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'A safe place to go'.

Byline: Alisha Roemeling The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD - Love is "the bottom line" when it comes to providing mental and emotional support to high school students at the Academy of Arts & Academics, according to Bren Kleinfelder, a former teacher at the school.

"Just showing that we love them and care about them is so important ," she said.

In an effort to show that love, Kleinfelder and others organized weekly visits by White Bird Clinic's CAHOOTS mobile crisis service to the alternative high school in downtown Springfield on Wednesday afternoons. The confidential consultations, which took place from February until the end of May, were free to those who used them.

The two-person CAHOOTS team was available to help with mental health or substance abuse issues, minor medical or health problems, family mediation and dispute resolution, and they provided information on resources and support.

Some students, even those who didn't talk to the counselors, considered the service important.

One of them, 16-year-old Kashi Hughes, said counseling can be helpful for young people.

"Kids grow up with different home lives, and it's great for something to be available at school for kids to have a safe place to go," he said late last month.

Kleinfelder had taught special education in the Springfield school for about five years.

She said she thought of the idea for a visiting mental health clinic last summer because she didn't think there were enough school-based counseling services available for students.

A3, with 335 students, has only one school counselor.

"In today's world, students are faced with a lot of feeling of anxiety and depression," Kleinfelder said. "At this age, they spend a lot of time at school, which can be stressful in itself, so to have a service readily available to them, at the place they spend most of their time, just makes sense."

Kleinfelder mentioned her idea to Samantha Krop, an A3 humanities teacher.

So the two women, with support from the school's counselor and others, collaborated to develop the drop-in service so students and their families could voice their concerns, talk through their emotions, and receive advice and referrals.

"One of the main reasons we started this service is because there's a huge need for both mental health and social service intervention that just can't be met by the staff we have," Krop said. "The need is more than schools and the district can handle right now."

And with a little help from the community, the two women put their idea into action.

Parents pitch in

The mobile mental health clinic costs about $125 per two-hour visit, Kleinfelder said.

A3 parent donations paid for most of the recently concluded service, along with some school funding.

Kleinfelder also paid for some of the costs, and she said CAHOOTS agreed to a favorable rate. CAHOOTS stands for Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets.

Each CAHOOTS team consists of one medic, such as a registered nurse or an emergency medical technician, or EMT, and a crisis worker.

Standing outside A3's art building at Sixth and South A streets on a recent sunny afternoon, CAHOOTS registered nurse Brenton Gicker and Michelle Perin, a crisis worker, discussed what they do and how they hope to help.

Gicker, who has worked for the White Bird Clinic since 2005, said students visit the clinic for a variety of reasons. His first priority is to make them feel comfortable.

"Basically, we just want to figure out what they need and how we can best help them," he said. "Sometimes it's just that they need to get something off their chest, and we do our best to listen."

Healthy demand

After a couple of months of planning and collaborating with CAHOOTS, Kleinfelder said the first clinic was held at A3 in February.

The clinics were a pilot program that took place every other Wednesday through the end of March.

However, Kleinfelder said organizers soon realized they wanted to extend the service into the spring.

"There was a heavy amount of requests with severe needs, like trauma, self-help, depression and suicide, and kids were staying over an hour at a time," she said. "We realized we had bigger needs."

Initially, she said, students were hesitant to use the resource, but eventually it got busier.

Gicker said that usually between one and four people visited the clinic per two-hour session .

So far, Gicker said he has heard from many students about their stress and anxiety levels, depression, as well as frustration with a lack of resources available to deal with various issues.

"Depression is a common one," he said. "As well as social anxiety, thoughts of self-harm and suicide, relationships with family members and peers."

Although the program ran for only a few months, Kleinfelder and Krop said they noticed that the service made a difference to people.

"It's a little too early to say exactly what kind of impact it's had, but it's definitely being utilized by students and parents and community members," Krop said. "I refer students there frequently, and the students I do know that have gone, they definitely left with more of a toolbox."

Seeking funding for next year

Kleinfelder said she is determined to seek grants and other ways to pay for the clinics next year because the service is not funded by the Springfield School District.

"I just want to give these kids an opportunity to deal with pain in a healthy way," she said. "There are other ways to mitigate pain that are easy to fall into, like substance abuse, but these kids deserve more."

Two students who said they haven't used the service said they think it's valuable and important.

Anais Rowell, 17, said she sees a personal therapist, but that not everyone has that option.

"Some people don't have super supportive families that would help them find a therapist," she said. "And this way, if students want to just stay a little longer after school to talk with someone, it's not a big deal."

Satysha Whitworth, 18, said having the clinic at the school helps.

"If I were having an anxiety attack or something, I would definitely walk out there and talk to them," she said of the counselors. "To have access to it right there makes it so much easier and faster for people to get the help they need without having to go through the process of finding a therapist."

Whitworth, who lives in Elmira, said it's difficult for her to stay after school because she has a long commute home, but that if she lived closer, she would take advantage of the clinic.

"Some people don't want to talk to their parents about things," Whitworth said. "They don't want to get in trouble or be judged, and they just need a safe place to talk."

Follow Alisha on Twitter @alisharoemeling. Email alisha.roemeling@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Springfield School District
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 7, 2017
Words:1139
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