Kristen Hannum 2016-08-11 04:51:22
Lions boldly take a fresh approach to helping troubled youths. Bill Hildenbrand, a member of the Denver Lions Club, had no idea that his kitchen remodel would bring with it an affirmation of his life’s work. Hildenbrand showed the men installing his new refrigerator into his kitchen. One of them kept looking at him. Finally the man spoke up. He had lived for a year in the mid-1980s at Savio House. Hildenbrand is the longtime executive director of the Denver nonprofit that works with troubled teens and families hurting because of neglect and abuse. “I’m doing good,” he told Hildenbrand. He had a steady job, and his family was happy. Savio had helped him get on the right track, he proudly told Hildenbrand. Savio House, recognized once by Lions Club International as one of the 10 outstanding service initiatives, is a signature project of the Denver Lions Club. It has not only turned multitudes of lives around for 40 years but also helped attract new members, impressed that a club can make such a huge impact on so many people. “I joined the Lions because of Savio,” says Ron Abo, a successful Denver architect and chair of the board of trustees for Savio. Abo has been on other boards of organizations that deal with youth; one used federal dollars to train teenagers for jobs. “It was very specific,” he says. “But the youth had many other problems besides not having jobs. A lot of them came from situations of abuse and neglect; some of them were running with gangs. Those federal dollars never addressed the basic problem. Savio House does. It treats not only the child but the family.” Treating the family can begin early. Consider Sienna (a pseudonym). Just 21 years old, she had a 3-year-old, a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old. She stayed with them in a noisy motel on Colfax Avenue, a tawdry downtown Denver street infamous for drugs, prostitution and crime. After social services discovered the children, alone and without supervision, Sienna tearfully explained she’d been looking for work. The social worker thought at first foster care might be the only way to keep them safe. In the end, however, he decided to refer Sienna to Savio. Savio House counselors believe family togetherness is key to building strong families. Trae Gomez helps out his parents, Daniel and Antoinette, in the kitchen on a day a counselor visits. Her Savio counselor helped her find a job and a home. That counselor also taught her how to properly discipline her children and how to ask for help. In 2014 (the most recent year for which there are figures) Savio House’s 170 counselors served 2,368 families, helping a total of 7,517 people. Its 2015 budget was $12.8 million, many times that of peer organizations which average less than $1 million annually, according to FindThe- Company.com. Savio House’s administration and fund raising costs, as part of the total revenue, were just 7.2 percent in 2014. Its revenue comes from about 30 contracts with city, county and state organizations. Donations, while crucial for its physical plant, make up only about 2 percent of its total budget. “Savio is run like a business,” says Abo. “So it’s very well-funded and well run.” The organization has come a long way since it began in 1966 as an orphanage for wayward boys, housed in a Catholic tuberculosis sanitarium in which dormitory beds were still dressed with clean, neatly pressed sheets and folded blankets. Four Catholic businessmen founded Savio House (although it’s not a Catholic organization), and they named it for St. Dominique Savio, who had died at age 14 of tuberculosis in 1857. St. Savio, who was a model son and student, is honored by Catholics as the patron saint of children. Diego (left) and Francisco “Cisco” Robles show their affection for their pets as their father, Francisco, watches on a day they spend time with a Savio House counselor. One of those founders had a friend who was a Lion, and he promoted Savio House as a cause to other Lions in the Denver club. In 1974, the Denver Lions Club officially adopted Savio House. “That made all the difference,” says Hildenbrand, who became a Lion in 1986. “It’s the Lions’ leadership and direction that have allowed us to be so successful,” he says. “I have this great, visionary pool to draw from for my board.” Lions make up the majority of Savio’s board of trustees. “Each Lion on the board represents communities of interest and can draw on their communities for help,” says Hildenbrand. For instance, Don Smith, an accountant, headed the budget committee and served as board president for 15 years. He didn’t shoulder all the responsibility on his own, and his committee kept Savio’s budget on track. It takes a lot of Lions to keep Savio on track. “They’re [Lions] in it for the long haul, and they bring energy and knowledge that keep us from making mistakes,” says Hildenbrand. “We get so wrapped up in what we’re doing; we need that objective view.” The Lions also personally mentored Hildenbrand. Now 67, he was a comparatively callow youngster himself when he was hired in 1979. “They spent a lot of time leading me down the right road,” he says. Now the Lions on the board are devising a transition plan for when the long-serving Hildenbrand retires. The Lions have also raised millions of dollars to support Savio, which now serves the entire Colorado Front Range with facilities in Longmont, Denver, Colorado Springs and Cañon City. Just as Savio has evolved over the past decades, there has been an extraordinary change of heart nationally over how to help troubled families and teens. More is understood today than ever before about addressing juvenile delinquents, from depressed kids who are skipping school to violent youths who are a danger to themselves and others. The past 20 years have seen an explosion of knowledge, and Savio House, working with the University of Colorado and with the support of the Lions, has been part of that learning curve. Hildenbrand simplifies the story: Back in the 1980s, Savio House’s residential programs took in troubled boys. The boys there learned behaviors that served them better. “They’d go home in great shape,” says Hildenbrand, “but then bounce back within a year, in trouble again. We knew we had to do something different.” Savio began tracking outcomes, so that they’d have metrics rather than anecdotes. So which worked better? Residential care, the traditional cure for troubled youth? Or working with the families, in often chaotic family homes, as some researchers were advocating? Savio was on a path to becoming leader in evidence-based practices, keeping track of what actually works. By the 1990s, Savio House counseled more adolescents who were drinking or abusing drugs, and they were working with families where there was abuse or neglect on the part of the parent. Jenna Lander, a Savio House counselor, meets with the Gomez family, Counselor Danielle Weiss orchestrates positive interaction with the Robles brothers. The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado launched the Blueprints for Violence Prevention Initiative in 1996, researching hundreds of well-intentioned programs for troubled juveniles. They found only a few that actually met their strict scientific standards of effectiveness. Scared Straight, for example, which was supposed to deter youth from crime by showing kids what life in prison is like, was shown to actually increase a young person’s chances of landing in prison. Only eleven programs were judged to be effective enough to be recommended. Savio House won its first national federal grant in 1999 to demonstrate the use of one of those: Multisystemic Therapy, a home-based method of therapy. Home-based therapy is as challenging as it is blindingly obvious: kids are part of a family. Helping a teen means helping his family—in their home. Julia Roguski, director of child protection services at Savio House, says the change has been enormous. After she began going into homes, instead of having families come to her, it all came together for her. “I was able to see that sometimes very basic needs were not being met,” she says. “And if families are struggling over the basics, then the stress of parenting, which everyone experiences, can tip them over the edge.” Roguski says that the majority of kids treated in their own homes, with their families also getting help, have been able to stay in their homes, either with their own nuclear family or with kin. Savio House still has a shortterm residential facility, but a walk down its halls reveals that it’s mostly empty. That’s because the data show that children who cannot stay with their own families do better in foster homes than even in the most supportive residence facility. “Foster homes are an environment where there are stable adults modeling correct parenting for the kids,” says Abo. “The children see that their home situation, that they’ve always known, isn’t the only way they can be parented.” Don Smith (left), a board president at Savio for 15 years until 2015, and William Hildenbrand, executive director, are key Lions with Savio. Savio also has a school, both for the few in the residential facility and for students living at home who cannot attend public school because of their behavior or other reasons. Savio’s counselors are out with families most of the time. The chairs at desks in Savio’s big open offices are typically empty, although the desks show signs of recent activity: phones blinking, banks of files, scattered notes. The clients’ and the counselors’ task—bringing positive outcomes out of anger and despair—isn’t easy. “If it were easy to follow someone’s advice, then no one would smoke,” says Roguski. “We want to help clients in the moment when things are falling apart. If the families can get more help, they’re sustainable.” Therapy doesn’t stop at families’ front doors. If children have negative peers, therapists try to help them develop new friends: on the basketball team or in the choir, for instance. The new knowledge about treating troubled children, youth and families came about in part because of public policy reacting to a spike in crime and drug abuse, particularly juvenile crime, in the late 1980s and early 1990s around the world. In the United States that crime wave led to building more prisons and detention centers, but also more funding for research on what worked. “While there was a lot of misguided policies enacted, there was also a lot of research,” says Shay Bilchik, former head of the Federal Office on Juvenile Justice. Hundreds of millions of dollars have since been spent, mostly on schemes that don’t work or even make crime worse such as harsh jail and prison sentences for non-violent juveniles. But the money was also spent on evidence-based practices like those used at Savio House. “It’s not a hit-or-miss thing,” says Abo. “They can point to real successes. It’s not 100 percent but it’s a lot better than it was before, and it’s a lot better than just warehousing kids.” There’s more good news. The treatment that Savio House practices— those house calls, mentoring, therapy, and training in better ways to communicate and deal with life’s inevitable stresses—costs about $10,000. That’s not cheap, but it’s a lot less expensive than the average cost of a year of juvenile incarceration: $46,662 in Louisiana to $352,663 in New York, according to a 2014 study by the Justice Policy Institute. Not only do evidence-based practices show better rates of success, they also cost less. Kids who were at Savio House sometimes come back to thank the staff. Not long ago, a middle-aged man knocked on the door, wanting to show his son the place where, with help, he had turned his life around. “From a board perspective, we see that there are successes that are happening every day and families are being reunited,” says Abo. “That’s the kind of thing that makes Savio a special program for me.” Same City, Different Worlds Both the Denver Lions Club and Savio House, a treatment facility for troubled youth and families, call Denver home. And yet Savio House’s main offices feel a world away from the lives of the Lions who have guided its fate. Savio House, looking like the Catholic tuberculosis sanitarium that it once was, stands on a rise in the old Barnum neighborhood, not far from Mile High Stadium in northwest Denver. The neighborhood feels tattered around the edges, steeped in frontier history. At the opposite end of town, the Denver Lions’ offices sit off the heavily trafficked South Colorado Boulevard, an urban highway that never slows down. Here is the new Denver, racing between downtown’s glass towers and the rival Tech Center’s rich sprawl of businesses. What ties Savio House and the Lions together are troubled families whose lives are turned around with the help of Savio’s programs and more than 200 counselors.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/A+Recipe+For+Success/2557115/328080/article.html.