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WYS Celebrates 45 Years

Western Youth Services - Image of 45th Anniversary -

Making an Impact in the Community for 45 Years

In 2017, Western Youth Services (WYS) celebrates our 45th year of service in the Orange County, CA community.

We are overjoyed about this significant milestone. Not only have we survived through ups and downs both in the world and within our organization, but we have thrived. This is important because with every milestone we reach we can help more children, youth, and families and that is why we do what we do every single day.

Throughout the year we will be sharing highlights of our rich history and our goal… to move the needle from one in five children who live with mental illness to one in ten IN THIS LIFETIME.

How We Have Grown

In February 1973, four months after the Teen Resource Center (TRC) was established by a group of caring community members, the teen population using the center was approximately 400. Word spread quickly, there were so many teens that needed support and guidance and the TRC fit the bill.

In 1979, TRC was rebranded as Western Youth Services and by that time had grown to serving 4,717 local kids directly and in collaborative partnerships with other community organizations. Last year we served 55,000. Yet, there are still so many that need help and in 2017 we anticipate significantly growing this number.

1974 – Teens Reaching Out

From a news article in our archives, from the Tucson Daily Citizen dated April 11, 1974:

David Hull, the Branch Executive of the Teenage Resource Center takes 40 teenagers on a 500-mile trek to serve others in Tucson Arizona.

“Members of the group are directed by adult advisors who have expertise in plumbing, carpentry, roofing and electrical repairs. They sleep in the houses they are repainting and eat food prepared by the El Rio Neighborhood Health Center, which arranges the annual project.”

“I just want to get involved.” – Vickie Loser, age 17

“This is wonderful,” said Mrs. Donores Dominguez… an ailing widow who has lived in her house for 30 years. “For years, I have wanted to do many of the things they are now doing for me but I have not had the money or the help to do it,” she said. “They are God-sent.”

1983-2003 – Exemplary Leadership – Mary LeMar

Mary LeMar and her late husband Jerry were actively involved in the leadership of WYS as board officers and members from 1983 to 2003.

Mary impacted our organization and the lives of our staff, volunteers, interns, clients, and community in countless ways. Her generous nature and personal relationships created bonds with community business leaders that are still strong today.

A few of the initiatives Mary put into place while serving as WYS President for three years include:

  • Re-establishing WYS’ participation in the popular North-South Football Game, which has continued to prosper for over 25 years, earning approximately $10,000 annually in donations for WYS.
  • Mary and her husband Jerry helped to raise more than $150,000 over a six-year period by creating philanthropic opportunities for WYS, including major golf tournaments.

We owe both Mary and Jerry a great debt of gratitude. Together they contributed so much and exhibited great leadership in our organization and beyond. WYS continues to be blessed by our friend Mary and we keep in contact regularly.

1994-1995 – Fullerton Program Builds Community Cooperation

From our former newsletter, the Winter Round-Up 1994-1995. The President at the time, Kendall D. Neisess, shared that WYS was entering its 23rd year. He thanked the dedicated and capable staff members that have always been the foundation of all we do. And he shared a few programs that were being introduced to the OC community, including the following:

“During the last several months, (the WYS) Fullerton Community Counseling Services program (FCCS) has broadened its services through new cooperative relationships with two local community agencies. At the Valencia Community Center in Fullerton, we are now providing weekly support groups for young people “at risk” for problems like school truancy and gang involvement. These groups, which are conducted by our bilingual counselor Marta Lopez, have so far been an outstanding success. Several participants walk the distance from Nicolas Junior High to the Center (which many of you Fullerton folks know is about one mile) every Friday evening to participate.

A second program, also conducted by Marta Lopez, is a cooperative effort with the Fullerton Interfaith Emergency Shelter in providing mental health assessment and counseling for homeless individuals and families. Marta has been a very “hands-on” and directive leader in helping to uncover the emotional roadblocks which prevent these folks from the achievement of full independence and functioning.

FCCS program continues its affordable counseling programs for individuals and families of all ages; a rapidly growing parenting education program under the competent direction of Margie McNelly; participation in the CUFFS program of gang prevention and intervention; and Early Intervention programs for young children “at risk”, in cooperation with the La Habra and Orange Unified School Districts…

FCCS is funded through a grant from the City of Fullerton, from client fees and insurance, community donations, and several cooperative agreements with public and private human service agencies.”

WYS continues to provide collaborative mental health services in schools, homes and/or family resource centers in Fullerton, La Habra and Orange Unified School Districts.

Winter 1999 – Embarking on a New Millennium

In our last newsletter of the last century, as we prepared to enter the new millennium, our Board President, the late Mary Ruggiero shared an important message and clinician Joan Sandberg, Ph.D. shared about groups that help children and caregivers:

A Message from our President, the late Mary Ruggiero

“As we find ourselves preparing to celebrate the last holiday season of this millennium, it somehow seems more appropriate than ever to reflect upon all that we have and all that we should be thankful for. For the fortunate that can count on caring and capable parents, well-adjusted and happy children, a meaningful career, or tranquil home life among their blessings, I remind you that, sadly, you are likely in the minority. And for the many whose personal or family problems cause them suffering and despair, our hearts go out to you-as well as our promise that we will do everything we can to make sure that WYS continues to provide quality counseling and other pro-family services to those in need at little or no charge.

Of course, this promise requires commitment – commitment to support the important work of WYS. We already have an exceptional staff of competent and compassionate professionals for whom all of us associated with WYS are very thankful. But much more is needed. Beyond your monetary contributions, there are other ways of supporting our services.”

Groups Help Children and Caregivers – Joan Sandberg, Ph.D.

Andra – December 1999

“It is not unusual that many of the children receiving counseling services at WYS live with caregivers other than their birth parent. In fact, the latest U.S. Census showed that roughly 3.9 million children live in 2.5 million grandparents headed households. To help these new caregiver/parents, the South County WYS office began a parenting group for grandparents, other relative caretakers, foster parents, and adoptive parents – all who are revisiting parenting or parenting for the first time. Complimentary to this service is a group for elementary school children called Kids Klub, where we first met Andra.

Andra had moved through a series of foster homes, group homes, and hospitals before her grandparents were able to locate her two years ago and bring her to their home. Six year old Andra was in poor physical health, weighing I00 pounds; she had pulled out all of her hair due to worry and fear. Within a few months WYS had completed a full assessment which included psychological testing. It was recommended that therapy be scheduled for Andra twice a week and that her grandparents attend sessions as well.

Andra’s grandparents made excellent use of the agencies services. Being reintroduced to child rearing just as their lives were becoming less complicated and more relaxed was a difficult transition. They were thrilled when the caregiver group began. Meanwhile, Andra also went through a difficult transition. She feared that she would move again, that other children did not like her, and that someone would hurt her. She often sucked her thumb and, when upset, would run out of the classroom or home to hide to ‘think and be alone’. Andra found that at Kids Klub she did not have to feel different nor was she unique in her circumstances. Slowly she began sharing more with the group and her confidence grew. She soon displayed a creativity that made her a natural group leader.

Two years later, Andra is a beautiful, healthy, confident, child… Her grandparents have recently adopted her which has provided her with the security she once lacked. The Judge who presided at the adoption was so impressed by the positive outcome of her treatment that he wanted to take a picture with Andra. It has become one of her most prized possessions.”

The Need for Kinship Care Has Increased

This article was written 17 years ago and today, WYS is still helping grandparents take on the role of parent, it’s called kinship care and these are complex relationships that come with a unique set of challenges for all family members. Kinship Care is a growing phenomenon across the country, with more than 2.5 million grandparents taking on responsibility for the youth in their family, according to AARP (American Association of Retired Persons).

Grandparents often find themselves in this role because their own children may be incarcerated, dealing with drug and/or alcohol addiction, struggling with mental illness or otherwise unavailable to parent their children. Even though most grandparents feel their grandchildren fare better being raised by a family member, tension, resentment, and desperation commonly arise from the stress and unexpected demands placed upon them by necessity.

Below is one of our success stories:

Matt and his Grandmother: Raising Children Again

Matt and his Grandmother came to WYS struggling with their newly defined family. A WYS mental health professional worked with Matt to help make sense of the turmoil, while his grandmother joined our Caregiver’s Group to learn parenting skills and gain support from other people, like her, in kinship care roles.

As a result of what they learned, Matt says he feels more loved and cared for by his grandmother. Since setting boundaries with him and employing other techniques, his grandmother is enjoying Matt’s more positive attitude toward her. She found ways to reduce her fear that she might create a similar outcome of her adult child in Matt, finding new confidence in her ability to parent. This allowed her to experience the joy of being a grandparent.

Our Message and Mission Have Not Changed

As you can see so many things have changed over the past 45 years, yet many remain the same. Thank you for celebrating with us as we share our stories, our triumphs, and our struggles. We look forward to working together with you to help, heal and instill hope in children, youth, and families over the next 45 years!

We are so thankful for the impact we collaboratively made and we need YOUR help to do more. If you would like to learn about the ways you can help, visit the WAYS TO GIVE page on our website.

Lorry Leigh Belhumeur, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer
Western Youth Services

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