Still I Rise
Harnessing resiliency in uncertain times
More than three months of uncertainty have choked the United States since the COVID menace spread across the land. Rather than weakening — as do the hurricanes we in Florida know all too well — this disaster continues to gain strength. And as its strength grows, it threatens to rob us of our own.
But the resiliency we all need right now is not all that elusive.
Here, we take a look at the Community Foundation of Collier County’s Collier Comes Together Disaster Relief Fund, buoyed by almost $1.5 million in community donations toward COVID relief.
We also shine a light on virtual programs and the inventive ways the Naples Senior Center is continuing to support its more than 800 members in relative isolation.
As the public understandably begins to experience stress fatigue, we offer insights presented by mental health experts from the David Lawrence Center and Hazelden Betty Ford, with links to additional authoritative information. We also present the benefits of downloading apps that remind us to be mindfully present throughout the day. And as we aspire to emerge from this enduring detention, we offer tips from an Antarctic expedition leader who knows that coming out of isolation is best achieved in measured steps.
Gone to the dogs, our Hometown Heroes are also for the birds. And reptiles and mammals. We’re talking about the impact of animal-assisted therapy at Youth Haven and the devoted director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital, Joanna Fitzgerald.
Finally, who doesn’t turn to chocolate for a quick pick-me-up? We celebrate the second-greatest holiday in July, World Chocolate Day, with some fun, fudgy facts and a Naples chef’s recipe for Molten Dark Chocolate cakes that rise to any occasion.
And speaking of rise, we hope to inspire you with a few words from “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou.
“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear …”
May we all embrace resilience to break free from dark times. Be well.
Building Resilience in Adversity
Find your inner strength and thrive
by Angela Lopez
Whether you’ve experienced a debilitating health diagnosis, lost everything due to financial troubles or you’re simply not bouncing back from everyday challenges the way you think you should, you can be more successful during adversity, loss or trauma by developing resilience.
Resilience is one’s capacity to adapt, bounce back or move forward when exposed to adverse experiences. A resilient person tends to possess more stress-resistant qualities and skills. They can thrive under extreme, ongoing pressure without acting in dysfunctional or harmful ways. The most resilient people recover from traumatic experiences stronger, better and wiser. But why and how?
What factors contribute to resilience?
It’s important to remember that many people’s challenges, and even personal resilience, cannot be seen. Outer success isn’t the only marker of resilience. But we do know that negative childhood experiences, which have a tremendous impact on lifelong health and opportunity, damage resilience the most.
Research on adverse childhood experiences provides continual in-depth insights on resiliency and trauma.
The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, one of the largest investigations of childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being, reported that, while resilience is developed over a lifetime, it is largely affected by a combination of early childhood experiences. Adverse childhood experiences are stressful and/or traumatic events. These include abuse and neglect as well as household dysfunction, such as divorce, domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders or mental illness.
As the number of adverse childhood experiences increases, so does the risk of negative outcomes. You can learn your ACE score by visiting the Aces Too High website (https://acestoohigh.com) and selecting the “Got Your Score?” tab. There, you can also learn more about the relationship between trauma and resilience.
Many studies show that the primary factor in building resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family. Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person’s resilience. The following activities help:
Surround yourself with resilient people.
Increase your self-awareness.
Build confidence in your strengths and abilities.
Establish and maintain healthy boundaries.
Commit to healthy, supportive relationships in friendships, groups, causes, work and religious organizations.
Develop solid goals and maintain motivation to achieve them.
Spend time and energy focusing on situations and events that are within your control.
View the effects of negative events as temporary rather than permanent.
Have a positive image of the future.
Practice empathy and compassion, especially self-compassion.
Practice self-care: focus on exercise, sleep, healthy nutrition, alcohol consumption, etc.
Learn from others.
Practice positive self-talk.
Be open to asking for and receiving help.
Practice acceptance by knowing you may not have all the answers.
Develop and practice good communication and problem-solving skills.
Manage strong feelings and impulses.
View difficulty as a challenge, not as a paralyzing event.
Don’t wallow or dwell on failures.
Don’t think of yourself as a victim.
Don’t waste time worrying what others think of you.
Don’t give in to peer pressure.
Don’t let setbacks or negative events affect other unrelated areas of your life.
Don’t blame yourself when bad events occur.
Nurturing a child’s resiliency
Knowing that adverse childhood experiences can affect a child’s ability to be resilient, it is important to know there are certain steps that we, as parents, grandparents and community members, can take to create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for children as well as teach certain behaviors, thoughts and actions that can build resilience over time.
- Teach children how to make friends, including the skill of empathy, or feeling another’s feelings.
- Help children make connections with people who will support them during their inevitable disappointments and painful experiences.
Engage children in age-appropriate volunteer work.
Maintain a daily routine and encourage the child to develop his or her own routines.
Teach children how to focus on something besides what’s worrying them.
Teach the importance of daily self-care (making time to eat properly, exercise, rest and have fun).
Help children set reasonable goals and move toward them one step at a time.
Help your child learn to trust himself/herself to solve problems and make appropriate decisions.
Help your child see that change is part of life and new goals can replace goals that have become unattainable.
Make yourself accessible when they are ready to talk/share and listen without interruption and judgment.
Offer positive, optimistic support.
Be a role model and practice what you preach. Know that the child is watching and learning how you manage your own stress.
Learn the language of resilience. Give positive messages that bring hope, such as “We will get through this,” “This is only temporary” and “You are not alone.”
As a family, talk about what you’ve learned from your own mistakes.
Gaining a More Resilient Mindset
Another key factor in developing resilience is using the knowledge you learn from facing adverse situations. Avoidance of, or ignoring, your feelings does not promote resilience. Facing your feelings and the disappointment can help you make meaning of it and learn to relate to yourself in a compassionate and forgiving way.
If you are struggling to cope with adversity or a traumatic event and find yourself being less resilient than you would like to be, it is important to ask for help. In addition to reaching out to caring family members and friends, people often find it helpful to turn to:
Self-help and support groups
Books and other publications, such as books by best-selling author Al Siebert, including “The Survivor Personality” and “The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure, and Bounce Back from Setbacks,” as well as Donald Robertson’s “Build Your Resilience: How to Survive and Thrive in Any Situation”
Therapies, such as from a mental health professional
Free online courses and surveys are available that address trauma, stress and resilience, such as Aces Too High (as mentioned above), Headington Institute (https://headington-institute.org) and ResiliencyQuiz.com
A variety of therapeutic techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness and traumatic incident reduction, can be used to build resilience. Therapeutic treatments are available to help people learn to identify negative thoughts and self-talk, often present automatically, and teaches individuals to then challenge those thoughts. Treatment also helps individuals build resilience by helping them learn better coping skills, build strong support systems, set better boundaries and develop self-awareness.
Angela Lopez is a speaker, therapist and licensed social worker. She is David Lawrence Center’s clinical supervisor of outpatient services and is fluent in Spanish and English.
in this issue
S P O N S O R E D
Dollars for Disaster
The Community Foundation’s “Collier Comes Together Fund” assists nonprofits’ ever-changing needs
by Julia Browning
Almost three years later, Hurricane Irma’s silver lining has come to fruition. The devastating hurricane forced community leaders to lay groundwork that would prepare them for the next unprecedented disaster. For the Community Foundation of Collier County, that groundwork is the Collier Comes Together Fund.
In mid-March the board of the foundation enacted the fund, seeding $100,000 to get it started. They reached out to the community for donations but were unsure of how successful they would be.
“The community in Collier has truly stepped up with almost $1.5 million raised for COVID relief,” says Community Foundation President/CEO Eileen Connolly-Keesler. “It has been just amazing that people would — with everyone in crisis — come up to give us money, thousands of donations from $10 to $350,000.”
By looking at how the Community Foundation has distributed the funds, one can track the impact of the virus as needs shift and mutate. The first thing the Collier Comes Together for Coronavirus Relief Fund did, for instance, was create a $50,000 matching grant for NCH Healthcare System to buy necessary medical equipment, such as ventilators.
As the pandemic wore on, food insecurity became a major issue. The fund supplied about $150,000 worth of food for local pantries to distribute. Community members’ basic needs were also endangered, including money for gas, bills and medicine. Thus, $130,000 was given in the form of gift cards to partner nonprofits.
Simultaneously, Collier County Public Schools was facing a budget crisis, having to suddenly come up with $50,000 a month in air cards (wireless adapters that connect to the internet through cellular data), so that students could perform their online schooling. The fund delegated $120,000 to relieve the school district.
Though it’s nearly impossible to predict the next crisis-within-a-crisis the coronavirus will create, the Community Foundation, which is in constant contact with area nonprofits and relief organizations, is gearing up to solve the incoming rent crisis.
NCH Frontline workers
“The point of a community foundation is really to be nimble and move quickly, and that’s what were able to do,” Connolly-Keesler says.
They find out where the need is emerging and work on getting funds to the organization best equipped to meet that need, she adds.
“People on unemployment are soon going to be on $290 a week,” she says. “We know rent is going to become an issue. It already is.”
To combat this, the foundation is setting money aside specifically for attorney fees who will wade through eviction notices as more and more citizens run out of money for rent.
Connolly-Keesler stresses the importance of having funds readily available for when crisis, however unpredictable, ultimately strikes.
“When you’ve got people who are going hungry, you can’t say, ‘I’ll wait a week and see if I can find some money.’ When health care organizations are saying, ‘We need help to save people’s lives,’ you can’t put them off,” she says.
“You have to be able to move.”
Seven Tips to Prepare for Coming Out of Isolation
Antarctic expedition leader shares how to come out stronger
by Rachael Robertson
I’ve been in extended isolation before. As an expedition leader in Antarctica, I spent nine months in temperatures hovering around minus 35 degrees. The pressure from lack of privacy, mundane nature of the days and living with 17 other people was extraordinary. I had prepared and trained well for this environment and we had a great year. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was coming home.
I truly believed we’d slip right back into normal mode, and did not plan for the challenges that, for many of us, we will now experience as we start returning from this extended lockdown.
Here are seven tips to prepare now for when the “new normal” arrives:
1. Avoid Sensory Overload
Take your time slipping back to the office, if you can. After spending extended periods indoors, the noise and smells outside are really strong and disturbing. On my return from Antarctica, the simple noise of a city was a huge cacophony for me. Go back only for the mornings or afternoons during your first week back or so, so that you can ease into it.
2. Control the Speed
Try to slow it down by continuing what worked for you in isolation. Traffic, physically going from one meeting to the next, rushing out for lunch, managing school pickups, sport or study commitments are all very fast and intense. Utilize the same coping activities getting you through the quarantine like a morning walk, meditation, yoga or being in nature. Whatever worked then will work now.
Play the long game and plan. Things may have become simpler simply because we have had limited choice. But suddenly the doors of choice are thrown open — and the list is endless. Where to go on the weekend, who to visit, what sport or concert to attend, what to wear to work… Plan which days you will visit people, go out to dinner, and give yourself time to acclimate to the sudden choices.
Manage other people’s expectations by setting your own. In total, we were away from home for 18 months. I was thrilled to be back and over the moon to see my family and friends. But my most overriding feeling was exhaustion and a need for privacy. Today, people will have different expectations about how we respond on the other side. Some will be thrilled to be back to a new normal, others will be scared, and some ambivalent. Ask people how excited they are about the new normal on a scale of 1 to 10 and notice the difference.
5. Physical contact
To be back in the world, being touched and hugged again may be challenging. That’s perfectly OK. A year without so much as a hug is difficult, but you do get used to it. I simply shut down the need for physical contact and put it out of my mind. For many people, we face a similar challenge now. For single people living alone and not being able to visit family and friends, it may have been months without even a handshake.
6. Redefine Rituals for Yourself and at Work
This is the ideal time to review and even reset your team culture. What rituals will you keep from the past? What new rituals will you have in the future? A few tools I used with my Antarctic team that I have kept since returning include:
No triangles. This means “I don’t speak to you about him,” and “You don’t speak to me about her.” Have direct conversations, and don’t get yourself involved.
Lead without a title. Every person can demonstrate leadership at work and at home. It’s a behavior, not a title. If you see something that needs to be done, do something about it. Take some pressure off yourself by encouraging the people around you to step up.
7. Mental Health
Have regular conversations with the people you care about to normalize conversations around mental health. We don’t know how people will respond over the next few months. But we do know people will react in different ways. In Antarctica, we had a code: “NQR” meant “not quite right.” It was shorthand to describe that feeling when you just aren’t feeling your normal self. Overall, you’re doing okay, but today, you are not quite right. Whether it’s a code, a scale or a word, make it easy for people to let you know if they are OK.
Rachael Robertson’s “Leading on the Edge” is an account of leading a yearlong expedition to Antarctica. Her latest book, “Respect Trumps Harmony: Why Being Liked is Overrated and Constructive Conflict Gets Results,” is out now. www.rachaelrobertson.com
Rewiring for Resilience
Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation webinar reviews physiological and behavioral responses to stress
Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation recently presented a fascinating webinar covering human physical and behavioral responses in the presence of stress. Understanding how stress affects us physiologically and psychologically is the first step to learning ways to cope and circumvent negative impacts.
That’s where the webinar, “Rewiring for Resilience: How to Promote Wellness in Times of Stress,” comes in. It’s a collaboration presented by Dr. Kristen Schmidt, psychiatrist, and clinical psychologist Patsy Manzanares, both of Hazelden Betty Ford.
In times of stress such as these — with the COVID pandemic in full swing and hurricane season upon us — our reactions can have harmful effects on our health and well-being. It’s equally true that other behaviors and responses to stress can strengthen our resilience and enhance our health.
Schmidt and Manzanares take a closer look at how the brain and body react to stress and identify behavioral techniques that promote resilience and repair.
Dr. Kristen Schmidt, Psychiatrist and Patsy Manzanares, Clinical Psychologist
They explain how stress affects the body and brain, distinguish different stress reactions that affect health both positively and negatively, and describe behavioral techniques that enhance wellness and encourage a sense of safety.
A recording of the Hazelden webinar is available for free viewing, click here. Registration is required, as if you were attending a live webinar. From there, you will directed to the program.
Molten Dark Chocolate Cakes
Celebrate World Chocolate Day with this delicious confection
by Ana Howe
Make a sweet dessert for your dinner party. Mini chocolate cakes filled with more ooey-gooey chocolate are sure to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth.
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 pinch of salt
2 tsp. instant espresso powder
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
¼ cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
Preheat oven to 450°. Butter six ¾-cup ramekins. Place chocolate and butter in a saucepan over lowest heat setting and cook, stirring constantly with a flexible spatula until melted and smooth. Remove from heat, pour into a bowl and let it cool slightly.
In a small bowl, mix flour, salt and espresso powder together with a fork. In a large bowl, using a wire whisk, beat eggs, yolks, cream and vanilla. Whisk in confectioners’ sugar just until combined. Fold chocolate mixture into egg mixture, then stir in flour mixture just until combined. (You shouldn’t see any traces of flour, but try not to mix more than necessary.)
Use a spoon to divide chocolate mixture among ramekins. Place ramekins on a baking sheet and bake 10 minutes. Remove and let stand for one minute. Run a knife around inside edge of each ramekin and invert cakes on places. Serve warm on a pool of raspberry coulis (recipe below) with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, if desired.
Raspberry Coulis Ingredients
12-ounce bag frozen raspberries, thawed
3-4 Tbsps. confectioner’s sugar
2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier
Raspberry Coulis Directions
Blend raspberries and confectioner’s sugar in a food processor. After fully blended, top with Grand Marnier.
Prep Time: 25 minutes.
Cook Time: 10 minutes.
Ana Howe is the owner of Here’s Howe Catering in Naples, delivering everything from the simple to the spectacular. Learn more at hereshowecatering.com.
Staying Connected, Now More Than Ever
Naples Senior Center continues to help seniors gain interconnectivity
by Julia Browning
Not going into work, difficulty leaving the house, being separated from family and friends — these are situations a community under quarantine is painfully familiar with.
But long before our current situation, many senior citizens faced isolation every day. That’s why the Naples Senior Center was created: it’s a home away from home for seniors to gain that much-needed connection.
“When you think about the Naples Senior Center, we were founded to combat isolation and loneliness in seniors,” says President/CEO Dr. Jaclynn Faffer. “We used to have seniors come to us for socialization, educational programs, exercise, the whole point was having them feel community. And suddenly, we’re telling them not to come in and stay home.”
When COVID-19 made attending the center an impossibility, Faffer and her team of staff and volunteers immediately began providing services to fit the new normal.
The first thing Naples Senior Center did was find a way to continue to serve the seniors who frequented their weekly food pantry on Wednesdays. In the first week, volunteers made 800 calls to Naples Senior Center members. By the following Wednesday, the center delivered a hot lunch to each one, and they continue doing so for those in need.
A volunteer with the Naples Senior Center plays “Happy Birthday” at the home of Betty Ryan, who recently celebrated her 102nd birthday.
In order to continue serving members, Naples Senior Center leaders realized they had to start providing virtual programming. But were members technologically ready?
Fortunately, many members were quick to learn and engage. Those who needed help were connected with tech-savvy volunteers who helped ensure they had necessary resources.
Now, Naples Senior Center’s schedule of online activities is robust, featuring music therapy, brain fitness and educational lectures, to name a few. The center has been able to continue its dementia respite programming, as well. Before the pandemic hit, the center had 10 dementia respite groups, each with four-hour programs each week.
“We said to ourselves, ‘We will never be able to do anything like that on Zoom,’” Faffer says. “Well guess what? We are now offering 2.5 hours of programming every day for the dementia respite group.”
With the recent upticks in Florida cases, Faffer says Naples Senior Center isn’t planning to open its doors soon. Instead, it’s focusing on ramping up its virtual programming, adding new offerings each week.
Faffer stresses the importance of connection, citing studies that declare loneliness can increase cardiovascular disease, impair cognitive function and negatively impact mental health.
She often broaches this topic, which, in the past, has been met with some disbelief. Now that being quarantined has taken a toll on the majority, people understand, she says.
It’s all about staying connected.
“While staying connected virtually isn’t an optimal way to do it, if it’s the only way, then it’s the best way,” she says.
Learn more about programming, volunteering and donating at www.NaplesSeniorCenter.org.
Advocating for the Animals
Joanna Fitzgerald saves Southwest Florida wildlife at von Arx Wildlife Hospital
by Kathy Grey
She started as an intern with a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. This year, Joanna Fitzgerald, director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, celebrates her 25th year overseeing the rehabilitation of more than 4,000 injured, orphaned and sick native wildlife every year.
Fitzgerald passionately advocates for Southwest Florida’s native wildlife, even in the face of crises and logistical struggles such as major hurricanes — and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the Conservancy Nature Center has been closed in light of COVID-19, the von Arx Wildlife Hospital has been open 12 hours a day, seven days a week, despite the fact that vital volunteer numbers are down by half due to the “unknown-ness” of COVID, Fitzgerald says. In light of the pandemic, the hospital requires social distancing for its staff, interns and volunteers and implemented a tracking system of who has worked in which treatment room, should someone be diagnosed COVID positive.
This time of year is ordinarily one of the von Arx hospital’s busiest, because it’s baby bird and mammal season. However, the pandemic has created an additional influx of incoming injured, as locals stay local and discover more orphaned or hurt birds and animals. Fitzgerald adds that there have been more domestic pet attacks on wildlife, simply because their humans spend more time at home, allowing their pets greater yard time.
Educating the public about issues affecting wildlife is a focus for Fitzgerald, whose blog on the Conservancy website (click here) highlights patient admissions, injuries and their causes.
Early every day, she and her team check on the status of the more than 100 animals in the hospital’s care. Team members are responsible for 20 to 30 animals each shift. First, they attend to the nurseries, making sure crucial medication and feeding schedules are met for baby birds and mammals.
Then it’s time to make the hospital rounds and answer phones and messages left about critters in distress.
Community members find great solace in having the von Arx’s services available for injured and/or orphaned wildlife. Some people are brought to tears when the helplessness they feel in discovering needy wildlife can be assuaged by the von Arx, staffed by four full-time rehab staff, a veterinarian, an administrative assistant, five interns and the volunteers.
Directing the von Arx operation is a first-responder responsibility Fitzgerald shoulders with grace and determination as she finds life balance with her 14-year-old daughter, Sidney.
“Just spending time with her is relaxing. It brings me back into focus,” Fitzgerald says. “We have many pets at home … and a (rescue) puppy. He brings us pure joy.”
She releases a melodic laugh.
“We rescue all over the place.”
Click here to view a video about Fitzgerald and the scope of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital:
Meditation for Mindfulness
Headspace app helps you repair and relax
by Brooke Stiles
We have a worldwide pandemic, an economy mirroring that of the Great Depression, protests, hurricane season … and to top it off, it’s an election year.
While it’s essential to learn about the issues, it can negatively affect your mental health when it feels like there’s no way to escape the suffering. That’s why you need to be aware of your emotions and learn how to manage them. For that, meditation can be your tool.
Practicing meditation daily is the process of training your mind to become clear of negative thoughts, providing relief from the chaos of daily life, a few minutes a day.
For many, though, meditation isn’t as easy as it seems. Sitting still and allowing your mind to be void of thoughts is not normal to human nature. Luckily, we have our handy smartphones full of apps to help.
The app, Headspace, is full of various categories from “focus at work” to “anger, sadness and growth.” Offering meditative practices for everyone, even beginners, there are guided meditations, animated videos, exercises and crash courses to help you understand and learn the daily practices to guiding the mind to a happier life.
The app design is user-friendly, making it easy to navigate. If you’re struggling to form a routine, you can set reminders at specific days and times to meditate. There’s even a setting to send you daily reminders to be mindful throughout the day.
The app tracks your journey toward a healthier and happier life by displaying the total time you’ve meditated and the number of courses completed. Using this tool, it can be easier to set and track goals.
Before I started meditating daily, I felt life was living me. I couldn’t focus on tasks at hand because I was always thinking about the next one. Meditation serves as a reminder to be aware of my inner attitude, because what happens inside reflects what goes on externally. If I neglect to take time for myself to cultivate calmness and clarity, my mind overflows with stressful thoughts, affecting my attitude and my day.
Take control of your mind; take control of your life. A happy or unhappy life is your creation.
An Ode to Chocolate
10 fun facts to celebrate World Chocolate Day
by Julia Browning
Its sugary sweet flavor and melt-in-your-mouth consistency make it the favored choice for a candy bar base, cookie additive or ice cream topping.
On some days (certain times of the month, perhaps) chocolate has been there for me when no one else was, filling in as a sweet, gooey companion for watching sad movies.
Valentines are proclaimed through assorted boxes of chocolates, and there’s no better drink for a chilly winter night than warm mug of hot cocoa.
World Chocolate Day (celebrated July 7) honors the delectable dessert, but how much do you know about the sweet treat that dates back to 450 B.C.? Here are 10 fun facts:
1. It takes 400 cocoa beans to make one pound of chocolate.
2. The average serving of milk chocolate has about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of decaf coffee.
3. Theobroma cacao is the tree that produces cocoa beans. Cocoa means “food of the gods.”
4. Most cocoa (70%) hails from West Africa.
Poisson d’Avril (chocolate fish)
5. Some cacao trees are more than 200 years old, but most give marketable cocoa beans for only the first 25 years.
6. Cacao beans were so valuable to early Mesoamericans that they were used as currency.
7. Worldwide, 40-50 million people depend upon cocoa for their livelihoods.
8. Montezuma, an Aztec emperor, drank 50 cups of cacao a day from a golden chalice.
9. It takes 2-4 days to make a single-serving chocolate bar.
10. The French celebrate April Fool’s Day with chocolate-shaped fish, or “Poisson d’Avril.”
Champ and Houston: Youth Haven’s four-legged healers
by Brooke Stiles
Workers at Youth Haven get a little help from furry friends to fulfill their mission of providing hope and healing for kids, ages 6-19, who call Youth Haven home. Housing more than 70 children and teens who suffered from abuse, neglect or abandonment, Youth Haven starts their charges on a healing journey.
Animal-assisted therapy is a big part of that journey as Champ, a golden retriever, and Houston, a black mouth cur, facilitate the kids’ healing process.
“Spending time with the dogs helps improve the children’s moods and brings them joy at a time when they don't have much,” says Youth Haven’s Director of Programs (and Champ’s owner), Kimberly Weisberg.
The dogs participate in therapy sessions to help kids develop skills such as eye contact, following directions, paying attention and focusing. Weisberg says issues with these skills are a typical result of trauma, but practicing with the dogs transfers over time into human interactions.
Weisberg says Champ is a dog full of energy, who loves to play outside with the kids. Houston is calmer and prefers laying at feet or sitting in laps.
“It's nice to have dogs with different personalities, because the kids can choose which dog they want to spend time with based on their mood,” Weisberg says.
Champ is said to decrease stress levels and improve mood with his playful energy, while Houston has a calming effect on more anxious children.
“I think what makes the dogs powerful is that they’re able to recognize what each child needs,” she says.
Both dogs were adopted, which Weisberg says is helpful to kids because they can relate to the fact that the dogs were up for adoption but are now wanted and have a purpose.
One of the biggest teaching moments from dog to child is the awareness of the present moment.
“Our kids worry about yesterday, they worry about tomorrow, they worry about their parents, or where they're going to next,” Weisberg says. “They're always thinking about what happened to them or what's going to happen to them.”
But spending time with the dogs brings the kids into the present moment and reduces that stress, she says.
One of the things she likes to say to the kids is, “When you take Champ out for a walk, he isn’t thinking about his next walk.”