Staff Highlight: NOAH STRAUSS

Noah Strauss was born in Brunswick, Maine.

He attended the University of Maine in Orono where he majored in Elementary Education. He then moved to Jackson Hole two days after graduation to ski and play.

He was drawn to work at the Van Vleck House so that he could engage in active work with kids, where his fun loving nature could shine through. He likes the fact that there is constant change in his job with all the different kids he interacts with.

Noah enjoys getting the kids to participate in physical activities that they might not have tried before and loves helping to create new experiences for the kids. According to Noah he gets the most gratification from “seeing growth happen, seeing the kids improve their lives, to return home,  and witnessing a-ha moments for kids when they gain insight into their lives.”

Noah has worked at TYFS since 2013. He is currently a Lead Youth Counselor at the Van Vleck House.

ADAMS CANYON STAFF SECURE FACILITY

Over the past year, Teton Youth & Family Services has begun to offer a new service to the community. This service comes in the wake of an increasing number of adolescents who are reporting suicidal ideation. Often these kids show up at the hospital, but are also being identified as at risk by school personnel, their parents or the Counseling Center. The service that we offer is utilizing the Staff Secure portion of the Adam’s Canyon Crisis Shelter to house and care for adolescents in a suicidal crisis for up to 72 hours.

While this is not the same level of definitive care that one would find in a hospital setting, it is a safe and secure setting which allows families to rest knowing their child is in good hands while a more definitive plan is made.     Staff Secure means that we have two staff available per individual resident and that the resident agrees to stay in placement voluntarily with the consent of their parents. We are able to provide this service through a collaborative effort between Teton County Government, St John’s Hospital and the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center (JHCCC). An adolescent who is identified as in need of help can come into the ER or go directly to the JHCCC for an evaluation. A team decision is then made as to the best course of action given the concerns.

Part of the difficulty in helping teens in this type of crisis is that given our rural setting, it can require many hours of travel to find definitive care for these young people. The distances required to travel to Idaho Falls, Casper or even Salt Lake City put a strain on parents who are scared for their child’s safety or local law enforcement personnel who are sometimes called upon to provide transportation. Additionally, St. John’s Hospital is not equipped with a therapeutic setting and staff to help these kids during a crisis. Our Staff Secure facility allows for close supervision with caring individuals who are trained in suicidal intervention. The staff are supervised by our clinical therapist who also meets with the youth and has the additional assistance of a therapist from JHCCC who performs the initial assessment as well as provides ongoing assessment of the individual.

As a precursor to opening this service, we performed a safety audit of our facility with the assistance of the St John’s Hospital safety specialist. In association with Teton County Facilities Department, we completed several safety upgrades that have rendered a safer and more therapeutic setting for youth. During the past year we have been able to serve 10 youth in various levels of suicidal crisis. This has allowed their families much needed respite. In some cases, the adolescents were able to return home with a safety plan and referrals for further counseling. For others, it meant a brief crisis placement then a return home. Those adolescents with the most acute need were able to access more definitive treatment in a psychiatric setting.

For more information about this service please contact 307-733-6440.

RESIDENTIAL TREATMENT FACILITY GIVES BACK TO COMMUNITY

The theme of fall at Red Top Meadows is community service and the importance of being a positive member of a community. The staff and residents recently returned from their Fall Wilderness Experience where our residents paired up with the Jackson Ranger District Forest Service Trail Crew to work on trails down the North Fork of Fall Creek. The ultimate goal, that we have been working on over the past few years, is to revive a multi-purpose trail that is referred to as “The Knob.” This trail will ultimately provide another option for the surrounding community to hike, trial run, mountain bike, horseback ride and hunt.

Long Draw Outfitters, working out of a hunting camp in the area had discussed, with Trail Supervisor Tim Farris, a particularly problematic   section of low-lying predominately mucky trail near their low camp. As a result, this years mission was to reroute about 1/3 mile of trail out of a low wallow and to drier, higher ground on the side-hill above. Our residents camp on-site for the duration of one week to complete our work. Our crews were fortunate to find sunny afternoons of hard work to warm themselves up from frosty mornings with frozen boots. After crushing out a significant part of the reroute in the first two days, the crew spent the final days perfecting their work and closing the old trail.

This trip provides a valuable opportunity for our residents to take pride in hard work and feel like positive members of a larger community. One resident said after the trip, “I’m proud to have accomplished such a large project with all the other people that were working side by side with me. I felt part of a community when we would stop at lunch and just enjoy each other’s company, then eventually get back to work.”

Go check out their reroute before the snow falls! If you don’t get there this season don’t worry, their hard work will benefit the surrounding community for years to come.

Teen Power: Fostering Relationships Through Jobs

“Our work is about relationships.”  This message is true and fundamental to TYFS as a whole, and the Teen Power is certainly no exception. Teen Power is an extra-curricular activity open to all Jackson Hole Middle School students. We seek to connect youth looking for work experience with community members who could use an extra hand. But far beyond that, Teen Power is an  opportunity to develop individual character strengths and meaningful relationships.

This past summer an older adult who was having difficulties being active enough to exercise her dog called to inquire about Teen Power’s services. We were able to connect, Jessica, a 7th grade student who lives in the same neighborhood, with Donna and her pup, Bella. Jessica loved the opportunity to make some money, but her parents were more excited about witnessing her place a high value on helping others while demonstrating responsibility. Now that school is in session, Jessica can only help out a few times a week, but in hearing her talk about her first work experience one can easily identify a growing sense of personal power and purpose. Jessica also forged a connection with Donna, who acted as another caring adult in her life.

Not all Teen Power jobs result in long-term relationships, many are one-time home or yard projects or babysitting needs. These still contribute to a student’s sense of self. The weekly after-school component allows for career exploration at the same time as students learn about communication, team-building, gratitude, and other soft skills fundamental to future growth and success.  We believe that by providing a  supportive context in which young  people can feel more connected to something they care about, they will be less likely to engage in maladaptive  future behaviors.  We strive to keep our work centered on developmental relationships by helping young people discover who they are; develop abilities to shape their own lives; and learn how to engage with and contribute to the world around them. If you are interested in learning more or have an opportunity or a student to work, please contact Ben Brettell at bbrettell@tyfs.org or 733-7946.

 

Staying Active is Important for Kids at Van Vleck Group Home

For most people in this valley, daily outdoor activities are a critical aspect of a healthy well balanced lifestyle.  However, for kids and families in crisis, this is an aspect of life that becomes less of a priority when taking care of the basic daily essentials and when dealing with challenging situations.

One of the ways we fulfill our mission to help children and families find their way to fulfilling and constructive lives, during the summertime, is to help the kids improve their sense of physical control, joy and belonging through outdoor activities. We make it a priority every day that the kids at the Van Vleck House participate in some form of physical activity in the  out-of-doors. Youth Care Workers are integral in making this happen and are always looking for creative ways of motivating the kids to participate in new and fun adventures.

Activity highlights from this summer include what we like to call Student and Staff Olympics. This is a day of field games with teams of staff and students participating together in games such as tag, relays, “jousting” and a basketball/ultimate Frisbee/team handball hybrid called Versaball. The kids volunteered for a morning in exchange for time on the Snow King Ropes Course. This involved helping to spread bark chips on the pathways and culminated in several hours of high adventure. Each of the kids returned with stories of daring and excitement. Other outings have         included fishing on the lakes, skateboarding at the skate park, tennis at the park and hiking.

Summertime at the Van Vleck House presents the staff and kids with a multitude of opportunities that aren’t normally available during the school year. Summer break allows us to spend more time with the kids and present them with some new activities and challenges. With the longer and warmer days we can travel further afield and get into activities which expose the kids to things they may have wanted to try but couldn’t or to activities that  transform into a new interest. The increased time together also allows for a focus on therapeutic issues and an increase in attention to maladaptive behaviors. This is a time which enables us to more clearly identify what the  issues are and gives ample time to practice and process new ways of thinking and trying out new behaviors. It is also a time to play, which as we know, allows for the residents to let their guard down and just be kids, which can be extremely healing. By trying new things, the kids are able to increase their self-confidence and resilience by challenging themselves to push the limits of their comfort zone. Trying new things in a fun and relaxed way increases kids’ ability and motivation to experiment with new behaviors in relation to their world view, family  system and peer relations.

 

IT’S ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS: A Mom and Son Overcome

I first met Zach nearly one year ago.  He was referred to the Hirschfield Center for Children by his elementary school counselor.  Zach was already meeting with a therapist, but the school staff saw how his behaviors were related to instability at home.  Poor social skills, defiance and anger towards teachers, and a lack of self-confidence were the symptoms. The Hirschfield Center for Children [HCC] collaborated with Zach, his mom, and the professionals already involved to peel back some of the layers and understand more about what was going on for our new young client. Zach’s mom, a single parent, was smart and made a good salary.  She cared deeply for her son but was struggling to find the time and energy Zach needed as she was running on fumes herself. Our plan was multi-faceted and centered around working with the family on their goals to strengthen their relationships.

Zach would meet weekly with HCC staff in the community: having fun, building trust, and learning social and  emotional skills to use at home and at school.  Mom also met with us on a weekly basis.  She found support and a place to process and brainstorm.  She tried new parenting techniques and built in time for connection and fun each day with Zach, even if only for 15 minutes.  As their  attachment and connection grew, not only did the blow-outs reduce in frequency and duration, but Zach’s issues at school also lessened.  He was getting positive attention in   other venues and was also able to vocalize and express his more difficult feelings.  By focusing on empathy and connection, as well as self-care, Zach’s mom found renewed energy, which, perhaps to her own surprise, she needed to tap into less and less.

Sharing a space with Zach and his mom, as we occasionally do in family check-ins together, is warmer, freer, and more natural.  When things are difficult, as they still can be, having the added depth of connection built on empathy, laughter, and shared experiences allows for more choices to present themselves.  Zach is excited about school, has had many positive experiences with peers at camps this summer (including JH Leadership Program!), and is excited about a long weekend trip to Salt Lake City that he and his mom have been planning together.

By welcoming families from all walks of life, and meeting them where they are individually, the Hirschfield Center is able to offer a window into the rewards their efforts will garner.  People sometimes ask us how we keep working in the face of trauma, abuse, and family dysfunction, the answer, always, is focusing on the strengths present.