For the past 15 years, Missouri Boys and Girls Town has operated a group therapy program for children, known as Healthy Alternatives, at its St. James campus. Thanks to a grant of $472,695 from the Missouri Foundation for Health, the program will be available this year to residents of the organization’s Columbia, St. Louis and Springfield campuses.
“We are really excited about this,” said Stacey Koeller, the agency’s assistant director of development. Koeller wrote the grants and received news of their approval in late November.
Missouri Boys and Girls Town is reimbursed by the state for Medicaid-covered services ; those services constitute about 60 percent of its total costs. The organization relies on grants and donations to expand its programs and cover other operational costs.
The Healthy Alternatives grant will be divided proportionally among the Columbia, St. Louis and Springfield campuses according to the number of children each location serves. Boys and Girls Town of Columbia has a capacity of 31 residents, compared with 70 in Springfield and 11 in St. Louis.
Cindy Burks, vice president of treatment at the Columbia campus, said the goal is for the agency to serve an additional 260 children at the three campuses.
Missouri Boys and Girls Town now serves about 2,500 children at its four campuses as well as through outreach programs.
Money from the grant will cover costs of expansion, from supplies to staff salaries , during the first year. Because the Columbia campus acquired new property on Dec. 7 to expand housing, the new Healthy Alternatives program will help accommodate the increased number of residents.
The Healthy Alternatives program is unique because it uses a group setting to enforce and discuss positive values, Burks said.
“The idea is to identify behavior that is self-defeating and redirect that through discussion,” she said. “Kids can express things to each other and learn from each other in a group setting because they can see they are not alone in their problems.”
Burks explained that the program has five sessions, each lasting 12 to 24 weeks and covering issues of substance abuse, sexual abuse, sexual issues, body image, nutrition and coping skills. All sessions will be available to all children on campus, but residents will undergo only those sessions for which they have an identified need.
“The idea is that after going through each 12- to 24-week program, kids will have the ability to begin living a healthier lifestyle,” Burks said.
The agency also won a grant of $50,000 from the Missouri Foundation for Health to supplement its efforts to educate legislators, public officials and residents about the severity of mental illness among youth through outreach programs and work with advocacy groups.
Burks said that of the 10 percent of youth in Missouri who suffer from mental health problems, fewer than one in five is treated. Such problems don’t just go away when children grow up, she added.
“Untreated mental illnesses in children can lead to delinquency, dropping out of school and unhealthy relationships as adults, she said.” “I think there is an awareness for children’s mental health, but we are advocating its continuation and growth.”