EWE Spirit Grant Recipient Story: Family & Children Services
In December 2021, the EWE Spirit Foundation brought its total grantmaking to date to $115,000 by awarding $50,000 in grants to five nonprofit organizations that are significantly improving people’s lives, including:
Some might say that the cards were stacked against Emily from the beginning. Both of her parents suffered from severe mental illness—psychosis, paranoia, depression. As a young child, she was temporarily removed from their care many times. She entered the foster care system at the age of 9, after evidence revealed that she had experienced sexual abuse.
Emily exhibited signs of mental illness, herself, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. She was passed from one foster home to another. By the time she was 16, no families were willing to open their homes to her, as is too frequently the case with older foster children. Instead, she was placed in the first of four residential facilities. As she moved in and out of these places, her behavior deteriorated. She experienced psychotic breaks and paranoid thoughts, ran away and attempted suicide. In response to these events, she was hospitalized multiple times. Altogether, Emily was placed in 20 different homes and institutions before the age of 18.
Her luck finally turned when, at the age of 17, she was referred to the Therapeutic Residential Youth Services program operated by the nonprofit organization Family & Children Services. She’d crossed paths previously with the program’s supervisor, Alicia Cunningham, through other crisis services. “So I knew her name,” remembers Alicia. “She had always been a pleasant child, super artistic. We already had a rapport with her, so took the chance that we could help her and accepted her referral.”
Alicia’s program provides intensive stabilization services in a structured, safe environment. Although Emily had received countless medical evaluations, diagnoses, and treatment plans over the years, the ones she received here finally stabilized her. Most youth stay at the facility for 45 days, but Emily was invited to remain for six months, so that she could continue attending a nearby high school. She was earning A’s and B’s, even in some AP art classes. She also got a steady job at a popular local restaurant.
When Emily turned 18, Alicia and her team helped her transition to an independent living program. She was in her senior year of high school at the time. With this team’s encouragement, she applied to a prestigious art institute and was accepted—an accomplishment she’d never thought possible just a year earlier. At the time of this posting, Alicia and others were helping her find funding to pay for college tuition.
Multiple times along the course of this hopeful trajectory, Alicia used the Family & Children Services’ Handle With Care fund to smooth the way for Emily. The organization’s 150 clinicians, social workers, and counselors use this fund to pay clients’ rent and utilities bills, when necessary, and help them purchase necessities—even things as simple as diaper bags and strollers, which are “game-changers” for single parents.
“Emily was a growing girl,” says Alicia, “so she needed new clothes, a coat, and shoes (including running shoes—Emily likes to run). We bought art supplies for her to complete her school assignments and paid the application fee for the art institute.” When the team moved Emily to the independent living facility, they not only purchased toilet paper, towels, body wash, and food to stock the pantry, but they also bought cake and ice cream to help her properly celebrate her 18th birthday.
Emily’s transformation was remarkable, says Alicia. “I think she needed somebody to believe in her. We showed her that she could finish high school, live on her own, and go to college.”
Since 1903, Family & Children Services has provided hope like this for the most vulnerable people of Michigan’s Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties. The nonprofit organization serves about 6,500 clients annually, more than half of whom are kids, addressing issues ranging from homelessness and food insecurity to mental illness crises, abuse, and neglect.
Geoff visited the Kalamazoo area frequently to sail in regattas. We know that he would approve of EWE Spirit Foundation’s recent grant to the Family & Children Services’ Handle With Care program, which is helping vulnerable families and children like Emily overcome extreme hardships and find a new, more hopeful way in the world.
Note: The client’s name in the above case description was changed to maintain her privacy.