Cunningham Children's Home is celebrating an important milestone - 120 years of service to youth and families in need. On Sunday, July 26th, many alumni will be coming back to Cunningham to celebrate a place that offered them healing and hope.
What started as a home to care for orphans in 1895, transitioned into a residential treatment center to respond to the changing needs of the youth in the mid 1970s. Today, Cunningham continues to provide exceptional therapeutic care for youth who suffer from severe trauma, neglect, abuse and mental health issues.
Even on the first day of their arrival, many of our youth have an innate desire to return with family once they heal. Cunningham staff strive to fulfill that need. However, the definition of family can take on several different meanings. After leaving residential treatment, some of our kids will be placed in foster care or move into transitional living or a group home environment.
Some even experience true homecomings. Recently, two of our Cunningham youth, Sarah and Lara, returned to live with their moms and siblings.
Preparing to return home has its challenges and requires dedication. In the ten months that Lara was at Cunningham, her mom never missed a weekly visit and kept in touch with Lara as often as she could. Lara's mom sought help for her substance abuse, got a job and remained drug free. "I have a lot of respect for Lara's mom," said Lara's case manager. "She was dedicated to getting her daughter back even when Lara continued to push her away."
At the same time, Lara was working on her own path to healing. She says that Cunningham staff helped her to develop new coping mechanisms to manage her anger and to accept that people can't always be the way she wants them to be. Lara had to learn how to trust again. She is excited for her future and for her new relationship with her mom. "My future is as bright as I see it." said Lara.
Sarah is autistic. In early 2013, she was transferred from one school district to another where she experienced less classroom support. Around that same time, her individual care grant abruptly ended which meant she received even less support. Without the additional help, Sarah didn't know how to handle her emotions in class. Sara had an outburst which led to her arrest. Her mom became very angry with Sarah about her choices, which caused a breakdown in family communication. The Department of Children and Family Services referred Sarah to Cunningham.
When Sarah arrived to Cunningham, the staff worked with her to help her realize that she wasn't a bad kid, but that she had made bad choices. Beth, Sarah's therapist, helped her learn how to work through conflict and handle aggression. Beth also helped Sarah's mom learn how to parent a teenager with autism. "She needed a different skill set than what she had used with Sarah's other siblings" said Beth.
Sarah's mom was committed to family therapy through demanding job pressures and extensive travel time to Cunningham, She stayed dedicated, "Sarah's mom wanted to see a change in the family dynamics." said Beth.
Beth taught Sarah new coping skills and how to resolve conflict without being verbally or physically aggressive. Sarah's social skills improved, too. She began using eye contact and communicating expressively. Sarah is doing well at home and at school, and she's getting the additional classroom support she still occasionally needs. Her relationship has been restored with her mom and she has been reunited with the family pet, Ms. Kitty. "I am happy now," she says with a smile.
Lara and Sarah are modern day examples of Cunningham's vision to see every child thrive and our mission to nourish hope through effective solutions so children and families flourish. For the last 120 years and for the years to come...hope begins here.