Here at ReadyPeeps, we open doors to bright futures for peeps!

In all seriousness, the staff at ReadyKids work hard every day to open doors to bright futures for kids.  But last week, they got a little silly at our Agency Retreat.  A bonding activity for teams was to create Peeps dioramas of their programs based off of the annual Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest.

Take a look at the creativity among the teams and how well they portrayed ReadyKids’ programs in a miniaturized way.  It might give you a “peep” into our work!  (Ha!  See what we did there?)

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Meet Kayla

By the time Kayla came to ReadyKids, shortly after her fourth birthday, she had lived in three different foster homes, experienced chronic homelessness, substance abuse exposure, neglect and suspected sexual abuse.

At ReadyKids, Kayla met weekly with a trained trauma to heal from her past.

For Kayla, and the 1,273 kids in the ReadyKids service area like her who experienced abuse or neglect last year, the effects of trauma on their developing brains can have lifelong consequences.

The ReadyKids InsideOut program is the only program providing counseling for children who have experienced physical, sexual, emotional abuse, and neglect in the Charlottesville area at no charge to the victims’ families.

“We are fortunate to provide free long term counseling,” said Ashley Wood, Senior Trauma Counselor for InsideOut.  “We aren’t limited by Medicaid.”

There is no “magic wand” to heal children from trauma. Likewise, recovering from trauma isn’t a “one size fits all” treatment.

Much like a doctor studies a patient’s symptoms to narrow down a specific diagnosis and treatment, the InsideOut counselors hone their assessment skills to know what interventions will work for each child on their caseload.  But they don’t do it through asking questions or waiting for the child to tell them what happened, they use play.

“Play is a child’s primary way of communicating,” said Shannon Noe, Program Manager for Youth Counseling.  “By utilizing play therapy techniques, children are able to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a way that is natural and more comfortable … play allows them to have a tool to communicate without having to talk about it verbally.  Healing happens in these moments!”

Here are a few activities our counselors use to get a glimpse into a traumatized child’s inner life and begin healing.

Sherman the Raccoon PuppetReading “A Terrible Thing Happened”

This story tells about Sherman, a raccoon who saw something awful happen and he can’t forget it, no matter how hard he tries.  The book describes many of the behaviors and feelings children experience after traumatic events, like stomachaches or sleeplessness.  But also, “problem” behaviors like, “Sherman had to play more, run faster, and sing louder in order to forget the terrible thing he saw.”  Sherman goes to see Ms. Maple at school.  Ms. Maple listens. She helps Sherman understand what happened was not his fault.

After reading the book, InsideOut counselors will use a raccoon puppet who looks like Sherman to talk to a child.

“Sometimes I have kids who will only talk to Sherman, not to me,” said Wood.

The book ends by showing Sherman’s progress and reassuring children. “Nothing can change the terrible thing that Sherman saw, but now he does not feel so mean.  He is not so scared or worried.  His stomach does not hurt as much.  And the bad dreams hardly ever happen … I think you should know that.”

Putting feelings onto paper

You may have heard that right-brained people are creative, while left brained-people are logical.  These insights come from brain science, a burgeoning field offering us more insight on how traumatic events damage a child’s brain development.  Thanks to brain scientists, counselors now know that a child who has experienced trauma responds better to right brain therapies, therapies that use creativity and imagination – like art therapy or play therapy.

One form of art therapy many ReadyKids InsideOut counselors use to begin a session is a “Color Your Feelings” activity such as this one.  The child’s coloring is an assessment tool, and as a way to track progress through therapy.

“The color your feelings activity is a great way to track progress over time,” said Noe.  “It also provides us with a way to normalize having multiple feelings at any given time and to affirm a child who is willing to express emotions that are harder to contain.”

Imagining the future

Trauma and abuse can create a sense of hopelessness and unworthiness in children. Another activity ReadyKids InsideOut counselors do is give kids art materials and ask them to draw “A Bridge to the Future.”  In the drawing they must include what they hope for, what might be in their way, and what tools they will need to get there.

“In this picture, the shark is the girl’s trauma, threatening to keep her from the island of her hopes and dreams,” said Niti Patel, InsideOut Trauma Counselor.  “Her tools were her paddle, and if you look closely you’ll see that she put a number one on the boat, indicating that she will always put herself first.  She said the big sun showed that she had a lot of hope.”

When a child imagines itself as a force of hope, capable of changing his or her future, this increases resilience.  Building up resilience to help children overcome difficulties is the main goal of InsideOut.

Through grants and donations from generous donors like you, the ReadyKids InsideOut program has been able to reach more kids each year by adding more counselors to our staff.  But the work of healing trauma is deliberate and slow, and requires a genuine relationship.  Because of this, our waitlist is growing.

Help us to reach each child who needs us. Please consider a donation to ReadyKids to keep the work going.  We can’t do it without you!

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The ReadyKids Play Partners program partnered with the Virginia Festival of the Book for a kid-friendly story time at C-ville Coffee this past Saturday, March 24.  Over 75 parents and children attended this fun-filled story time introducing children to the book Mrs. Wishy Washy by Joy Cowley.

The morning included an interactive reading of the book, songs, finger plays, crafts, and an appearance by Mrs. Wishy Washy herself.  Each kid made their own Mrs. Wishy Washy puppet and farm animal puppet – from popsicle sticks and construction paper – to reenact the story at home.

“The best part for me was the faces, watching the kids’ faces,” said Ali Davison, Play Partners Assistant.  “Their enthusiasm was really endearing.”

Play Partners

Play Partners teachers preschool-age kids literacy skills, active listening and focus through play and story-telling together.  Throughout the school year, our Play Partners volunteers go into area child care centers and bring books and so much more to get kids excited about reading.

ReadyKids is always looking for Play Partners Volunteers!  If you’re interested in giving two hours a week to preschool age children in Charlottesville visit this site for more information.   We would love to hear from you!

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When you’re small, emotions like anger and fear can feel huge.  And scary.

One of our STAR Kids Educators, Loretta Willis, was recently in a Head Start class presenting a lesson called, “When Someone’s Mad – But Not at you.” A puppet named Keisha talked about how her Mom and Dad argued.  After they finished arguing, Keisha’s Mom started yelling at her. Keisha didn’t know what she had done wrong.

“At this point, a child in the class started crying,” said Willis.

At first Willis thought maybe the child was hurt, or in a disagreement with another child.

As Willis tried to figure out what made the girl cry, the Head Start teacher said, “this hits home for her.”

The teacher moved to sit beside the girl and helped her calm down.

Willis continued the lesson.

“I asked the class, ‘what could you do if adults are arguing and you need to get out of the way or find a safe place to go?’” said Willis.

 

The child who had been crying was now calm.  She raised her hand and shared with the class.

“Grandma lives next door. I go there when Mom and Dad are arguing.”

“This four-year-old child, not only had a plan when things got scary at home, she had the confidence and words to verbalize it to the class,” said Willis.

Through the tools the girl had learned through STAR Kids, she knew how to recognize and process fear without acting out in negative ways, a key goal of social-emotional learning.

How STAR Kids Works

Research has shown that children’s ability to effectively manage their full range of emotions—also known as self-regulation—is one of the most important factors for success in school, work and relationships throughout their lives.  The ReadyKids STAR Kids Program empowers at-risk children with these critical self-regulation skills.

The program’s main tool is three puppets and the Al’s Pals curriculum.  The Al’s Pals curriculum shows statistically significant improvements in positive, helpful behaviors and social independence.

The puppets – Al, Ty and Keisha – talk together in 46 different 10-to-15-minute lessons about anything from avoiding tobacco to using kind words.  The lessons give real-life application of the concepts of resilience and peaceful problem solving.

It’s just one way ReadyKids helps get kids ready for school, ready for relationships and ultimately ready for life.

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Being a new mom is hard, but it doesn’t have to be with the right support.  The ReadyKids Healthy Families program fosters nurturing family relationships for pregnant moms and safe environments for young children.  The Family Support workers can answer questions, offer resources, or be a shoulder to cry on.

Combined, the Healthy Families three home visitors – Becca, Maria and Samira – are fluent in six languages and can support mothers who speak English, Spanish, Dari, Hindi, Farsi or Urdu.   Last year they served over 52 new mothers in the Charlottesville area.

Across these languages and cultures, one question emerges most frequently from the new moms they visit. Is my child getting enough to eat?  Newborn crying can mean a lot of things.  But, none plagues a new mother’s heart more than the worry that their child may be hungry.

Is My Baby Getting Enough to Eat?

“We get a lot of questions from new moms about eating,” said Maria Lopez-Carbajal, a Healthy Families Family Support Worker. “Whether the baby is breastfed or formula fed, they worry about how much is enough or too much. Especially if they are first time moms or if older generations are pushing them to feed solids early.”

The Healthy Families workers have training in newborn and early childhood development, which gives them the tools to answer a worried mom’s questions.

“We respond to these questions by talking about on demand feeding and recognizing the baby’s hunger cues,” said Becca Mays, another Healthy Families Support Worker. “If they are worried about whether the baby is getting enough to eat, we encourage them to count the number of wet and poopy diapers.  Output is a good indication of input.”

“A lot of what we do is normalizing a new mom’s feelings and worries,” said Samira Khairkhawa.

If you or someone you know could benefit from a Healthy Families home visitor, refer yourself to us through our online self referral system.  We would be happy to talk with you!

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NBC News ranked the Aug. 11 and 12 rallies in Charlottesville as one of the top 10 news stories of 2017.  The Atlantic rated the photo of protesters being hit by a car on 4th street the top news photo of the year.  For those of us living in Charlottesville, 2017 was a tense and stressful year, particularly for our children.

Athena Gould, Executive Director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of the Blue Ridge was moved to find ways to speak words of hope to Charlottesville’s children.  From this was born that #DearYoungPerson campaign.  Recently, ReadyKids was a recipient of dozens of #DearYoungPerson postcards.  They came from Louisiana, New York, Texas, Illinois, Mississippi, Florida and even as far away as Norway.  Each one had touching words of inspiration and light.  These postcards now hang in the ReadyKids waiting room where children in the Inside Out program, who have experienced trauma, can read them.

If you also need a pick-me-up, take some time to read what beautiful people all around the country took the time to say to hurting kids.  It’ll make you believe the world is a good place again.

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