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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Our ReadySteps program encourages parents as a child’s first and best teacher through early learning playgroups within five communities around Charlottesville.  If there is one thing ReadySteps staff have learned in the process, it’s what kids like to play with.

This list contains seven toys that can be bought or made for less than $10, but still have huge educational opportunity.  Five of them can be bought from local Charlottesville businesses or from Amazon Smile, where a percentage of your proceeds will come back to ReadyKids! The last two can be made at home with free or easy-to-find materials!

Everyone at ReadyKids is so grateful to be a part of this community.  We wish you and yours a happy holiday season!

Five Gifts Under $10 Preschoolers will LOVE:

1. Play Food

The benefits of toy food for child development have been enumerated.  Not only does playing with toy food help kids differentiate colors and shapes, it can also teach responsibility and healthy habits.  Engaging in your child’s pretend play also builds your child’s language and social skills.  A social skill is anything that creates interaction and communication between people where social rules are communicated in verbal and nonverbal ways.  “Oh, what’s this you’ve brought me?  A tomato and an eggplant?  That looks delicious! Thank you!”  In those four sentences you’ve taught your child two new words (tomato and eggplant), manners (Thank you!) and how to interact with others.

 

2. Stickers

Every kid should play with stickers.  It helps to develop the pincer grasp (think of the fingers you use to “pinch,” that’s the pincer grasp), which will be useful for learning how to hold a pencil and write. Plus, the possibilities are endless with stickers – you can buy any color or character sticker to match your child’s interests.

3. Stacking & Sorting Toys

Sorting and stacking toys help young children to begin to understand math concepts, develop motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and creative thinking. And, they are so much fun!

 

4. Hopper Balls

Balls are a versatile gift that no matter what the age of the child, and can be used to develop gross motor skills.  Gross motor skills are larger movements your child makes with his arms, legs, feet, or his entire body – like crawling, running, and jumping.  Hopper balls are always a hit at ReadySteps playgroups.

5.  Tempera Sticks 

While regular paint may strike fear into the heart of any parent who desires a clean house, tempera sticks are all of the fun of painting without any brushes to clean.  Plus, they’re a unique way for little hands to develop fine motor and pre-writing skills.  Fine motor skills involve smaller movements that occur in the wrists, hands, fingers, feet and toes.

Two Homemade Gifts That Provide Hours of Entertainment:

 

1. Puffy paint 

ReadySteps makes this fun, textured paint to use during play groups.  You can make it at home too with equal parts shaving cream and glue. Add a few drops of food coloring and mix together with a paintbrush for colorful 3D art!

 

2. A Sensory Bin

In the first three years of life, kids learn less from what you say to them and more from what they experience through their senses (scent, touch, taste, sight, and hearing).  One easy way to provide a lot of sensory experiences in a short period of time is to create a sensory bin.  Find a large plastic box and fill it with materials that are interesting for a kid to touch.  There are so many options!  Rice, puff balls, beans, seeds, dried pasta, sand, rocks.  Let the kids have fun scooping, pouring, and raking!

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We’re smiling bashfully from ear to ear.  We’ve gotten a lot of positive attention lately!  Everyone at ReadyKids is passionate about the work they do, and we’re so glad our work contributes positively to our community.

Last week, our Executive Director, Jacki Bryant, was interviewed for the CBS19 Community Counts Segment.  This week, ReadyKids’ hard working teams of InsideOut, ReadySteps, and Child Care Quality were featured on the local Charlottesville news last night in two separate stories.

InsideOut Receives Heal Charlottesville and Concert for Charlottesville Funds

We are proud to announce publicly that we are one of the proud recipients of donations from the Concert for Charlottesville and the Heal Charlottesville Fund of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation.  This summer, partly due to the trauma of the Aug. 12 rally, our wait list for trauma counseling climbed to over 54 kids.  These funds from CACF will go towards hiring an additional trauma counselor to meet the needs of our city’s youth.

Click on the photos to be led to the CBS19 video with Shannon Noe, the program manager for our counseling programs.

 

ReadySteps and Child Care Quality Featured in Reporting on Affordable Childcare

As the cost of child care in Charlottesville rises, more parents are forced to chose between affordability and quality. ReadyKids wants to make sure that this decision is less painful for parents.  Whether you choose to opt out of the workforce and stay home with your children while they’re little or you go back to work but feel nervous about child care options – there is a ReadyKids program for you.
For those at home with kids, ReadyKids ReadySteps program brings regular early learning playgroups to children and their caregivers in their home communities.  ReadySteps teaches parents how to be their child’s first teacher, helps families connect with other families in the community, and helps families gain access to a support system that grows with their child.  They currently meet in five different Charlottesville neighborhoods including Agnor Hurt, Friendship Court, Greenstone on 5th, Southwood, and Westhaven.
For parents working outside of the home, ReadyKids Child Care Quality program improves the quality of early child-care and preschool settings by offering coaching, training and support to early childhood teachers and directors.  If you are in need of resources to find affordable, quality child care in Charlottesville, check out this list of resources compiled by the Child Care Quality team.
Click on the picture of Shannon Banks, ReadySteps Program Manager, or Gail Esterman, Child Care Quality Program Manager, to be linked to the CBS19 story on the riding cost of childcare in Charlottesville.

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ReadyKids Teen Counselors, Jordan Leahy and Dee Keller.

They ran away from home.  The Virginia State Police reports that 74 juveniles were arrested within the city of Charlottesville during 2015 for running away from home.

The word “home” connotes feelings of nurturance and safety, but that’s not true for everyone.  Can you imagine feeling like there was no other way to solve your problems than to leave home?

The teen years are difficult.  This is even truer if there are disruptions in the family such as divorce or remarriage, substance use or abuse.  Every day, ReadyKids’ two teen counselors – Dee Keller and Jordan Leahy – are in the community meeting with teens and families to help keep teens safe and off the streets.

A Q & A with Ready Kids Teen Counselors

Q:  What does the Teen Counseling Program at ReadyKids do?

Dee:  The Teen Counseling Program helps local teens and their families find stability. We are a short-term counseling program – on average about 3 months – that support teens who are facing a wide range of challenges and are vulnerable to running away or being kicked out of their homes.

Q: What does a crisis situation look like for a teen?

Dee: This could look like teens or families experiencing feelings of being overwhelmed and at a loss of what to do next; there may be high tension or conflict at home or even teens that are looking for a space to process all the stressors of their lives.

Jordan:  For teens, a crisis is a pretty inclusive term. It could mean everything from feeling overwhelmed by a disagreement with a friend, to witnessing or experiencing domestic violence or abuse in the home.

Q: What does the Teen Counseling Program provide for teens and their families? 

Dee: We provide access to counseling by being flexible in meeting teens at school, in-home, our office or the community. We not only provide individual or family counseling, but also a 24/7 hotline to teens, families or professionals looking for support, guidance or connections to other community supports.

Q: How does the work of the Teen Counseling Program contribute to the future of Charlottesville?

 Dee: We hope that the work of TCP impacts Charlottesville by creating more connections and promoting safer environments for our teens and families. We hope that teens feel they are not alone in the challenging moments and that they feel more stable and ready to take the next steps in their journeys.

Jordan: The city’s youth are the city’s future. TCP supports them by helping them build resilience in times of struggle, so that they can do the same in their relationships and communities in the future.

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