CLIFTON PARK–Jayden Skadra, a sixth grader at Acadia Middle School, has been in therapy since she was 7. She’s open about this fact because, well, why shouldn’t she be?
“It’s not really a secret. It doesn’t have to be,” said the 11-year-old in the Shenendehowa Central School District.
When it’s time for her appointment with Vicki Braunstein, a Saratoga Center for the Family licensed clinical social worker and therapist based at Shenendehowa, Skadra simply tells her friends where she’s going and says she’ll catch up with them soon.
“I’m a very open person,” she said.
The 11-year-old’s hope is that therapy can be normalized for everyone, particularly for her fellow students. That was the inspiration that led her to create Jayden’s Trauma Track Fundraiser, which will be held Sunday, April 10, from 10 to 12 at the football and track and field complex at Shenendehowa High School. Skadra, with Braunstein’s help, has been working to organize the event since the fall. That includes everything from leading the committee to getting the bagels. The 5K walk around the track, which will feature food, music and speakers and comes during National Child Abuse Prevention Month, will raise money for the Saratoga Center for the Family. Tickets are $15.
“This is the first time that somebody this young has organized a fundraiser like this. It’s pretty cool,” said Rebecca Baldwin, the Saratoga Center for the Family’s executive director. “It really speaks to how somebody can come from a difficult place and get to a level of healing and health where they say ‘this is so important to me that I want to give back to this.’”
The money raised will help the Saratoga Center for the Family continue to carry out its mission of providing mental health services for everyone, regardless of financial means, Baldwin said. The organization provides access to mental health services on a sliding fee scale, based on need. To do this, the center depends on grants and fundraisers, among other funding sources.
Braunstein said about half of the 30 students on her caseload depend on financial support. She also has a lengthy waitlist, she said.
School-based therapy is an important part of the broader mental health services that the Saratoga Center for the Family provides to reduce the incidences and effects of child abuse, neglect and family dysfunction, Baldwin said. The organization started placing mental health professionals in schools in 2014 as a way to make those services more easily available to students. Shenendehowa was the first district to implement the Student Empowerment Services program, which has since grown to six school districts, according to Baldwin.
“We brought them in because we identified that students were having an increase in mental health issues or concerns,” said Rebecca Carman, Shenendehowa’s director of Policy and Community Development. “We were able to have a designated, school-based mental health counselor at each level, who is able to provide services during the school day so that it is more convenient for families and students to access,” Carman said.
Braunstein, who works with middle school students who have a variety of backgrounds, said having professionals like herself based at a school removes a lot of barriers, especially if a child is dealing with trauma stemming from life at home.
“Because some situations are familial abuse, being here is very safe for some kids–just being in a totally different community and not having to cross into home. It’s just totally separate, which makes it easier and less stressful for everybody,” Braunstein said. “There’s no power struggle about coming, which can be a tough element and can add to the challenges.”
The easy access to mental health services has been helpful to students like Skadra.
“It’s hard for me to keep stuff to myself. When I do I get really angry. I start to burst, and it just doesn’t work. So having someone I can talk to regularly helps a lot,” Skadra said.
Braunstein said having a student like Skadra championing mental health services is empowering.
“She’s able to say, ‘I have experienced very tough stuff, and it’s OK to have a difficult time. You’re not the only one,’” Braunstein said. “It is so important for this incredible brave, resilient person to be able to stand up there and be like ‘I got you. You’re not alone. There are things that are hard, but there is also hope and help.’”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.