News from Members

Programs on Eagle Village planned

Eagle VillageFebruary 28, 2010 by Midland Daily News

When people tour Eagle Village, in Hersey, one of the most common reactions is that they didn't realize the size and scope of services.

"Often they didn't realize that we were here at all," a spokesperson said. "We find that many misconceptions still exist. There is a perception that Eagle Village is a juvenile detention center or lock down facility. After an individual takes a tour of Eagle Village, their comments include statements like, 'I can't believe what amazing work you do here" and "we never really understood, but we do now!'"

For more than 41 years, Eagle Village has been providing abused and neglected children from all over Michigan a safe place to live, helping them build positive relationships and develop character and leadership skills.

Eagle Village would like local residents to learn more about its services for abused and neglected children. Programs featuring Eagle Village staff and recipients of Eagle Village services are planned at the Midland Country Club. Call Lisa Spaugh at (231) 832-6589 or Linda Greene at (231) 832-7253 to reserve a spot. The program schedule is:

Wednesday, March 10, at 10 a.m.
Wednesday, March 24, at 5 p.m.
Wednesday, April 14, at 10 a.m. **
Wednesday, April 28, at 5 p.m. **
Wednesday, May 12, at 10 a.m.

**Alternate location, call for details

Girlstown Foundation providing care for 50+ years

Girlstown Foundation staffBy Austen Smith, Heritage Newspapers

When it comes to abused children, it's never easy.

There are horror stories of kids who have come from family backgrounds filled with neglect only to be shuffled through impersonal foster-care programs that do not provide the support necessary for children with behavioral problems.

There are, however, many success stories and the Girlstown Foundation, located in Belleville, has been a shining example for more than 50 years providing a comprehensive range of therapy, social work, residential and foster-care placement services for kids whom have come from terrible situations.
The longtime nonprofit organization at first featured just the residential program for troubled girls, but has blossomed to include foster care and Supervised Independent Living, with approximately 50 kids involved with those two programs alone.

With a little more than 50 employees spread throughout the residential facility, called Loch Rio, and administrative offices located on East Huron River Drive, the program provides services to hundreds of children each year. Most of the staff at Girlstown includes social workers with backgrounds in psychology and criminal justice.

Assistant Director Maria Lessnau does not have an easy job.

Starting out as a certification worker in 1995, she has experienced nearly every type of heartbreaking and exhilarating scenario that passes through Girlstown.

"The big push right now is licensing relatives. There are a lot of kids right now who are living with relatives who are not licensed as foster-care parents," Lessnau says. "The state's goal is to have only 10 percent of the parents in the home not licensed."

Currently, there is a significant and ever-growing demand for foster parents and home providers throughout the state, Lessnau says. She attributes the spike to the economy and job loss.

But Colleen Steinman, spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services, says there is always a great need for foster parents and the margin between children in need of a foster home and licensed caretakers widens every year.

"I would simply say it's not directly related to the economy. There has always been a tremendous need for foster parents," Steinman says. "There are often myths about foster parenting, such as you don't need to be married and you don't need to own your own home. All we look at is that the foster family is able to provide a safe and stable environment for a child."

According to DHS figures for July, there are approximately 16,600 children in foster-care programs throughout the state. Of those more than 16,000, only 5,870 were living in a foster home with licensed caretakers and another 1,079 were living in childcare facilities such as the Girlstown residential program.

Steinman said there are also more than 3,000 kids in foster-care programs who continue to live at home or are independent.

To become a foster parent, candidates are required to go through a battery of background checks, interviews, on-site visits and training. Steinman said that typically it is the foster placement service that provides all of the "legwork" when it comes to licensing, and then the licensing agent makes a recommendation to the state.

"The one thing to keep in mind is that for us to provide for the safety of the children placed in our care, we have to do everything we can to ensure that the place they are going to, is going to be safer than the one that they left," Steinman says. "If some people feel that it may be an invasion of privacy or too great, then they might not be appropriate candidates. But usually everybody understands why we are doing it."

Loch Rio Residential Program

At Girlstown's Loch Rio residential facility, there are many happy endings for girls whom come from a dangerous background of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect. And, in many cases, residents are pointed in the right direction toward independent living, college and career.

The residential program at Girlstown, which currently houses 14 girls, was originally the main thrust of the foundation, which started as a grassroots program subsidized by the nationally-recognized General Federation of Women's Clubs in 1958.

Now located on Quirk Road -- the original building was on Liberty Street in Belleville but suffered a fire in the late 1970s -- the facility offers therapy services that meet the needs for the variety of abusive backgrounds in addition to 24-hour staff, dining and recreational facilities.

Loch Rio is a "top-of-the-line facility and support system," says Lessnau, that provides more than just food and shelter for girls whom sometimes have nowhere else to go.

"We have a psychiatrist on staff. There is a case manager who works with all the girls all the time. They provide really good services to these kids," Lessnau says. "Pretty much all of the girls who are referred to the residential program have had some sort of abuse or neglect. They are there basically for treatment issues. It's not because they're bad, it's because the situation at home was not conducive to a proper living environment."

Lessnau says in some of the cases the parental rights are terminated before the subject ends up at Loch Rio, but the ultimate goal in any case is to place the child in a supportive and positive foster-care home with the hope of eventually reunifying with the family.

"There are a million different treatment issues that we see come through here such as mental illness, sexual abuse, physical abuse," Lessnau says.

The aim of reunification, however, can also get thrown off track because of legal issues with the parents.

So, does Girlstown and the Loch Rio program make up where certain parents fail?

"Well, the goal is always reunification with the family," Lessnau says. "Our hope is that the foster parent will work with the family to get reunified, but sometimes the family doesn't get reunified at all because the parents don't comply with what is required of them by the court. And, in some cases, the parents are deceased so there we know that the goal is adoption."

Girls admitted to the residential program typically stay there for less than a year, Lessnau says, but some stays are longer and some are shorter depending on what kind and how much treatment is needed for each case. Children are referred to Girlstown and the residential program through referrals that are accepted throughout Wayne and Oakland counties.

Lessnau attends a monthly case assessment meeting that brings together representatives from five different foster-care placement and therapy-based programs in Wayne County. There, case workers are able to share information and work toward a common goal of getting these children help and support.

"To get into foster care, there's not really a waiting list because if there is a child who needs to be placed, you just get a call and say, 'Can you place?'" Lessnau says. "Because it's always an emergency, it's never like we can wait for two weeks. Sometimes we can, but usually we will place the child right away."

Once the girl or boy --despite its name, Girlstown does take in boys and girls for all programs except for the residential facility -- is referred to the foundation, the best course of action is discussed and decided by the case worker and the courts -- whether to place with a foster care parent or home provider or send the child to the residential program.

But Lessnau says children younger than the age of 12 are not accepted into the residential program, in those cases finding a foster parent or home provider is imperative.

"... Because children, when they come into the program, you don't really know if they need treatment or not," Lessnau says. "Sometimes the programs work with another and it can be a continuum. If the foster care is not doing so well, then the subject can be referred into the residential program, or the residential can act as a feeder into foster care or Supervised Independent Living. It all depends on the behaviors."

Taking the next step

Similar to Girlstown's primary goal to either reunite the younger children with family members or seek adoption, Loch Rio staff is focused on helping the girls take that next step in their life. To that extent, Lessnau was pleased to report several recent success stories, including a resident who was significantly behind in high school but who has now graduated and is attending Wayne State University.

Another former resident of Loch Rio and the Supervised Independent Living program has returned to the state after graduating from a college in Tennessee and is now a lawyer and child advocate.

"We have a lot of smart kids. They just didn't have the potential to know how well they would do while they were living at home," Lessnau says.

On the flip side of that coin, however, there are stories that do not have such a happy ending. But Lessnau stresses the fact that even children who come into the program displaying severe trauma and behaviors are treated with a large support system from the case worker, to the schools and foster care parents or home providers.

Lessnau details a recent case in which a young man was placed into foster care after suffering physical abuse from the mother. She says in the home, the boy was fine but his severe behavioral problems were exacerbated at school.

"The foster parents, luckily, had a lot of structure in the home, and he was able to maintain in the foster home, but he wasn't able to maintain in the school. The issue was with the school," she says. "And he was on medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but the schools would literally call every day asking the foster parents to pick up the child at noon. Well, that was against the law. You can't send a kid home at noon, and he was a special-needs student."

Lessnau says that child's case was just one of a wide variety of issues and challenges Girlstown staff members and foster parents are faced with daily. At the end of the day, however, the overall focus is making sure their children are safe and their needs are met, she says.

"We want great foster parents and good home providers and we want to make sure that these kids are safe," Lessnau says. "If we have a family of nine kids coming into program, they have a lot of needs -- educational and medical. It's not just one thing. There are so many things that we need to look out for."

Elizabeth Carey joins Starr Commonwealth’s executive team

ElizabethCarey.jpgALBION, MI – Starr Commonwealth, an internationally recognized nonprofit service provider of strength-based programs for at-risk youth and families, announces the addition of Elizabeth A. Carey as Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy & Administrative Services Officer.

In her new role, Carey will provide leadership for Starr’s strategic direction of investing in its people, as well as help shape the future of Starr’s talent management initiatives and business strategies. Carey has a comprehensive professional background that includes social work, government relations, statewide and national association leadership and operations.

She most recently served as the Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Alliance for Children and Families. She directed day-to-day operations, planned and executed strategic plans, coordinated member recruitment and retention efforts, and helped determine the public policy agenda.

Carey is no stranger to the nonprofit social service sector of Michigan. Before serving in a leadership role at the Alliance for Children and Families, Carey was Executive Director of the Michigan Federation for Children and Families, a statewide organization located in Lansing for nonprofit social service providers. While at the Michigan Federation, Carey directed the public policy efforts at state and national levels, organized and implemented grassroots advocacy efforts, and represented the federation membership with the legislature and state/federal departments.

“Elizabeth’s experience and knowledge, both on a national and regional level, in nonprofit leadership and social services is an enormous asset to the Starr Commonwealth team,” said Martin L. Mitchell, President and CEO. “We are truly honored to have Elizabeth joining our management team and are excited about what the future holds with her passion for children and commitment to excellence.”

Prior to overseeing the Michigan Federation, Carey was director of governmental relations for the Council on Accreditation in New York City, and began her career as a social worker in Michigan. Carey earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work at Michigan State University.

Elizabeth’s tentative start date will be March 8. She and her family will reside in Jackson, Michigan.

Starr Commonwealth is internationally recognized as a leader in transformational programs for children, families, schools and communities. Founded in 1913, Starr’s treatment philosophy is rooted in seeing something good in every child, which serves as the guiding principle in its strength-based approach. Starr offers a full spectrum of community-based early intervention and prevention services along with specialized residential programs. Through the Starr Institute of Training, parents, clinicians, educators and childcare professionals now have access to Starr’s highly successful and innovative techniques aimed at bringing out the best in every child.

For more information about Starr Commonwealth, please call 800-837-5591 or visit

Wedgwood Institute issues January–March 2010 workshops schedule

Individuals can earn Social Work CECHs at all of Wedgwood Institute’s lifelong learning opportunities and “Tuesday Training Breaks.” Offerings for January–March include:
• January 12: The Psychology of Eating
• January 21: What’s Your Story?
• February 11: Music Therapy: Reaching Adolescents with Emotional Impairments
• March 9: Understanding and Interacting Effectively with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders
• March 17: Basic Challenges of Adoptive Development

Full details and registration information can be found in the attached brochures (see link below).

Holy Cross Children’s Services and TCI partnership featured in Cornell University’s REFOCUS newsletter

Just issued, this Cornell University newsletter chronicles Holy Cross’s dramatic reduction in the use of restraints within its residential treatment programs—over 70% reduction within 12 months.

Holy Cross Children's Services Receives Full Accreditation

Holy Cross Children's Services (HCCS) was notified today (12-23-09) that the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) has issued a full three-year accreditation to the agency for all programs and sites. This new accreditation covers the agency from December 2009 to December 2012.

According to CARF, service providers accredited by CARF enjoy recognition among an international community of persons served, peer facilities, and programs for superior standards of care and excellence in outcomes. For consumers of services, it is assurance that the provider meets rigorous CARF guidelines for service and quality—a qualified endorsement that the provider conforms to nationally and internationally recognized service standards and is focused on delivering the most favorable results for consumers.

“This is simply great news and a wonderful early Christmas gift” according to Loren Brown, Executive Director of HCCS. “This accreditation affirms the commitment of our coworkers to providing the best possible services to children, youth and families. We are humbled to have the opportunity to serve those most in need and appreciate being recognized for our efforts to do so through quality services. I congratulate our coworkers and applaud their efforts!”

Holy Cross Children's Services has been providing services to Michigan’s children, youth and families for over 60 years and is headquartered in Clinton, Michigan.

Highfields’ Peck honored by MHBFSA

Highfields’ Peck honored by MHBFSA October 18, 2009 • From Ingham County Community News
ONONDAGA – Gillian (Jill) Peck, director of quality and program development at human services agency Highfields Inc., has earned the 2009 President’s Award from the Michigan Home-Based Family Services Association (MHBFSA). The award recognizes individuals, agencies or families for imnovative contributions to home-based counseling services.

Peck is the fourth Highfields employee to win the award. Other winners from Highfields were Clinical Director Tim Monroe, former CEO Carl Latona and administrative assistant Kris Koivu.

“Jill is a shining example of what makes Highfields so effective at working with at-risk youth and families – its people,” says Brian Philson, Highfields president and CEO.

The MHBFSA aims to strengthen families and communities through the advocacy, education and promotion of family-centered, home-based service delivery.

- From Highfields, Inc.

Giveaway at St. Vincent helps 400 local families

Brittany Smith - - July 29, 2009 • From Lansing State Journal

stvcclogoSt. Vincent Catholic Charities and the Detroit Pistons made life a little less stressful and a bit more brighter for about 400 families Tuesday morning.
Volunteers distributed 1,200 boxes of nonperishable food and personal hygiene items to families in financial need at St. Vincent Catholic Charities in Lansing.

Some of those items included macaroni and cheese, toilet paper, canned foods, shampoo and perfume.

"These are the days we live for," said Julie Reynolds, community relations and marketing director for St. Vincent. "Being able to share and help those in need is what it's all about."

The project was made possible by the Detroit Pistons organization, which raised $450,000 for Feed the Children, an international, nonprofit relief organization, during the Pistons Care Telethon in March.

The funds are being distributed to 25,000 needy families throughout Michigan this year, including Tuesday's stop in Lansing.

Jessi Nakfoor, 15, of Lansing , said Tuesday was her first venture into volunteer work, and she plans to do more.

"The people seem pretty happy and that makes me happy," said Nakfoor, while taking a break from unloading boxes.

St. Vincent provides foster care, refugee resettlement and counseling beyond just the basic food relief projects.

Half of those who received food and personal items Tuesday were refugees who escaped war-torn areas such as Somalia, Iraq and Congo.

"It's great to have the support of the Pistons and Feed the Children in helping feed families," said Andrea Seyka, CEO at St. Vincent, adding that in recent years, the organization has seen a substantial increase in homeless people, foster care children and people who just need a helping hand.

"It's a historical pattern, with (high) unemployment comes more child abuse and neglect and people who need assistance," Reynolds said.

Women FORE! Women

vistamarialogoJoin Vista Maria Advisors, Lisa Sasaki, Bev Stovall, Kathy Aznavorian and Matt Hubbard, their colleagues and friends for a fun-filled day of golf and camaraderie to benefit the girls of Vista Maria at:

Women FORE! Women
4th Annual Charity Golf Invitational
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Fox Hills Country Club, Plymouth MI

Breakfast/Driving Range Opens at 10:00 a.m.
Shot Gun Start at 11:00 a.m. (lunch at the turn)
Golf Clinic at 1:00 p.m.
Cocktails/Networking Reception & Dinner at 4:30 p.m.

Select From Four Available Packages
Option 1: Golf Scramble is $175 per person. Includes 18 holes, breakfast, lunch, cocktail/networking reception and dinner. Complimentary beverages available on the course.

Option 2: Golf Clinic is $175 per person. Includes 1-hour clinic with PGA Pro and 9 holes, lunch, cocktails/networking reception and dinner.

Option 3: Non-Golfer is $75 per person. Includes an evening of making connections and fine dining. Open bar and dinner (starts at 4:30 p.m.).

Option 4: Hole Sponsor is $225.

Reserve Now! Visit
or Email Kelly Small at

New Judson Center autism facility due largely to Ferndale mother's efforts


jclogoWhen her son was diagnosed with autism eight years ago, the doctor gave Stephanie Harlan little help beyond a toll-free number to call.

Outraged, she started finding her own solutions.

"I remember the day so specifically that I told myself I didn't want other parents to learn about such a heavy-duty diagnosis the same way," said Harlan, a licensed clinical social worker.

Harlan enrolled her then 2-year-old son, Justin, in as many early-intervention programs as she could find to build his communication and life skills. She found support with other moms who met in a Ferndale home, and later a church, where they brainstormed the creation of an organization that would support parents with autistic children.

They called it Everyday Miracles, and hoped it would grow. It has, largely because of Harlan.

The Judson Center, an 85-year-old Royal Oak social services organization, has opened a new autism center affiliated with Everyday Miracles at its Royal Oak headquarters. Harlan supervises the programs.

"People always said we should have a center like this; it's a dream" said Vanessa Rivera, a Royal Oak mom who credits Harlan as a big motivator behind the center. As the mother of an energetic 10-year-old son, Nico, she and Harlan have shared frustrations and hopes for their boys.

The $1.2-million, 5,000-square-foot center offers a wide range of programs, from baseball to teen life skills classes and sibling programs, both at the Royal Oak building and regional sites.

The center sparks with excitement and hope.

Detroit architect Matt Hathorne sat in on some of the programs before designing the center to suit the quirky needs of children with autism, a broad cluster of conditions that affect children's ability to communicate and function in a world they may find noisy, distracting or overwhelming.

Hathorne created soft colorful pods -- instead of classrooms or clinical areas -- with crawl-in spaces and cushions for children needing time on their own. He added fabric walls and large dry-erase boards and chalkboards so kids could have areas for touching, scribbling and drawing. He made the center less visually and acoustically annoying by diffusing the lighting and noise. He and staff added cushy beanbag chairs and pillows, mini trampolines and even an oversized fabric hot dog that children squirm into for soothing quiet time.

Justin Harlan is now in a mainstreamed classroom and took advanced placement math and reading courses at Pattengill Elementary in Berkley, where he just finished fourth grade. He testified recently in Lansing in support of legislation that would require insurers to pay for autism programs.

"The diagnosis doesn't go away, but he's very unaffected by lots of things that bothered him as a 3-year-old," his mother said.

The programs at Judson focus mostly on life skills and helping families develop the right plans for their children. "Usually we bounce back the question" about what is offered with, "What can we do for you?" Harlan said.

They have developed a gardening program for a girl with a green thumb. They started play therapy groups when parents told them, "I just want my child to have a friend." They developed a respite program for parents with problems finding baby-sitters for a rare night or weekend off.

Tina Burnham's daughter Lily, 2, is enrolled in play and music therapy groups.

"We see her eye contact is improving," Burnham said, as Lily focused her blue eyes on a visitor. "I'm so grateful we found this place."

Justin Harlan is now in a mainstreamed classroom and took advanced placement math and reading courses at Pattengill Elementary in Berkley, where he just finished fourth grade. He testified recently in Lansing in support of legislation that would require insurers to pay for autism programs.

"The diagnosis doesn't go away, but he's very unaffected by lots of things that bothered him as a 3-year-old," his mother said.

The programs at Judson focus mostly on life skills and helping families develop the right plans for their children. "Usually we bounce back the question" about what is offered with, "What can we do for you?" Harlan said.

They have developed a gardening program for a girl with a green thumb. They started play therapy groups when parents told them, "I just want my child to have a friend." They developed a respite program for parents with problems finding baby-sitters for a rare night or weekend off.

Tina Burnham's daughter Lily, 2, is enrolled in play and music therapy groups.

"We see her eye contact is improving," Burnham said, as Lily focused her blue eyes on a visitor. "I'm so grateful we found this place."

Contact PATRICIA ANSTETT: 313-222-5021 or


Share this
Subscribe to News from Members