By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Before Jill and David Weeks sought help for their three children at Will’s Place, their world was overwhelmingly stressful.
“It’s been a life-changing experience with them (Will’s Place),” said Jill Weeks, of Webb City. “Before, it was so stressful. We had exhausted all of our resources. We were at wits’ end. Getting our children this help has been a major step forward for us.”
Two of their children have Asperger’s syndrome. The disorder refers to a group of conditions involving delays in the development of basic skills, most notably the ability to socialize with others, to communicate and to use imagination. Children with the disorder often are confused in their thinking and generally have problems understanding the world around them.
Their third child is bipolar. He also has attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.
Jill Weeks said that by working with her caseworker, Mackenzie Garst, her household has been restructured to reinforce a regular routine and positive behavior in her children.
“They said it would get worse before it got better,” Weeks said. “I could not believe it could get worse, but it did. Then it started getting better.”
Weeks was on hand Monday for an announcement by Gov. Jay Nixon that Will’s Place, which was designed by Freeman Health System’s Ozark Center, will receive a grant of $400,000 annually for the next four years to expand the scope of the center’s services to children and youths affected by trauma. The grant is from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The grant will enable the center to be a Category III Community Treatment and Services Center of Excellence that will serve not only Jasper County, but a regional area that includes Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.
“To say that Will’s Place has been a success from the moment it opened would not do justice to the impact it has had on the lives of children and families who are served here,” Nixon said. “It has become another shining beacon of progress and recovery for this area. The excellent treatment and services that young people are receiving at Will’s Place are becoming known throughout the country.”
The grant will help the center:
• Improve treatment and services for children and youths who have experienced traumatic events in Jasper County.
• Increase outreach and access through partnerships with other community agencies to identify children and youths in need of trauma treatment and services.
• Increase understanding of the impact trauma has on the lives of children and youths.
• Extend the principles of a trauma-informed approach to service delivery agencies across the Four-State Area.
A key element of the grant is the establishment of a screening database for child-caring agencies throughout Jasper County, including schools, pediatric offices, the state Children’s Division, the Children’s Center, Lafayette House, Preferred Family, Head Start and Early Head Start, and any other agency that aids at-risk children.
The grant also will position Ozark Center to train caregivers within agencies throughout the Four States to recognize signs of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, understand how trauma affects a child’s life, and connect that child to community organizations that can help.
The grant also will permit Ozark Center to pay for services needed by uninsured or underinsured children.
The governor was joined Monday by Dr. Keith Schafer, director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health; by Capt. Jose Belardo, regional health administrator for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and by members of the Norton family.
Since the May 22, 2011, tornado, Ozark Center has seen a substantial increase in the number of children it is assisting.
Vicky Mieseler, vice president for clinical services at Ozark Center, said: “We now have three child adolescent psychiatrists and a nurse practitioner. That is extremely rare for any setting in Missouri.”
The center has been made possible by a partnership among Ozark Center, Sisters of Mercy Health System, the Joplin School District, the state Department of Mental Health, the Children’s Center of Southwest Missouri, and the Missouri Institute for Mental Health.
IN JULY 2011, Gov. Jay Nixon announced that the state of Missouri was allocating $2 million to help establish Will’s Place, which opened in January. Will’s Place is named after Will Norton, who died in the May 2011 tornado after just graduating from Joplin High School.