Mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in lives of trou­bled kids

From de­sign­ing rooms to plant­ing gar­dens, they lend help at St. Vin­cent’s Villa

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Mary K. Til­gh­man

When Julie Smith de­cided to vol­un­teer af­ter re­tire­ment, the Tow­son res­i­dent knew just where she wanted to go — back to St. Vin­cent’s Villa, in Ti­mo­nium, where she was a reg­is­tered nurse from1990 to 1996.

“It re­ally makes you feel good to vol­un­teer,” Smith said. “I’m do­ing some­thing that’s mean­ing­ful with­out the stress of be­ing a nurse.”

She loved the villa and the chil­dren who live at St. Vin­cent’s, a Catholic Char­i­ties ther­a­peu­tic res­i­den­tial fa­cil­ity for the treat­ment of chil­dren ages 6 to 14 who have be­hav­ioral and emo­tional dif­fi­cul­ties. The villa is home to 80 boys and girls from all over Mary­land.

Chil­dren are re­ferred to the pro­gram by health pro­fes­sion­als, schools or fam­ily mem­bers, and are con­sid­ered to be no longer safe at home, said Michael Dun­phy, the villa’s as­so­ciate ad­min­is­tra­tor. The chil­dren might be sui­ci­dal or hurt them­selves or oth­ers. Each has faced some kind of trauma and some, but not all, have been abused.

St. Vin­cent’s offers aplace of sta­bil­ity along with treat­ments rang­ing from group ther­apy to psy­chi­atric ser­vices to spir­i­tual de­vel­op­ment to recre­ation and the arts, said Ezra Buch­dahl, St. Vin­cent’s ad­min­is­tra­tor.

Smith vol­un­teers twice a week in the fa­cil­ity’s health cen­ter, where she used to work as a nurse. She takes care of ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties.

“I like be­ing in that set­ting, be­ing around the other nurses,” she said, adding that she also en­joys the chance to talk with the chil­dren.

About 400 vol­un­teers help out at the cen­ter. Some vol­un­teer for a day or two to run a sports work­shop or paint a mu­ral in a hall­way or the health cen­ter, while oth­ers come ev­ery week to spend time with an in­di­vid­ual stu­dent.

Pro­fes­sional foot­ball play­ers visit as part of the EdBlock Courage Foun­da­tion to meet and play with the chil­dren. “The im­pact on the play­ers is as great as it is on the kids,” Buch­dahl said.

One vol­un­teer, an in­te­rior de­signer, has been rais­ing funds to re­dec­o­rate the chil- Julie Smith of Tow­son re­stocks shelves in the health of­fice at St. Vin­cent’s Villa in Ti­mo­nium, where she worked as a nurse from1990 to 1996 and now vol­un­teers in re­tire­ment. dren’s bed­rooms with “trauma-sen­si­tive” pas­tel colors that have a calm and com­fort­ing ef­fect, Buch­dahl said.

While Smith gives of her time in­side the build­ing on Pot Spring Road, vol­un­teers Kath­leen Willis and Susan Bren­nan are work­ing on its ex­te­rior.

Willis, a North Roland Park res­i­dent, learned about the villa’s need for help clean­ing up an over­grown court­yard a year ago and asked for the as­sis­tance of Bren­nan, a mas­ter gar­dener from Hamp­ton, who signed on. That project led to more. The­p­air spruced upt­woother gar­dens on the grounds, plant­ing laven­der and basil plants, spinach, kale and toma­toes — plants the chil­dren could smell and taste. Nowthey are work­ing on a new gar­den lo­cated be­hind Villa Maria School on Du­laney Valley Road. Some of St. Vin­cent’s chil­dren at­tend the school, which pro­vides ed­u­ca­tion and clin­i­cal ser­vices for chil­dren with emo­tional, be­hav­ioral and learn­ing chal­lenges.

The first step in the new gar­den, which was com­pleted last month, was to build a tall wire mesh en­clo­sure around it to pro­tect the plants from vo­ra­cious deer. Daniel Queets, a Loy­ola Blake­field stu­dent and mem­ber of Scout Troop 1000, which is spon­sored by Cathe­dral of Mary Our Queen parish in Bal­ti­more, built it as his Ea­gle Scout project. Bren­nan said they’re hop­ing to build raised gar­den beds next.

Chil­dren from the villa helped mulch the gar­den.

“They were so sweet and help­ful and they loved it,” Willis said. “It’s a cliche that you get out of it more than you put into it, but it’s true.” “Ten­fold,” Bren­nan added. The goal of the pro­gram is to let the chil­dren be chil­dren, Dun­phy­said. “We­have lots of op­por­tu­ni­ties for kids to have fun here.”

Each lives in one of six self-con­tained “houses” that con­tains a liv­ing room, din­ing room, play room and toys in the back­yard. At the en­trance of each house is a dec­o­rated sign bear­ing the word “SURF” to re­mind the chil­dren of the villa’s val­ues: safety, unity, re­spect, fun.

The chil­dren in the pro­gram go to school, do home­work and play. The villa offers bik­ing and hik­ing trails, tennis courts, basketball hoops and play­grounds, an art room and a Ravens-themed gym, along with sports work­shops and fairs, break­fast with Santa, and a Christ­mas Wonderland that is the work of nearly 200 vol­un­teers who trans­form the gym into a fantasy land with trees and trains and toys.

“When the chil­dren see it, es­pe­cially the first time, they are in awe,” Dun­phy said.

St. Vin­cent’s helps the chil­dren’s fam­i­lies with home vis­its, group ther­apy and other tools. Re­search has shown that when fam­i­lies are mor­ein­volved, the out­comes are bet­ter, ac­cord­ing to Buch­dahl.

“It used to be very child-cen­tered,” he said. “Now it’s more fam­ily-cen­tered and com­mu­nity-based.”

The ma­jor­ity of fund­ing for the villa’s pro­gram comes from med­i­cal as­sis­tance, with some fund­ing from pri­vate in­sur­ance and the Mary­land De­part­ment of Hu­man Re­sources, ac­cord­ing to Buch­dahl.

St. Vin­cent’s ac­cepts do­na­tions of money and vol­un­teer time. Larger do­na­tions, in­clud­ing fur­ni­ture and even cars, are also wel­come. “Ve­hi­cles would need to be vet­ted through Catholic Char­i­ties, though,” Buch­dahl said in an email.

Do­na­tions help villa staff pro­vide young clients with the fun ac­tiv­i­ties that ev­ery child en­joys. Do­na­tions of gas cards help fam­i­lies who live far away make the trip to Ti­mo­nium. Gift cards en­able the chil­dren to go to the movies, bowl or eat at a restau­rant.

Fund­scol­lected dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son go into the Christ­mas Fund, which helps the cen­ter all year round, ac­cord­ing to Buch­dahl. It has pro­vided iPads to help rel­a­tives of the chil­dren who rely on Skype to keep in touch, as well as ev­ery­day needs for the chil­dren’s fam­i­lies, such as food and di­a­pers.

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Ari Perl­man, 3, of Columbia rings the old bell out­side the B&O Rail­road Sta­tion Museum in El­li­cott City as a CSX train rum­bles by Sun­day. The museum was not dam­aged by the July 30 flash flood, but its re­open­ing this week­end co­in­cided with the kick­off of the hol­i­day re­tail sea­son, with 70 busi­nesses in town now open .

NI­COLE MUNCHEL/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA GROUP

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