Ways we connect

Ways we connect

The beginning of a new school year is often exciting for young people, but for our youth, a new school year can bring out nerves and anxiety. That used to be true for Tony*, but thankfully it isn’t anymore. In fact, there has been a lot of positive changes in Tony’s life over the last several weeks. And now, he is at a new school, in a new town, with a new family and we couldn’t be happier for him.

Tony came to Cunningham last summer after his adoptive parents surrendered their parental rights. Having lived in an unhealthy and negative environment, Tony had low self-esteem. He didn’t believe he had value, anything to offer or that things were ever going to get better. Over time at Cunningham, Tony began to feel good about himself and have a better outlook on his life.

"I think what happened for him here at Cunningham is that he got accepted for himself," Cunningham’s Chaplain Gay King Crede said. "He was feeling really bad about himself and about what happened to him, but our staff and the other youth were saying positive things about him and he really embraced that. He is such a sweet kid, and everybody just loves him."

Over the summer, our staff incorporate group and community activities into our kids’ daily schedules which promote physical activity, social interaction, building independent life skills and learning how to access community services and resources. They focus on youths’ individual interests and expand on that with activities they can participate in. One of these activities is the Teen Lab at the Urbana Free Library—a teen-directed space that promotes creativity, peer instruction, and community building. While Tony is social, creative, funny and popular among his peers, he had some apprehension when it came to the Teen Lab.

"Before Tony’s first visit to the Teen Lab, he sat down with me and expressed his concerns over being in that environment around other kids," Mike, a Cunningham counselor, said. "We discussed how nervous he gets in those situations and how he struggles interacting with people, especially kids his age, that he doesn’t know. I assured him that if he felt uncomfortable at any point, there were safe spots in the library he could stay while his peers were in the lab."

The Teen Lab is open to the public and on average, there are 5-15 youth there at a time. There are areas where youth can record music with keyboards, guitars, drums, computers; design objects and use an engineering software to print items on a 3D printer; and play Wii and PS4 on the big screen. When playing video games, conversations about what is happening on the screen naturally occur which often lends itself to conversations about other things. Tony thrived in this environment.

"Tony ended up being one of the most social kids at the lab," Mike said. "He became more comfortable around new people, engaged in appropriate social interactions and was able to develop his social skills. I believe this experience will help him develop and engage in new relationships in his new school and other situations now that he has transitioned from Cunningham to a home setting."

Tony was elated to move in with his new foster parents, who are in the process of adopting him. When he left Cunningham in late July, he didn’t have any fear he wouldn’t be treated well by his new family. He feels at home and accepted there, and knows he has their unconditional love.

In the last fiscal year, 87% of our youth who transitioned from our Residential Treatment Center went to less restrictive settings, like living with a parent or relative, moving to a group or transitional living home or into foster care. This success wouldn’t be possible without your support. Your contributions help provide for the resources that allow our amazing staff to offer our youth programming and education that promotes healing and learning.

Our generous supporters help us carry out this important work. With this school year full of opportunities for growth, would you consider making a gift so young people like Tony can develop valuable social skills and confidence as they strive to find a new path for themselves?


*our story is real but name has been changed to protect the privacy of our youth