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Sixteen Years Ago….at Community Programs

Sixteen years ago at Community Programs I was hired as the first Assistant Director. We had just moved to “the Abbey” a ramshackle office building on Tudor Road, called the Abbey after the teen night club that was once housed there. It was our first office building as Community Programs was previously housed in a residential home. We were feeling very professional with our own offices and small conference room.

The program began around 1997 by Jeri Fairley, a therapist in Oliver Cottage, as a response to the need to step youth down from the intensive structure of residential treatment to the community with needed supports. Treatment Foster Care and “Aftercare” now referred to as home based services were offered as the two treatment programs. There were 4 Case Managers, 1 Licensing Coordinator, 1 Community Program’s Coordinator, less than 10 part-time AT’s and about 15 Treatment Foster Homes.

Jeri and I did all the assessments for the referred youth and we were mostly just accepting referrals from our residential program. The State Division of Behavioral Health had the Alaska Youth Initiative program, a real innovator for wraparound services, that provided state funds to develop individualized supports and resources (whatever it took) to keep kids in the community. That program is no longer in operation, but the principles of wraparound remain our foundation for treatment.

We soon outgrew the Abbey (thank goodness) and moved to Northern Lights and Denali St, where Stone Soup Group is now housed. This was a big step for us, but Community Programs was growing and we needed the office space. The new building had been remodeled, just for us, and we were very proud of the development of our program. I became the Director in 2005 as Jeri moved back to Texas. We were also able to hire a full-time clinician, still doing our own assessments. We had 2 Community Program’s Coordinators, 2 Licensing Coordinators, about 25 Treatment Foster Homes, 8 Case Managers and 15 – 20 AT’s.

Again having outgrown our Northern Lights office after 5 years we purchased, what is now the Maley Center and had it fully remodeled to meet our needs. The progress in behavioral health in Alaska, during this time period has been rapid and I think very positive. The Bring the Kids Home Initiative has reduced the number of youth having to go out of state to residential treatment from a high of about 600 to less than 100 youth. Treatment is no longer a prescriptive top-down, directive process, but one that is collaborative, client and family centered and addresses the expressed needs of the client. We better understand and provide services for people affected by FASD - years ago FASD was rarely identified and was a diagnosis that excluded people from services. Behavioral compliance has been replaced with the building of therapeutic relationships and the use of seclusion and restraints is something of the past. There has been leaps and bounds made in neuroscience and we better understand the impact on the developing brain and other health risks associated with early exposure to trauma.

Our electronic health record system provides the opportunity for quick audits, document tracking, accountability measures, improves student safety and provides an opportunity to communicate across disciplines and track progress from different locations. It has been a fun and fascinating journey and one that will continue as I leave the agency. I have been proud to be a part of this work, of this agency and of the lives of those that we have had the privilege to serve. Who knows what the next 16 years will bring……