Thanks, Susie

Susie Merrick is one of those people you want to know. You want to have her in your life, in your community, in your school. She brings a hope, an optimism, a sincere regard that is palpable. It exudes from her, spreads to those around her, and inspires others to be their best selves. It certainly has that affect on me.

Among many of the activities within Susie’s ‘mission,’ she is coordinating a group of community members and leaders to take a serious and intentional look at the risks and concerns of teen suicide in South Burlington. She’s convened a work group to consider, and plan, and prevent. This group has met a few times with great ideas and great inspiration.

And then we were all touched by the tragedies of last week in our greater Vermont community.

And a reminder of the similar tragedies that we have experienced in the recent and distant past.

There are some things we can predict, and some things we can prevent. There’s no ‘magic wand’ in this work, no tell-all instruction manuals, and hindsight always offers 20-20 vision. If we could only turn clocks back… If I never had to read the word “unexpectedly” again…

My heart goes out most to these families, and to all of those affected and impacted by these tragedies. And it re-instills in me the vigor and passion to move beyond the politics and catch phrases and to truly ‘leave no child behind.’ Let us see what we are missing, let us take care of one another.

But it is not simply an agency, or organization, or school, or state plan, or federal initiative that solves problems and helps communities to heal and grow. It is people like Susie Merrick – who bring their vision and their brilliance with these goals in mind. And when she offers the invitation, others can’t help but to join in.

Among her many activities, Susie also writes for South Burlington’s community newspaper (The Other Paper: www.otherpapersbvt.com). Recently she took to writing an article about our work at Centerpoint as we hit a milestone anniversary, published in last week’s issue. Thanks Susie for capturing what we say, what we do, and who we are. I’ve included Susie’s article here:

Carrying Hope: Centerpoint Adolescent Treatment Services Celebrates 15 Years
Susie Merrick, The Other Paper Correspondent

Centerpoint Adolescent Treatment Services in South Burlington celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, and no one is more grateful for the longevity of the organization than its director, Mitch Barron.

“Centerpoint is an organization that provides a range of mental health, education, and substance abuse services for, teens, young adults and families,” explained Mr. Barron. “Through all of our programming and specialty services, we are essentially here to help figure out what is going on, what could be improved, and how we can help.”

Centerpoint, a partnership between HowardCenter, NFI Vermont, and Matrix Health Systems, provides a “whole host of services,” Mr. Barron continued. “At any given moment, our waiting room could have an adolescent mom with an infant, a college student working through the struggles of transitioning to adulthood, and a grandmother who is the primary caregiver for her teenage grandkids…and we are well placed to meet the needs of that teen parent and her baby, the student, and the grandmother. Centerpoint serves more than 700 kids and family members over the course of the year: 350 may come through our doors, but we’ll see just as many in schools, on college campuses, in medical practices, and in community settings. By providing our services in these ‘host sites,’ we are hoping to remove some of those obstacles that people experience when they are trying to access help in their times of need.”

Centerpoint’s programming includes the Centerpoint School, a middle and high school serving 37 students at any given time (and approximately 60 over the course of a school year), with campuses in both South Burlington and Winooski. “While students receive the full scope of educational and academic services at Centerpoint School, most of our students are referred to us based on their social, emotional, and mental health struggles,” Mr. Barron noted.

Centerpoint also provides a full set of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, which include preventative, early intervention, counseling, and recovery support offered at Centerpoint’s clinic sites and in various community locations.

“Centerpoint’s mission speaks to our beliefs regarding those that we serve, as well as the qualities that our staff bring to the work,” explained Mr. Barron. “Specifically, this involves approaching our work and supporting our clients with skill, dedication, creativity, and flexibility. Over the years, this vision and mission have allowed us to move from being a small program that says ‘This is what we do and how we do it’ to a large organization that is able to say ‘Who are you, and how can we help?’”

It is this commitment to honoring each individual and family that has resulted in success, and yet Centerpoint staff are clear on how real success is achieved: “Not one of our clients experiences success solely because of our work at Centerpoint,” clarifies Mr. Barron. “True growth and success comes from the collaborative partnership between our staff at Centerpoint, our clients, their families, and the others supports in their communities.”

 

Mr. Barron credits his staff and the inspiration that comes from those that Centerpoint serves as being direct reasons for the agency’s longevity and his own ability to remain in this demanding work for so long: “Every day, I get to see great staff doing great work with great kids and great families. And that’s gas in the tank. When we learn about the complexities and tragedies of people’s experiences, the daily struggles that they present should not be a surprise to anyone. What’s amazing to me is the resiliency of our families and kids. You see the hard work, the changes they make, the incredible outcomes, and the smiles and appreciations at the end of it. Amazingly, we get to see some version of that that every day.”

At Centerpoint, concluded Mr. Barron, “a big part of our job is carrying the hope and optimism for those who have lost it, or maybe never had it. We need to carry that hope for them until they can carry it for themselves.”

The needs of families and communities have been no greater than they are today. And it takes all of us, no matter what our role, position, or standing, to make our communities the healthiest and most supportive that they can be. Thanks Susie, and thanks to all of you for what you do to support our young people and their families.

Mitch

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Culinary Arts with a Side of Civics

When I first sat down to write this…

I was watching a group of Centerpoint School students slicing, dicing, boiling, and garnishing up “Blue Mash with Roots and Rings” in preparation for the following day’s Junior Iron Chef VT competition.  With the guidance of Centerpoint School Teacher and Iron Chef Coach Kevin Mailepors, other teachers, and our Guest Coach Anthony from the Bearded Frog restaurant (www.thebeardedfrog.com),  these students were focused (like you see in a professional kitchen)…there was some pressure and tension (like you see in  a professional kitchen)…they were smiling and laughing (I’m not really sure if this happens in a professional kitchen)…and they were coming to the culmination of 8 weeks of participation in their after-school “Iron Chef Club.”
 

When I next sat down to right this…

I had just spent a Saturday morning along with 20 other Centerpoint staff supporting and cheering on the Centerpoint School Food Fighters as they joined 55 other schools from throughout Vermont cooking up their entries and competing for 3 top awards and a variety of prizes.  And… surprise to some, no surprise to others, the Food Fighters won “Most Creative Dish” – with whoops and hollers, an awards ceremony, and a very heartfelt student’s acceptance speech.

And then I sat down again to write this…

after hearing from Kevin that the Burlington Free Press wanted to interview our Culinary Arts students about the competition.  The interview included meeting with a Free Press editor and a tour of the newsroom, and resulted in the following article (www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20110401/LIVING06/110331040/-1/FOOD/Students-show-iron-will-annual-Vt-cooking-contest-)

Students show iron will at annual Vt. cooking contest

               Written by Clover Whitham, Free Press Staff Writer

It’s game day. After weeks of practice, each team member, decked out in purple and gold, is focused and ready for 90 minutes of fast-paced teamwork in a competition for prizes and glory before an audience of hundreds.

But Astroturf stadium this is not. The game plan includes chopping, dredging, frying, peeling, plating, roasting and washing. The closest thing to a ball being passed may be a hot, Vermont-grown potato. This is the fourth annual Jr. Iron Chef Vermont competition.

“What I love about it is it gives a little alternative school a chance to see other schools and compete with them. We’ll never have a football team, this is like our Super Bowl,” said Kevin Mailepors, Centerpoint School teacher and coach of the five-member high school team from South Burlington.

The goal of the 55 middle- and high-school teams from around the state was to create the best dish featuring local ingredients. Each dish was judged on taste, appearance, creativity, use of local ingredients and the adaptability to cafeteria menus, based on time, cost and nutrition.

The pressure was high, but Centerpoint eighth-grader Thressa Gilmond took it in stride — even when the gas ran out on one of their stoves. Her team, the Food Fighters, won the “most creative dish” category with mashed potatoes topped with root vegetable chips and onion rings.

In the middle school and high school division, prizes were awarded in three categories: best in show; most creative dish; and greatest number and best use of local ingredients. The judges were farmers, food service directors, teachers, legislators and Vermont Commissioner of Education Armando Vilaseca. The competition was hosted by the Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED) and the Burlington School Food Project at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction.

Centerpoint 10th-grader Blake Stanyon, a Jr. Iron Chef veteran, was in charge of roasting garlic and dredging vegetables for the Food Fighters. Thressa and Blake aren’t novices in the kitchen. They and their teammates have experience cooking lunch for their peers at Centerpoint, and both are fans of cooking shows on TV (Blake watches “Good Eats with Alton Brown,” Thressa favors “Cake Boss”). Both said they prefer baking, though, Blake likes bread and Thressa likes cookies.

They pleased the Jr. Iron Chef judges, but other adventures in the kitchen were less successful. Thressa said grilled cheese with jelly wasn’t award-winning.

“No one liked them,” she said. An attempt at ice cream failed to freeze properly, but the tasty mix served well as an impromptu milkshake.

Blake likes introducing his peers to food from other cultures, such as curries and from his Irish cookbook, potato pancakes. He said he plans to keep cooking after high school, but not professionally.

Wednesday, Thressa pulled shiny, black chef shoes from her backpack, part of a bevy of Jr. Iron Chef prizes that included a $500 scholarship to Paul Smith College. They’re tools she may use toward her goal of owning her own business, an animal shelter or a bakery.

Centerpoint joined South Burlington High School as the two winning Chittenden County teams.

And when I next came back to writing this…

the Vermont House of Representatives had invited the Jr Iron Chef competition winners to a day at the statehouse, to cook their award winning concoctions, observe the day’s activities from the plush seats on the dais, and receive a standing ovation with the reading of this House Concurrent Resolution:

 So as I finish writing this…

I once again reflect on all that our students can achieve, on the creativity and commitment of our staff, and on how providing educational plans that truly build upon student strengths and interests can result in remarkable outcomes for all involved.
At Centerpoint, this strength-based student-centered approach has long been a part of our alternative education services.  And we’re not alone – many public schools are using similar approaches.  We’re particularly excited by the new collaboration between the Burlington and Winooski School districts, as supported by a Nellie Mae Education Foundation planning grant, to explore the development of student-centered plans for every student in their high schools.  A grand effort indeed, however, at Centerpoint we see just how much can be accomplished with this student-centered approach to education.
To learn more about our models, methods, and strategies at the Centerpoint School, please be in touch with any or our Centerpoint School Directors:
Katie Decker – Centerpoint School, South Burlington Campus Director: 488-7731 (katied@howardcenter.org)
Jed Pauls – Centerpoint School, Winooski Campus Director: 363-7829 (jedp@howardcenter.org)
John Grimm – Centerpoint School, Clinical Director: 324-4507 (johng@howardcenter.org)
and I’d also encourage you to learn more about the exciting Winooski SD – Burlington SD initiative (http://bhs.bsdvt.org/supportingwebdocuments/press_release.pdf).
As always, please feel free to be in touch with me to share your thoughts or with other questions.
And thanks for reading,
Mitch
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Which parent said “I thought I was the only one…”

Many of the parents who walk through the doors of Centerpoint say something like “I thought I was the only one…” In fact, most of the parents who were reluctant to show up for the first time to Centerpoint’s Parent Support Group are the same parents who are still in our parking lot 20 minutes after the group has ended, locked in conversation, getting support, learning, receiving encouragement, and making connections with other parents.

Centerpoint’s Parent Support Group is designed for parents with teens who are involved in counseling at Centerpoint…for parents whose teens have completed treatment, but who themselves want to remain involved for the ongoing support…and for parents who don’t know where to turn; who are struggling with their teen but don’t know what to do next.  In addition to the support and encouragement, this group offers skills and strategies for parenting through difficult times, and participation can continue into Centerpoint’s Family Therapy Group.  This ‘rolling admissions’ group includes parents who have been attending in an ongoing way, as well as parents who call with a need on one day and ‘drop in’ to the group on the next.

And soon, we’ll be hosting Parent Support Groups at other locations in Burlington and throughought Chittenden County

To learn more about Centerpoint’s weekly Parent Support Group or Family Therapy Group, please contact

Group Facilitator Kim Burgess, MS LADC at 488-7712(Kimb@howardcenter.org). 

To learn more about Centerpoint’s range of counseling services, please contact Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Program Director Michael Hunter, LCMHC LADC at 488-7714 (Michaelh@howardcenter.org).

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