By Shawna Serig Kelsch
Sitting in the Sarno Road offices of Eckerd Kids, speaking with Stanley Brizz and his team of support staff, you get a feeling that – although this organization is doing so much to provide social services support to the children in Brevard – there still is so much to do.
The main programs administered by the team at the Brevard offices include: Brevard Prevention Counseling; Family Visitation Services; Project Bridge Transition Services; Brevard Family Support Services for Homelessness; Raising Hope: Room of Hope; and Brevard School-Based Prevention Services. Each program serves distinctly different purposes, but often crosses over the same audience.
“There is a lot of crossover in the work we do and the services we provide,” said Brizz, director of community services for Eckerd Kids. The overarching objectives are communal, however, to provide the services needed so at risk children (and often, their families) can thrive.
For all students in grades 6th through 12th at Brevard County Alternative Learning Centers, this program offers individual or group counseling, combining character education with evidence-based substance abuse and violence prevention interventions.
Supervised Family Visitation
By court order, this program offers oversight and assistance to children who have temporarily been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. This service allows a parent to visit with their child in a safe, home-like environment, while being monitored and documented by licensed counselors and trained visitation staff. Parents also receive therapeutic coaching and mentoring on appropriate interactions during these visits.
Developed in partnership with the state Department of Juvenile Justice in 2013, this program provides transitional services to boys and girls ages 11-21 reintegrating back to their home communities from juvenile justice programs. Youth are offered the educational, mentoring, vocational and transportation services necessary to attain stability and avoid re-entry into the criminal justice system.
Family Support Services
This program provides assistance to children and families experiencing homelessness, a “serious problem here,” said Brizz, and one that annually affects approximately 2,000 students registered in the Brevard County school system.
“The good news is that those particular students are registered – so they’re going to school and we can reach them with our services there,” said Leigh McElroy, program support supervisor.
Services are provided to families who are experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of homelessness and have a past history of substance abuse. Once accepted, the families receive financial assistance, case management and referral to counseling and parent training services, among other supports. Family coaches are assigned as case managers to assist families in accessing housing, work skills training, employment opportunities, transportation, medical services and other needs. Additional support is provided to students so they can maintain academic performance and participation in extracurricular activities.
“These services are based on the ‘housing first’ philosophy, which means first housing individuals, removing all barriers possible, then preparing them to address the other needs they have,” said Brizz. Families are counseled and taught about money management, and must commit to a “sliding scale” plan of financial assistance from Eckerd Kids as they get back on their feet. Monetary assistance is reduced month by month as the family moves towards financial stability.
Room of Hope
McElroy tours visitors through the Room of Hope, a space filled with clothes, boxes of diapers, stacks of toothpaste, soap and personal care items, explaining that this room is for homeless children entering foster care. “We’ve got great support for this room, but can always use more donations. It seems the need always exceeds our supply in the long run,” she said.
In any given year, more than 1,000 children are provided services through these programs, which are funded through a mix of grants, private donations and government sources.
“Our DCF (Department of Children and Families) funding through its managing entity, Central Florida Cares Health System, is restricted to substance abuse programs and covers operational costs,” said Brizz, “but a critical portion of our direct support to families and children is only possible through private funding, raised through donations and fundraising.”
WALK OF FAME
The big event that draws hundreds of participants and a bulk of the donations needed to pay for the programs administered by Eckerd Kids is the annual Brevard Walk of Fame, this year scheduled for Saturday, March 11, at the Hilton Rialto in Melbourne. The red carpet, Hollywood-style gala honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to our community and who are inspiring generations behind them. Past honorees have included United Way CEO Rob Rains, EDC of Space Coast President Lynda Weatherman, Astronaut Buzz Aldrin and many more. Tickets are $150 and sponsorships are available. For more information, visit BrevardWalkofFame.com.
2017 Walk of Fame Nominees
Doug Flutie, former NFL Quarterback and founder of Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism
Rick Matthews, Vice President, Northrop Grumman
Jamie Tworkowski, Founder/Creative Director, “To Write Love on Her Arms”
Betsy Farmer, Executive Director/Founder, Promise in Brevard
Michelle Russell, Bruce Nelson, Jr. & Tracey Latshaw, 72 Miles of Giving/Brevard County Hyundai Dealers