For most people, the holidays are a wonderful time of year. They can be a time for family, friends, and togetherness. They can be a time for parties and presents to celebrate our blessings and show our loved ones how much we care.
But for some, the holidays are a reminder of what they are missing. Imagine being an older youth – not quite a child and not yet an adult – and missing your family or a place to call home. You might simply wish for a home-cooked meal. Even a single present under the tree would be savored.
Ozanam serves hundreds of youth like this each year. Staff members there believe that every child deserves to feel special and loved – and especially during the holiday season. However, Ozanam cannot help all of these youth without support from the community. Volunteers and donors play an important role in their mission.
Since 1948, Ozanam has been offering care to those who need it most – kids. They are dedicated to serving hard-to-reach youth and young adults who are dealing with a variety of life challenges, including emotional, behavioral and learning disabilities.
Ozanam provides a safe and nurturing environment so at-risk youth and young adults can become successful. Communities where youth and young adults have hope, skills, and opportunities to live safely and successfully, realizing their full potential is the ultimate goal.
The Martin City CID wholeheartedly supports this goal and recently visited Ozanam so we could learn more about what we can do to help. Communications Director, Laurie Minx, was kind enough to give us a tour of the property in Martin City and shared with us a little about Ozanam’s history.
“Since the very beginning, Ozanam has been dedicated to serving some of the most vulnerable youth in our community,” explained Minx. “The boys and girls at Ozanam are not ‘bad kids’ but rather have experienced bad things in their lives.”
“Behaviors we see that seem maladaptive many times serve as a survival behavior for these kids,” says Ozanam President/CEO Rob Whitten. “The majority of youth who come to us have had a significant amount of trauma in their histories.”
After having experienced such heartbreaking challenges, their defense mechanisms might be to avoid relationships or act out at home or school. However, those are just symptoms of the trauma that must be addressed before healing can take place. Youth are referred to Ozanam by parents, social service agencies, school districts, the courts, and private insurance companies. There they can receive the kind of therapy and support they need through a variety of programs that take place on campus and in the community.
“When they come to us, we focus on rebuilding their trust and self-esteem by surrounding them with positive relationships and new opportunities,” said Minx. “This gives them hope, which is a true turning point, because they start to realize their own value and potential. They begin to believe that they have the ability to grow and change and that people really do care about them.”
One of the ways Ozanam staff has historically shown the kids they care is by not leaving. Minx has been working at Ozanam for over 11 years, and the current president, Rob Whitten, one of only four in Ozanam’s history, has been with the organization for eighteen years.
“We have an amazing staff,” says Minx. “We’ve all fallen in love with Ozanam and most of us think of it as our second family. We also have some amazing community partners who, over the years, have helped us build our campus through volunteer hours and/or donor dollars.”
Minx said Ozanam started in an old farm house years ago. Thanks to so many hardworking volunteers, Ozanam now has 12 buildings – including 3 residence halls, a chapel, a school, a gym, a pool, a greenhouse, office space and more. “This allows us to do a lot of things with the kids beyond what most consider treatment,” says Whitten.
Ozanam provides a variety of programs on its main campus and within the community. Its Residential Treatment Program and Family Focus Program provides therapeutic services to boys and girls, ages 12 to 18, in a home-like setting with participation from family members when possible. Its Educational Day Treatment Program provides therapeutic support and academic instruction to middle school and high school students who are referred to Ozanam School by surrounding districts.
Within the community, its Pathways Program provides transitional living services for young adults, ages 16 to 23, who are at-risk of becoming homeless. Its Professional Mentoring Program also provides positive adult role models for children living in foster care placements throughout the area. Finally, its Behavior Intervention Support Team (BIST) provides consultation services to more than 300 schools throughout the Midwest.
Ozanam’s direct-care programs serve more than 200 youth daily and between 500 and 600 annually. Thousands more are impacted by their consultation services throughout the region.
“Building trust is at the heart of Ozanam’s mission, and that takes time,” says Minx. “When kids start to feel safe, they begin to believe everything’s going to be okay. That’s when we start to see them act more like kids again – smiling and interacting with others in a way that is more carefree than they may have felt in years – and that’s when we know real progress is being made.”
Children in Ozanam’s Residential Treatment Program may attend school in the Grandview School District. Ozanam staff members and counselors work with the district to ensure each student’s continued success. Under certain circumstances, Ozanam’s residential youth are referred to the school on Ozanam’s campus, where they are joined during the day by other students in the Educational Day Treatment Program.
One of the programs in session during our tour was going on in the music therapy room. For privacy purposes, we could not photograph any of the kids but we did snap some photos of a few of the musical instruments available. Several students were excited for us to hear their latest compositions and outwardly took pride in all they were learning at Ozanam.
Ozanam School offers both educational programming and therapy services to help students and families manage traumas and stressors that hinder success in school. Small class sizes (approximately 8 to 12 students) allow students to receive individualized guidance. Every classroom has its own culture where students are exposed to a variety of learning opportunities so they can discover their talents, build their confidence, and plan for their futures.
When words are too painful, children are encouraged to express their thoughts and feelings through the arts. With assistance from Ozanam’s certified music and art therapists, students explore their emotions through a variety of creative outlets. These can include painting, drawing, photography, sculpting, drama, lyric writing, vocal and instrumental music, and more. Their works of art help generate discussions in individual, group, and open sessions.
In Ozanam’s Sims Greenhouse, a horticulture therapist works with the kids year-round to teach them about horticulture. By learning to nurture other living things, students learn to care for themselves. Within this group setting, students learn to take responsibility for their decisions.
Ozanam’s recreation program teaches children about the long-term benefits of physical fitness. Their staff and coaches provide students with a variety of physical activities, including basketball and cheerleading. Facilities also include swimming, tennis, a gymnasium, weight room, two softball fields, a 9-hole disc golf course, and a soccer field.
“One of the best things about being a part of Ozanam is when the kids come back and say thank you,” says Minx. “That takes everyone getting involved, and everyone making time to care. We’re all working toward a common goal, and we just need more people to understand much good can happen when we collectively pool our resources.”
As a community, we learned there are many ways we can help Ozanam support youth. Here are a few ideas to consider:
- RSVP now – this event is on December 3rd!
Ozanam’s Hollywood Holiday Gala
- Mark Your Calendar for the last Friday and Saturday in April!
Shop at the “Thyme for Kids” annual plant sale featuring a variety of plants and flowers grown by the children at Ozanam’s on-campus greenhouse. The sale is open to the public, and all proceeds benefit Ozanam’s Horticultural Therapy Program.
“Horticultural therapy is an important component of Ozanam’s ancillary services,” says Minx. Spending time in the greenhouse gives the kids an opportunity to nurture living things and develop a sense of accomplishment watching their plants grow and flourish.
Each year, Ozanam’s annual plant sale helps students gain work experience and feel a sense of pride as they witness the community’s support for their efforts.
What else can you do to get involved?
- Volunteer at Ozanam as an individual or group. “We love volunteers!” says Minx. “We’re always looking for people who are willing to provide something meaningful for our kids. If it weren’t for volunteers and community support, we wouldn’t be able to do all the things we are trying to do to help make the kids successful.”
- Make a financial contribution to support Ozanam’s programs
- Donate gently used in-kind items such as warm winter clothing, school supplies, bedding, or other essentials.
- Leave a legacy at Ozanam through one of their planned giving options.
- Join their advocacy efforts to thoughtfully consider issues that affect youth in our community.
- Contact Ozanam to schedule a tour of their campus, or invite an Ozanam staff member to speak with your group.
Ozanam is certified, licensed or accredited by the following organizations:
- Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
- Children’s Division of the Department of Social Services
- Council on Accreditation
- Department of Mental Health
- The Sanctuary Institute
Ozanam is also associated with the following organizations:
- Cornerstones of Care
- United Way of Greater Kansas City
- United Way of Wyandotte County
- Alliance for Strong Families and Communities
- Missouri Alliance for Children and Families
- Missouri Coalition of Children’s Agencies
- Children’s Alliance of Kansas
- Jackson County Mental Health Levy
A BIG Thank you to Ozanam for allowing the MCCID to peek inside your world. We are proud to support your mission, and will continue to showcase your successes along the way!
#Change #Hope #Growth
Learn more at www.ozanam.org