

The advantages for the children who work in the garden are countless, Indenbaum says. Impulse control, self-esteem building, a sense of connectedness in a digital age, an appreciation for aesthetics, conflict resolution, problem solving and a commitment to hard work all go into the project. But the biggest part, he says, is how gardening teaches the children to look outside of themselves and consider the needs of others, a key element of healthy child development.

 

“For me, the empathy is probably the central part of this whole thing,” he said. “A lot of our kids lack that.”

The children are learning to care for another living thing, and they realize quickly the consequences of not giving it their all.

 

“They learn that when they put in, they get something back,” he said. “It’s an immense feeling of accomplishment.”

They also get paid in produce. The children on the Berks County campus are there for day treatment, as part of either an acute partial or educational program. When they go home in the evenings, they often take produce or flowers with them, eagerly sharing the fruits of their hard labor with their families. Much of what is grown in the garden also gets used in the cafeteria on campus.

 

Indenbaum asks the young gardeners for their ideas to give them the opportunity to own both successes and mistakes along the way.

 

“It helps to re-frame failure. It will be flawed. I want it to be flawed,” he said. “It’s important to see the whole process. Life doesn’t magically appear fully formed.”

Indenbaum points out the garden can give the children perspective into their own troubles too.

 

“Your mom abandoned you, your dad’s incarcerated. What do you do?” he asked.

 

“The garden is not a metaphor for life. It is life,” he said. “They get a lot of messages here that aren’t necessarily spoken, but are given.”

Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis honors Kidspeace foster parents

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On May 11, the Kiwanis Club of Indianapolis recognized six sets of foster parents at the Kiwanis Faith, Hope & Love Award Luncheon. 

 

Two of the recipients the club honored for their contributions to their community were KidsPeace foster parents Juan Ballesteros and Amy Smallman.

 

The couple has fostered children of many races and ages by taking the necessary trainings to care for these children with specific needs. In the past four years, they have fostered 14 children who were emotionally and physically impaired. They cared for these children by showing them what it meant to be a part of a family.

 

An application submitted to nominate Juan and Amy lauds them for being team players who have always had positive relationships with case managers, agency staff and birth parents. They have constant communications with school staff to ensure the children’s educational needs are being met. In addition they provide support at all of the foster children’s court hearings and meetings and input on the best interests of the children.

 

Juan and Amy have also committed their time by getting involved with other foster parents and groups. They mentor new foster parents by providing them support when it comes to addressing certain behavioral issues. This goes to show that they are always willing to help out anyone in need.

Danville, Pa., foster parents make home for teenage boys

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Rice foster parents

Carl “Skip” and Ann Rice have been bringing foster teens into their home for 24 years.

 

They started their foster care journey when some of their children were still in high school. They weren’t initially with KidsPeace, but when we opened a foster care office in their hometown of Danville, Pa., they started working with our organization. They were among a group of foster parents honored Friday at the KidsPeace Foster Care and Community Programs’ 21st annual foster parent recognition banquet.

 

KidsPeace is a good company,” Ann said, adding that they have received tremendous support over the years from their caseworkers. “They care about their kids.”

The Rices, who have two sons and a daughter of their own, prefer to take in teenage boys, although they admit with a laugh most people don’t understand why. But in talking with the couple, it’s evident they love the children and treat them as their own. Ann points out that she never refers to them as her foster children, but calls them “my boys.”

 

“Some of them come in so tough, so heartbroken,” Ann said. “They don’t even know they are.”

But with the Rices’ gentle guidance and strict rules, the teens learn to trust them, open up and find a place they can call home, if only for a short time. The two boys who now live with them came into their home about two years ago. This is fairly typical, as most of the foster teens stay with the Rices for two to three years. In that time, they are encouraged to go to church and graduate from high school. Many keep in touch after they leave.

 

Ann started to tear up when she recalled one foster teen who had lived with them and became very good friends with their daughter. Shortly after the girl went back to live with her biological mother, she was killed in a car crash. Still, despite that particular tragedy and the many challenges that come with helping to raise foster children, the Rices say they will continue to be foster parents as long as they can.

 

“Sometimes I think keeping the kids around helps you stay younger,” Skip said, although he joked that the toughest part about fostering teens is “keeping your hair.”

His wife gave a more serious take on the challenge of taking in a vulnerable population.

 

“To see them go, I think that’s the toughest part,” she said.

Pennsylvania woman shares childhood experience with KidsPeace foster parents

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It wasn’t until Mindy Honey became a mom that she realized the impact her foster families had on her.

 

Honey, 32, entered the foster care system at 18 months old in Belfast, Maine, and bounced around until she was 7. Two years later, the Pennsylvania couple who had brought her into their home adopted her.

 

“I really appreciate how much they did for me,” she said.

 

She shared her story Friday night at the KidsPeace Foster Care and Community Programs' 21st annual foster parent recognition banquet in Danville, Pa. May is National Foster Care Awareness Month.

 

Honey said after she was adopted, she had a normal childhood until her father unexpectedly died when she was 15. Still, she turned that hardship into a positive, working diligently to put herself through school so she could become an ICU nurse. She now works for Geisinger Medical Center and has two children of her own, who make her realize every day how much she has to be grateful for in her life.

 

Recently, a foster sibling from a family that had given her a temporary home when she was small reached out to her via Facebook, asking if she was the person who had lived in their house. Honey was touched to be able to say thank you to people who had helped to shape her early years, and she hopes other foster parents who guided her would be proud of where she is today and what she has accomplished.

 

She told the foster parents in attendance that even if they feel sometimes as though they’re unappreciated, they are making an enormous difference in the lives of children.

 

Ann and Carl “Skip” Rice have been fostering teenagers for more than two decades. Check back to read their story.

Pennsylvania couple has embraced KidsPeace foster parenting for 15 years

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foster care month

John and Joanne Dworsky raised a son and are expecting their first grandchild, but they continue to open their hearts and home to children through KidsPeace’s foster care program.

 

Since the Lehighton area couple became foster parents in 1997, they have had six long-term placements and a handful of respite cases. Three children got adopted from their care, and many still keep in touch. Joanne said she always wanted to be a foster mom, but when she broached the subject with her son when he was growing up, he wasn’t receptive to the idea.

 

Once he was in graduate school, the Dworskys took in their first child. Since they had one child of their own, they’ve found they do well with longer-term placements of one child at a time. But they have accepted some respite cases, where children stay for up to about a month to give other foster families a break. Though they have traditionally taken in teenagers, Joanne laughed when she recalled the time they got two 2-year-olds for a couple of weeks and she and John scrambled to keep up with them.

 

They have seen children from a variety of backgrounds – some have been abused, others have parents in jail, many have never been taught basic hygiene or study skills. But there is one thing the Dworskys have found all children need – structure.

 

John said many of the children were told for years that they were stupid or would never amount to anything, so he and his wife make it their mission to encourage each child to live up to his or her true potential.

 

“You can be anything you want to be as long as you’re willing to work at it,” he tells them.

 

While the children are in their care, the Dworskys make them feel like a part of the family. This may take the form of interacting with their teachers, taking them on outdoor adventures, doling out chores or making sure they have proper clothing.

 

“Most of them come with a plastic bag full of stuff, and half of it doesn’t fit,” John said. “They don’t have much of their own identity.”

Joanne has found that every child, no matter the age or gender, loves helping her in the kitchen.

 

“I think they just like anything that’s one-on-one,” she said. “When they think they’re doing something good, they just light up.”

John says the toughest part is often dealing with biological parents who don’t show up for arranged visits. Joanne acknowledges it can also be difficult to remember the children are with them on a temporary basis. She makes sure to never show her emotions when it’s time for a child to leave them.

 

“The whole idea for us was to treat them the way we treat our own child. So when you bring them in, they deserve everything you can give them,” she said. “The most meaningful thing I get out of it is that when the kids leave here, they’ve experienced a happy, safe home and they see they deserve it. I’ve planted a seed and somewhere down the road, they’ll see that.”

 

Right now, the Dworksys are serving as foster grandparents once a month for a 13-year-old girl whose grandparents live on the West Coast. Both laud their KidsPeace caseworkers and say they’ll continue taking in foster children as long as they’re able.

 

“For me, foster parenting has just given me a lot of joy,” Joanne said.

KidsPeace plans 130-day celebration in honor of 130th anniversary

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birthday cakeKidsPeace is celebrating a major milestone this year -- 130 years of giving hope, help and healing to children, families and the communities we serve.

 

We are proud of this long history of making a difference and intend to celebrate in style. Today is the kickoff for a 130-day celebration. From now until our birthday party on the Orchard Hills campus in Orefield, Pa., on Sept. 12, we have fun events planned at all of our locations in 10 states and Washington DC.

 

Each day, visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kidspeace.org, where we'll be sharing little-known facts about the organization and offering some chances to win prizes.

 

Do you have a personal connection to KidsPeace? Post a comment here or on our Facebook page to share how the organization touched your life or helped someone you know.

KidsPeace one stop on Pennsylvania man's pilgrimage in memory of son

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Denis Asselin is on a journey to raise awareness of brain disorders and the traumatic effect they have not only on patients, but on those who care for and love them.

 

One year ago, Asselin, of Cheyney, Pa., lost his only son, Nathaniel, to suicide after a 13-year struggle with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), a disease on the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) spectrum. Now, Asselin has embarked on a 500-mile pilgrimage from his Chester County home to Boston in an effort to talk to people about the disease and stop at places his son visited during his short life.

 

One of those places is KidsPeace, where Nathaniel was hospitalized when he was 11 years old. Asselin calls it the first chapter in the lengthy saga of his son’s illness. Asselin, who has been walking since April 24 and has logged about 130 miles, arrived at the Children’s Hospital today and met with members of the hospital team to share his story.

 

Right after his son died, he and his wife, Judy, and daughter, Carrie, walked the ancient pilgrimage route of Camino de Santiago in Spain. He described that as a deeply spiritual experience that helped him work through some of his overwhelming grief.

 

“I needed to ground my feelings from having lost Nathaniel,” he said.

 

His initial plan was to return to Europe to walk again in his son’s memory, but it didn’t feel natural. Instead, he said, he wanted to set out from his home, as a true pilgrim.  And so the idea of stopping at places that were both highlights and times of immense sadness in his son’s life – the hospital where he was born, an elementary school, his psychiatrist’s office, various hospitals – was born.

 

He has had some company along the way from people who have met him along his path. Anyone who is interested can track his progress in a blog on http://walkingwithnathaniel.org. His wife, Judy, is going to walk the Bethlehem to Easton leg of the journey with him this weekend.

 

Scallop shellWhile the walk, which he coined Camino de Nathaniel, brings him a measure of peace in the midst of his grief, Asselin’s greatest goal is to “bring brain disorders out of the closet.” As he walks, he carries with him a scallop seashell, which symbolizes that “there are many paths to one place.” The shell also adorns the cover of a pilgrimage passport his wife designed for him that he’s using to collect signatures of people he talks to along his journey.

 

BDD, which affects males and females equally, is often referred to as “broken mirror disorder,” Asselin said. Sufferers will fixate on their image, studying perceived flaws such as facial symmetry or blemishes that no one else would see. Nathaniel’s illness progressed to the point where his family had to remove all mirrors from their home. But when Nathaniel first got sick, the Asselins didn’t know their son was struggling with BDD. He was running compulsively, not eating as much and had lost a lot of weight.

 

“The whole idea was to get his body weight up and to find a medication that would quiet the messages he was hearing,” Asselin said.

 

It was years until professionals could pinpoint that Nathaniel was fighting BDD. Asselin got emotional as he described leaving his son at KidsPeace for that first hospitalization. He calls it the end of his son’s childhood.

 

“He was 11 years old. He was scared, and we were scared. As parents who love their children, you’d do anything to take that illness away from them,” he said. “As a parent, you live in the arena of that disorder. I had para-BDD.”

 

Nathaniel was put on medication that helped him for a few years, but it also came with side effects. He would tell his parents, “'Sometimes I feel like I’m moving through gauze,'” Asselin said.

 

The hardest part is that other people couldn’t see his illness. When they looked at Nathaniel, Asselin said, they saw a tall, handsome, intelligent young man. This is what Asselin wants to convey – that mental disorders need as much attention and are just as real as physical ailments.

 

And he said parents and caregivers need to be allowed to be involved in their children’s care. He and his wife often felt they were pushed aside by medical professionals who had more book knowledge of the disease, even though they lived with its manifestation every day.

 

He said his son, like others with mental illness, gave everything he had in the fight against BDD.

 

“He was a warrior,” he said. “There’s such integrity in a person’s mental illness. It’s not as if they’re not trying hard. He was always giving it all he had, but it wasn’t sustainable.”

 

He described it as a series of advances and backslides, but every time Nathaniel started to make progress, that just meant he had that much further to fall when the disease got the best of him.

 

Dr. Andrew Clark, the hospital’s medical director, said hearing Asselin’s story reinforces the work he does every day. He echoed Asselin’s sentiments that the public needs to appreciate the struggles of young people with mental illness.

 

“It’s the most vulnerable field, taking care of the most vulnerable patients,” he said.

 

Asselin left KidsPeace this morning, heading for Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, where he has an appointment on May 13. His final stop is a June 7 rally in Boston, which is sponsored by the OCD Foundation.

 

Since Asselin has set out on his journey, he has found that when he shares his story, others often open up to him in return.

 

“It’s as if I’ve given them permission to say what’s on their heart. And if I’ve done that, I think I’ve already been successful,” he said. “I think Nathaniel would be proud of what I’m doing. He’s leading me.”

 

Photo Courtesy of Denis Asselin/These shells mark the path of Camino de Santiago.

 

 

 
   
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