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April 2021

Mom writes letter encouraging other struggling parents

Two years ago, Maria migrated to the US from Mexico. As a young mother with little support, she sought help with adjusting to a new location, culture and language until a friend recommended Kansas Children’s Service League (KCSL). She started working with Adriana Nava, bilingual family support specialist at KCSL, in early 2020.

“I want parents to know they’re not alone in their journey,” Nava said. “There are resources in our community to support them.”

Maria is a great example of a parent who has benefited from KCSL’s services and feels passionate about encouraging others to seek help.

Generous 8-year-old gives to KCSL

When Caroline recently received money for her eighth birthday, she decided to give it to KCSL. In the letter she sent along with her donation, she wrote, “I want to give it to you to help kids to stay home with their mom and dad.”

Why did you donate to KCSL?

When my [foster] brother lived with us, I know he always missed his mom and dad. I wished he could have lived with them. Sometimes parents need help to learn to be good moms and dads. I was excited to know I could help other kids not leave their families like him.

Why do you think it's important for us to help others?

I don’t want other people to be sad, so I try to make them happy. It makes me feel good.

Besides donate to KCSL, what did you do for your birthday?

I jumped at the trampoline place and played on the ropes high in the ceiling.

Want to follow in Caroline's footsteps? Donate now!

Success Corner

Healthy Families Kansas™: Shawnna & Havick

Featured in Kids View Online April 2020

Shawnna was on her eighth day of no sleep and her third visit to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) office that week, which was no small task. Her 2-month-old son, Havick, wouldn’t stop crying. She was looking for a formula that her son could actually digest and hopefully help calm him down. She wasn’t expecting to meet someone who would help change her life.

The previous year, Shawnna was pregnant with her second child, happily married and recently received a promotion at work. She felt her life was nearly perfect, and this new baby was going to be the nearly perfect addition to their family.

In December 2016, Havick was born. A few days after his long and difficult birth, Havick was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit due to complications including jaundice, dehydration and weight loss. It was at this time Shawnna was informed that she lost her job.

“I went from being a full-time working mom with my life together to having intense postpartum depression,” Shawnna said.

Shawnna suffered from depression and anxiety after Havick’s birth. She often struggled to leave her bedroom or change her own clothes. This made Havick’s increased crying nearly impossible to manage.

“Everyone thought that because I had an older kid, I was a mom expert,” Shawnna said. “But I didn’t know why he wouldn’t stop screaming. I just knew I was in the doctor’s office every week.”

While Shawnna was waiting for her WIC appointment on that day three years ago, a KCSL Healthy Families Kansas™ home visitor approached her to talk about the program. Shawnna was not in a positive mindset at the time but agreed to sign up for the program so the woman would leave her alone.

Realizing what she just agreed to, Shawnna did not look forward to having a stranger in her home and felt anxious about this decision until she had her first few visits.

“The worker came in like she knew me my entire life and never made me feel like a bad mom,” Shawnna said. “Mentally, she helped me overcome a lot of the dread that comes with postpartum depression.”

Shawnna’s home visitor gave her emotional support in a time when she felt isolated. She started looking forward to her regular meetings and often opened up to her worker about her struggles as a young mom.

“I never thought when I signed up for this program that it would have this big of an impact,” Shawnna said. “It took me out of the deepest parts of my depression.”

Since Shawnna lost her job and her husband recently switched careers taking a pay-cut, they struggled to make ends meet. Healthy Families Kansas™ was able to provide their family with needed baby supplies and other resources to help them succeed.

Now, Shawnna voluntarily helps KCSL recruit new families to the program including her close family and friends.

“I recommend this program to literally everyone,” Shawnna said. “Just having that one person to talk to can change their lives.”

Shawnna and her son graduated from Healthy Families Kansas™ in March 2020. Her family has high aspirations and plans to be debt-free in five years and to put Havick in preschool. And although being a young mom still has its challenges, Shawnna feels confident about her future and how Healthy Families Kansas™ helped her get here.

“I feel like I’m more me than I was three years ago.”

New service shows promising results during first year

Featured in Kids View Online November 2019

In October 2018, KCSL introduced Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) services to children enrolled in our Head Start and Early Head Start programs in southwest Kansas. Seamus, the Wheaten Terrier KCSL uses for AAT services, has become very popular after only a year of helping children at KCSL.

“The kids get really excited about their visits from Seamus,” said Missi Martinez, LPC, assistant director of mental health for KCSL’s Head Start and Early Head Start programs and Seamus’ trained handler. “On the days I don’t have him with me, the children will ask me to go home and get him. It’s always all about Seamus!”

All of KCSL’s center-based Head Start and Early Head Start programs have utilized AAT services. Recent research shows that having therapy dogs in elementary classrooms improves behaviors, attention span, empathy skills and even increases academic gains. Martinez has seen evidence of this in many KCSL classrooms in the last year.

With KCSL’s Head Start and Early Head Start center-based classes starting a new school year in August, Martinez has seen positive change in the children she and Seamus have worked with. The students with AAT experience are even willing to coach kids new to the program.

"When Seamus came in for his initial visit this year, the children who have worked with him before talked to the new students about the friendship rules – gentle touches, calm bodies, quiet voices and listening ears – without any prompting,” Martinez said. “That was really awesome to see.”

Along with offering AAT in group settings like the classroom, KCSL also provides one-on-one sessions. “We have a number of children who have utilized AAT individually to assist with emotional regulation and motor control,” Martinez said. “The occupational health benefits are really impressive.”

Stevie’s Story
Stevie, who participates in KCSL’s Early Head Start in Liberal, was born with agenesis of the corpus callosum (ACC). ACC is a congenital disorder that results in a complete or partial absence of the corpus callosum, the structure in the brain that connects the right and left hemispheres. ACC can result in seizures, cognitive impairment, poor feeding and difficulty swallowing, developmental delays in motor and language skills, vision and hearing impairments, poor muscle tone and coordination, sleep problems, psychosocial difficulties and learning disabilities.

When Stevie started KCSL’s center-based program in November 2018, she struggled with many of these symptoms. Most notably, Stevie had motor delays that prevented her from being able to crawl, push herself up on her arms, sit up straight and participate in normal play at 18 months old. Due to poor strength in her core muscles, Stevie’s spine would not straighten. Even with specially modified baby seats, she was constantly bent over at the waist. She could not look up at her peers or caregivers and was unable to communicate due to language delays.

The new environment was very scary for Stevie. Not only was she at a disadvantage due to mobility and communication issues but she also was constantly being exercised to improve core strength and straighten her spine, which was sometimes painful and often exhausting. When Stevie first met Seamus, she would scream and cry because she had no way of interacting with Seamus or moving away from him if she became uncomfortable with his proximity. Seamus only has one instinctual protocol to a crying child – get near, protect, inspect, kiss, repeat – and did not understand how to help Stevie. He would try everything he could to get to Stevie and calm her down, but this only worsened Stevie’s distress. This made for a complicated relationship between the two of them.

Eventually, Stevie’s patience and bravery led to small gestures and short interactions. As Stevie was able to sit upright more often, she began attempting to reach out for Seamus. Seamus, being worried about scaring her, would belly crawl to just within her reach so Stevie could wrap her little hands up in his ears and beard.

As Stevie grew and improved her strength, she was able to become more mobile with the use of a little car, which supported her posture and allowed her to be more mobile. Stevie's teachers encouraged her to use her feet to scoot around on her car, but it was a slow process. One day, Seamus showed up at recess, and Stevie decided she needed to get to that dog. She worked her little legs as hard as she could and successfully managed to scoot herself over to Seamus even with the added resistance of the pea gravel that covers the playground. From that day forward, Stevie and Seamus have been best friends and are nearly inseparable.

Now, Stevie sits up straight in toddler chairs with very little assistance, can nod her head “yes” and shake her head “no” in response to questions, and even has begun to attempt a few short words. When Seamus enters the classroom, she reaches for him. Stevie shares her toys with Seamus and even welcomes doggy kisses.

Stevie is a bright little girl who is trying desperately to learn to walk. She practices improving her upper body and neck strength and can pull herself around a little with her arms. When Stevie first came to KCSL, she had significant challenges. Thanks to the encouragement and diligence of her classroom staff and the patience and love of her good friend Seamus, Stevie is making excellent progress.

"She’s going to grow up to do some AMAZING things with her very special life," Martinez said. "She already lights up an entire room with just her smile!"

Healthy Families Kansas™: Araceli, Julio & Yaiden

Featured in Kids View Online April 2018

Although many 15-year-old girls feel like adults, most are enjoying their early teens adjusting to high school, spending time with friends and possibly dating. Araceli, however, had much more on her mind at this age. She was preparing to raise a child with her boyfriend, Julio.

“We felt very scared when we found out I was pregnant,” Araceli said. “We were shocked but once we saw the ultrasound, we got really excited.”

In the beginning, Araceli and Julio had very little support. They immediately started searching for local resources in Emporia to help them on their new journey of parenthood. When the couple learned about KCSL’s Healthy Families Kansas™, they enrolled.

“Since I got pregnant at a young age, I had no clue what was coming,” Araceli said. “I didn’t know the basics of how to care for my own child.”

Although she admits Healthy Families Kansas™ has helped her family, Araceli still had her struggles. After giving birth to her son, Yaiden, she felt unmotivated and didn’t attend school for a few months. Lisa Harder, KCSL family engagement coordinator for Healthy Families Kansas™ and Araceli’s home visitor at the time, along with Julio and Araceli’s family encouraged her to continue high school. Eventually, Araceli decided to persist in her schooling and even graduated with her class in 2017.

“KCSL has taught me how to succeed and not give up,” Araceli said. “They give you a lot of opportunities and support. If you need help, they’re there for you.”

Now, Araceli and Julio live in their own home and feel confident in their abilities. Yaiden, now 2 years old, is ahead in his development, Julio works full-time as a carpenter and Araceli stays at home to take care of their son.

“They are receptive to Healthy Families information and education and have been very successful with the program,” Harder said. “They are self-sufficient and excellent advocates for themselves and Yaiden.”

Araceli, Julio and Yaiden were featured on local television station WIBW-TV in Topeka last month. The story highlighted two KCSL families who are outstanding examples of Healthy Families Kansas™ participants.

“It was exciting, sharing our story and being recognized as a successful family,” Araceli said.

As for the future, Araceli has applied to attend Emporia State University in the fall to pursue a nursing degree, and Julio has dreams of starting his own business one day. The couple also has plans to marry and is optimistic about Yaiden starting school soon. All three are set to graduate from the Healthy Families Kansas™ program later this year.

“I just want a happy life,” Araceli said.

Click HERE to learn more about Healthy Families Kansas™.

Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Jack

Featured in Kids View Online December 2017

Jack Cooley has been a KCSL volunteer in Liberal for nearly a decade dutifully reading to children in KCSL’s Head Start classrooms weekly for most of that time. Cooley can be described as a fun, passionate man who genuinely loves helping his community.

In June, Cooley will celebrate 50 years of marriage to his wife, Linda. Their family was made complete when they adopted their two daughters in the 1970s. After adopting their first child in 1975, they took an adoptive parenting class in Dodge City. KCSL hosted this class, thus beginning a long-time relationship between Cooley and the organization.

Cooley owned a machine shop for 25 years, served as Liberal city commissioner for six years and was city mayor from 2005 to 2006 before retiring in 2008. In retirement, Cooley sought volunteer opportunities so he could stay busy and continue giving back to his community.

“Your community is only as good as you are,” Cooley said. “It’s not just about giving money, it’s about seeing how community services work.”

Remembering the guidance he got from the parenting class many years ago, Cooley has supported KCSL in many ways. After retiring, he wanted to start donating his time to KCSL. In 2010, Cooley started regularly reading to children in KCSL’s Liberal Head Start classrooms, which currently includes eight classes total.

“I get to be a kid and have fun,” Cooley admitted. “I really get into the characters, and they like it when I do the Three Billy Goats Gruff and Big Bad Wolf.”

Cooley is also part of KCSL’s Head Start Policy Council, which is a combined group of parents whose children participate in Head Start and community volunteers. Council members work together to coordinate family engagement events, create opportunities to model leadership for parents in the program and help ensure Board Governance expectations are met.

“I like seeing parents involved,” Cooley said. “The more we can do for kids, the better we are in the long-run.”

Cooley has a particular appreciation for Head Start staff since both his mother and wife were teachers. He encourages others to also give their time to reading to children.

“It’s easier than teaching,” Cooley said chuckling. “And the rewards are so amazing, it’s mind-blowing.”

KCSL staff are grateful for Cooley’s influence on the children in the Liberal community. Almost all Head Start students come from struggling families, and Cooley recognizes the importance of helping these children and the work KCSL does in Liberal.

“The teachers and kids are excellent,” Cooley said. “The staff at KCSL’s Head Start are really dedicated, and it’s easy to volunteer for people who are dedicated to their work.”

Foster Family Feature: Meet Rodney

National Foster Care Month 2020

Rodney Jenkins has been a KCSL foster parent for 20 years. He estimates having close to 30 children in his care during that period of time.

In the beginning of Rodney’s foster parent journey, he experienced some “rocky situations" because he was young and new to having parental responsibilities. Although he had a tough time at first, Rodney is grateful he persevered.

“I want children in foster care to realize there are people who care about them,” he said. “I want to help the kids in my home make better choices in life.”

As a KCSL foster parent, Rodney tries his best to be a positive role model for the children in his care.

“Being able to help a foster child and make an impact on that child’s life is what I like best about KCSL,” Rodney said. “KCSL provides good support for their foster families and has been good at directing me in my journey of being a foster parent and helping me when I need something.”

This year, Rodney is retiring from his full-time job and his role as a foster parent.

“I plan to spend more time with my family, traveling and volunteering with my church,” he said.

Foster Family Feature: Meet the Ostroms

National Foster Care Month 2020

Lon and Kathy Ostrom became foster parents in 2007. Since then, the Ostrom family has had 70 foster care placements in their home including short-term, long-term and police protective custody placements.

“We both love children and weren’t done parenting,” Kathy said. “We were aware of the need of homes for foster children in Kansas and wanted to help.”

Lon and Kathy take on their roles as foster parents with compassion and a strong sense of responsibility. When asked why they choose to open their home to children in need of care, their answer is straightforward.

“Somebody has to do it,” Lon said. “You can’t just go through life and do nothing about it.”

The Ostroms seem to go above and beyond traditional foster parenting duties. After seeking more resources on how to care for children who have experienced trauma, Kathy became a Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI®) practitioner in 2018. Lon and Kathy also currently provide a support network to foster and adoptive parents.

Although the Ostroms have a passion for teaching and encouraging other foster families, they still appreciate KCSL’s help in difficult situations.

“We feel we have support from KCSL,” Kathy said. “We’ve always received solutions to any problems we have, and their response time is wonderful.”

When Kathy and Lon first became foster parents, they had no intentions of adopting any children. Now, the Ostroms have welcomed into their home five adopted children.

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