Changing One Life at a Time

If you were like most teenagers, you had at least a few conflicts with your parents.  Whether it be over curfew, peers, clothes, dating, or other life choices, most teens go through troubling times as they travel the difficult road to adulthood.  At the time, these conflicts are monumental, earth-shattering events filled with yelling and tears.  We’ve all been there and struggled through those times, and most of us don’t ever want to go back.

So imagine if, in the midst of the tumultuous teen years, you were faced with issues that really were  earth-shattering — homelessness, pregnancy, poverty, and more.  Imagine having no safe place to go and no safe person to confide in.  Imagine not knowing what you would eat that night or where you would sleep.  Imagine not having adults in your life who cared enough to have those fights with you — adults who just weren’t there at all.

That’s why The Ark’s Community Services program exists — to meet youth in situations such as these in their time and place of need and to help them grow into self-sufficient, strong, and caring young adults.

During the last six months, our Ark Community Services program has provided intensive services (case management, counseling, and assistance with housing, employment, and education) to more than 45 young people in situations like those described above.  Each of these youth are met where they are at (geographically, emotionally, and mentally), assessed for strengths and needs, and provided services in a manner that helps them build on their strengths.  Over the course of time, case managers become those caring adults that the youth depend on and so dearly need — inevitably having a few conflicts in the process — but establishing stability and a sense of belonging.

Each of the youth we serve is a survivor and we are blessed to help them start and continue their journey to a better place.  Each youth comes with amazing assets and strengths.  These youth, however, often lack hope and a vision of a positive, safe, and happy future.  Case managers help each youth develop personal goals, both short- and long-term, building a vision of a life with amazing possibilities.  As a result of our work, 88.9% of clients who left the program these past six months went to safe and stable housing.  When they entered the program, fully 100% of the youth were homeless.

Even in this difficult economy, we have helped several youth find good-paying and stable jobs.  We have provided many youth with either transitional or permanent supportive housing and assisted several more with security deposits and emergency rent so they can achieve stability.  Many of the youth we serve are choosing to attend college and are able to do so thanks to the Kalamazoo Promise.  Staff help them complete college applications, register, complete financial aid forms, and even explore the campus so they are prepared for classes.  Other youth are determined to receive their high school diploma or GED and we assist them in the process.  Our youth are making positive choices — and seeing positive outcomes — despite tumultuous beginnings.

We are very proud of these youth as they choose to serve on the Catholic Charities Youth Advisory Board, reaching out beyond themselves in service to their community and improving the program that was created to serve them.  Not only are these youth learning how to stabilize their lives and their homes, but they are focusing on others and seeking ways to make life better for their peers.

When I think back to my teen years and the challenges I faced I must admit it was a difficult time in my life.  When I look at our Ark Community Services clients, however, I realize how blessed I truly was.  All of those monumental challenges I faced were truly small in comparison with the trials these youth have faced.  Watching them grow and thrive is a blessing for our agency and we are so grateful for the opportunity to see them succeed.

The biggest difficulty?  We can only reach so many youth with the resources we have.  It is so difficult to hear of one youth’s overwhelming challenges and not be able to provide the full level of services he or she needs.  We simply don’t have sufficient resources to serve all the youth who need them. 

If you would like to learn more about this program or assist us in this amazing and life changing work, please contact Phyllis Senesi at 269-381-9800 or via e-mail at  You won’t regret sharing your gifts with these amazing teens who have overcome so much and you will never look at your teen years in the same way again.


Overcome The Stigma and Get Healthy

Mental illness is an equal-opportunity illness. Every one of us is impacted by mental illness. One in five adults are dealing with this illness, and many are not seeking help because the stigma prevents that.  —Margaret Larson

If you are reading this post, you know someone who is dealing with or has dealt with mental illness.  Millions of Americans are impacted by poor mental health — regardless of age, race, ethnicity, political or religious beliefs, family history, or any other demographic or personal facts.   Millions of American are also afraid to seek the treatment and support they need to become mentally healthy again.  Simply put, there is a huge stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment, a perceived weakness on the part of many.  Individuals who would think nothing of going to a doctor for a broken arm would never consider seeking the help of a therapist to address a mental health issue. 

The Bridges Outpatient Mental Health program serves more than 500 individuals and families each year, helping each to identify their challenges and address them with proven and high quality services.  As a program of Catholic Charities Diocese of Kalamazoo, Bridges is proud to serve people in need, empowering them to honestly address their problems and become healthy again.  Bridges offers counseling to individuals, couples, and families and serves people of all ages.  If you have a question or concern, please call the program at 269-381-1234 and learn more about the services we offer. 

We are also proud to offer a specialized group, “Young Ladies of Worth” to young women who need support as they face the difficult challenges associated with growing up.  The group is starting a new session in September and we are currently accepting referrals for young ladies who would like to participate.  Please check out the information below and call us with questions. 

As a community of committed and caring professionals, we’d like to remind you that your mental health is as important as your physical health.  We encourage you to take care of your entire self — you are the only one who truly has the power to do so.

It’s up to you today to start making healthy choices. Not choices that are just healthy for your body, but healthy for your mind. 

–Steve Maraboli

Perspectives on Back To School

It’s that time of year again.  Buying school supplies and clothes, lunchboxes and bags, needs and wants as the kids get ready to go back to school.  So many things to remember and tend to so that the new year starts off right.  Many parents dread the process but love the result as things get back to “normal” and the routine is back in effect.  It’s a time of excitement and change mixed with some fear for the students as they  head off to new schools, new teachers, and new opportunities.

It’s a completely different experience for homeless youth, like those served by The Ark’s Services For Youth.

Did you know that, based on the most recent data available (2010-2011), there were 1,162 homeless students in Kalamazoo County alone?  Statewide, there has been a 300% increase in the number of homeless students between the 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 school years.  For these youth, going back to school means something very different: having regular hot meals available, having a safe and comfortable place to be for eight hours a day, and simply having the opportunity to feel like life is normal for awhile.

Despite these positives, homeless youth face severe challenges, not the least of which is having the proper documents to register in a school and the ability to get transportation to the school on a daily basis.  They are often highly mobile (as they seek food and shelter) and this mobility greatly impacts their school stability and educational continuity.   These students often lack the supports they need to academically succeed, spending much of their time trying to locate a safe place to sleep, food to eat, and dealing with the emotional and physical challenge inherent with not having a home.

If a student is able to regularly overcome these barriers and attend school, how does the fact of homelessness effect a student academically?  Profoundly, according to the latest reports from the State of Michigan.  Homeless youth are:

  • 4 times more likely to show delayed development than their peers.
  • 2 times more likely to have learning disabilities than their peers.
  • 2.5 times more likely to be below grade level in math.
  • 1.5 times more likely to be below grade level in reading and spelling.

Why are we sharing these facts?  These youth — homeless students —  seek our services on a daily basis.  We are honored to walk with them, connecting them to resources and helping them build stability in their young lives so that they can succeed — academically and otherwise.  We hope these facts highlight the importance of the work we do — helping youth to access the resources they need to succeed and to reunify families who are faced with crises and homelessness.

As you spend the next few weeks getting your students ready for school, please consider youth who do not have the same resources and supports and please consider reaching out to them.  We would love to have your assistance in this life-changing mission.  Please call Jeannine Boehm at 269-381-1234 if you would like to help.

Is It All Worth It?

Let me start by saying I’m NOT a sports fan.  Any other time of year, any other sporting season and I’m not one to be watching intently.  There’s just something about the Olympics.  Something that captures the mind and the imagination and the heart.  Sure, there are the obscure athletes and events that you seldom get to watch any other time of year, but it’s more than that.  As one blogger put it, it’s those “glimmers of hope that we may yet transcend our egos and join together in peace (Greg Mackie, 2008).”

In surfing the web, I found that I am far from the only person interested in the Olympics — television ratings for this year’s games are off the charts.  Blogs and articles abound and it seems everyone has an opinion on the latest drama of the day.  I particularly enjoyed the following quote and could see its relation to the work we do here at CCDOK every single day:

The Olympics draw us in and interests us in sports we normally do not collectively pay attention to.  It is the work of a lifetime coming down to a few seconds or steps.  Even if we don’t understand the intricacies of gymnastic competition or other sports . . . we get the concept of a life’s work coming down to make-or-break moments.  For many of these athletes, this is it . . . this will be their answer to “was it all worth it?”  (Rich Copley, July 2012)

“A life’s work coming down to make-or-break moments” . . . that thought makes you stop and consider if the risk of failure is worth putting your dreams on the line.   Our clients often ask the same question when they come to us for help.  When each client comes to us, seeking help with a challenge in their life, they are taking a risk and allowing us to help them achieve their dreams.  Often they can’t even articulate these dreams because they have lost hope.  We know we have a very short time to make a life-changing impact and to help them on their journey. 

One of the first things we do — during our first meeting — is to plan for that time when they leave our services.  We are like the coach in the background during an Olympic event, helping to prepare them for that moment when they go out the door for the last time.  We work intensely with them and ask them to make a commitment to change, then we try to give them as many tools and skills as we can so they can shine during their personal “make or break” moments.  Foundational to success is giving each the gift of hope — to know that they can change and have a positive future to look forward to.  We stand on the sidelines, after investing our lives in theirs, and watch some soar beyond our wildest imagination.  Other stumble and we are there to help them get back up and try again.

Mr Copley comments that “The Olympics get us and a lot of people to do things they would not normally do.”  Each day, each meeting, we work with members of your community to help them improve their lives, strengthen their families, and do things they would not normally do.  It’s not nationally televised and the victories are intensely personal, but it is so similar to the drama of the Olympics in so many ways.  That’s why we’ve been here for more than 35 years . . . and why we come to work every day.  We welcome you to partner with us in any way you can.