There is a song by Rod Stewart which contains the following lyrics,
“I wish that I knew what I know now… When I was younger.”
Let me begin by saying that hindsight is 20/20. Like any place, KidsPeace does different things for each person. I cannot speak for anyone else or their experience; I can only share mine.
I was at KidsPeace in the late 90’s until 2001. I came from an upper-class yet dysfunctional family. My father was abusive. My mother had untreated psychological issues. I also realized at around 12 that I was gay. These factors combined with the already complex inner workings of a teenage girl can be overwhelming, even for a stoic individual like me.
These circumstances fostered a severe depression in me as a young teenager, which grew as I did. By 13, I was suicidal and hell-bent on ending what I perceived to be my sad existence. I’d been in several hospitals and placements before KidsPeace and had trouble acclimating to the structure and therapeutic environment. When someone doesn’t want to live, the last thing they want is help, despite it being what they need the most.
I felt abandoned and alone when I was brought to KidsPeace. My family moved from New Jersey to Florida while I was there, so I didn’t go anywhere on holidays or birthdays. My adamant refusal to adhere to the rules didn’t help me win any home visits either.
Being in a place that you don’t want to be can cause all sorts of issues: testing the limits, bending the rules, trying to work over the system. At the time, all of this seemed much more reasonable than sitting and trying to get to the roots of my torment and trouble. I resisted your facility and all of its offerings at every turn. I look back at my actions while at KidsPeace and I cringe a little. It’s tough to look at all the choices you’ve made that you know were wrong. Things you could have done differently if you had to go back and do them again.
The thing that made me realize that the importance of what this place does for children was knowing how it affected my life. I am still alive. Had it not been for KidsPeace, I doubt that I would be.
At the time I thought that most of the staff was there because they wanted a paycheck. Looking back now, it’s evident that people work there because they care and want to make a difference. The pay there isn’t close to what they deserve for putting up with the some of the things they dealt with. The primal screams of a child in pain emotionally is something one could never be paid enough to hear over and over. I was there for a while and so I was lucky enough to develop lasting rapport with a select few staff. This eventually turned to friendship once I left and became a contributing member of society again.
I broke the rules, messed up time and time again. Shuffled between the hospital and the residential, making sure everyone knew how much I hated being there. This lasted until a few months after my 18th birthday and I moved on to a transitional living facility. Fast forward 15 years later, and I’m getting ready to turn 34 this year; I didn’t want to live past my 18th birthday, yet here I am.
A few months ago I took one of my best friends on a drive up to KidsPeace. She wanted to see the infamous place that I always spoke of and shared stories about. As I drove up the hill, I fell silent. I pulled in the parking lot in front of the Athlete Center and parked. My car was playing a song called “Save Me” by Remy Zero. As I listened to the song playing on the radio, I began to cry. My friend asked me if I was crying because it brought up so many memories or brought up a lot of pain for me.
It took me a minute to answer her, but when I did, I told her, “No.” I explained to her that I was crying because it felt like home.
I had spent most of my teenage years at this place. A place at the time that I despised and loathed. Yet here I was, sitting in my brand new car, knowing that I have an amazing career and have accomplished so much in the last ten years. Here I was – alive and doing well. It was something so foreign to me when I was a resident at KidsPeace that it never occurred to me that all I was learning and experiencing there would help form the person I would become.
I was crying because the compassionate, loving, empathetic human being I had become was a result of being here and the things I learned about others, about life and about the resilience of the human spirit and heart.
KidsPeace can change your life, yes. It can also give you one when all else has seemed to fail. Take it from someone who has felt the loneliness and despair and wanted nothing more than to end the pain and sadness. Life isn’t always easy, in fact it rarely is. It helps to be able to look back and say, “Wow. Look what I have endured and overcome.”
Trust me when I say this – if you ask any of the staff who was there when I was a resident, I am the last person they would expect to give a glowing review about KidsPeace. I was too resourceful and smart for my own good. I was rebellious and untrusting. But through the hard work and support of the staff, I overcame my demons and gained the tools to survive and thrive despite my circumstances.
It hurts my heart to know that KidsPeace has suffered financial hardship and lack of resources at some points. There are many places you can bring a child to get services. Getting help is a different story. I truly believe KidsPeace is a safe place for children to get the help they need. I know that I wouldn’t be as successful as I am or be the person I am if it had not been for KidsPeace.
In closing, I will quote a poignant line I once heard in a movie:
“Everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out, it isn’t the end.”
A former client at KidsPeace’s Orchard Hills Campus in Pennsylvania, Margie Rogers is Regional Vice President of Sales for Advantage Business Media in Rockaway, NJ.