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Maryville Jen School Says “Happy Thanksgiving” with Extra-Large Cheesecake Project

Originially published November 26, 2015
By: Community Contributor (Chicago Tribune)

maryville pic
Culinary-minded students at Maryville’s Jen School filled orders for more than 26 homemade cheesecakes this week for a Thanksgiving fundraising project, proving once again that teamwork can whip up excellent desserts.

The baking project, which took place in the school’s kitchen, was supervised by Antoinette Tomasello, the Jen School chef. “We decided to do this project because it was a little bit different,” Tomasello said. “The boys always benefit from coming in the kitchen to help with food preparation. They learn to work as a group, follow a recipe and see a project from start to finish.”

The Maryville Jen School, located in Des Plaines, provides specialized academic and vocational opportunities for boys in 5th to 12th grades who are experiencing academic, emotional, behavioral or cognitive challenges that can potentially limit their life successes.

The Jen School Cheesecakes were available in traditional, chocolate and pumpkin flavors and were sold for $20 each. The project required 213 pounds of cream cheese, 19 cups of granulated sugar, 11 cups of brown sugar, 24 tablespoons of vanilla extract, 100 eggs, 17 cups of sour cream, 59 tablespoons of flour, 26 cups of graham crackers, 72 Oreo cookies, seven 15-ounce cans of pumpkin puree, 14 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice, 32 ounces of chocolate and 95 tablespoons of butter.

This was the Jen School Cheesecake Project’s inaugural year and it appears that it will return in 2016. “We thought it would be a great fundraiser and we also see the pride our boys experience when someone buys something they made themselves.”

Those who weren’t able to get their cheesecake orders in by November 20 need not despair. Word has it that a Jen School Christmas Baking Project is also in the works.

To learn more about the Jen School, please call 847-390-3020. For information about Maryville, a Des Plaines-based 501 (c)(3) organization that cares for children and strengthens families, please visit


Who’s the grownup here, anyway? logo12[1]

Originallly published Thursday, June 4, 2015, 12:16 AM


Let the fact-finding begin.

Each situation calls for a different parental response, depending on everything from a child’s age and temperament to her maturity or lack thereof.

But no kids’ conflict ever ends well when intervening adults go crazy themselves. I’m thinking of the Memorial Day beatdown in Juniata Park that left two children and two adults – one of them knocked unconscious – needing hospital care.

The battle erupted because one girl allegedly hit another.

I don’t know the alleged victim, but I have to believe she’s been more harmed by witnessing the beatdown than she was by the hit she allegedly suffered.

Because there’s nothing more frightening to a kid than watching the adults in their lives – whom they rely upon to keep them safe – acting in ways that are reckless and dangerous, says Julie Campbell. As director of trauma services at the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center, she and her 12-person staff provide intensive therapy to children ages 18 months to 13 years who have witnessed or experienced trauma.

“It’s scary for children to see their parents lose control and become aggressive, even if it’s on the child’s behalf,” she says. “It can create a lot of confusing feelings for children. On the one hand, they may feel loved and supported because their parents are stepping in to protect them. Yet they may also feel guilty because something bigger has happened that their parent is involved in and may get in trouble for.”

What happened in Juniata Park is a microcosm of what’s happening across America, according to a 2010 investigation by the U.S. Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence.

Of the country’s 76 million children, an estimated 46 million are exposed to violence, crime and abuse either as victims or witnesses. Exposure is associated with long-term physical, psychological and emotional harm. Worse, these kids are at higher risk of engaging in criminal behavior themselves, perpetuating the cycle of violence.

Kids learn what they live, as the saying goes.

There is immense impact on a child who witnesses violence, says Campbell.

“They can develop post-traumatic stress disorder and, if the violence is ongoing, develop a lot of anticipatory anxiety about when the violence will happen again,” she says. “We see kids with sleep problems, difficulty concentrating and irritability, which can lead to difficulties in managing their own emotional response to stressful situations.

“Other kids withdraw, become depressed and lose interest in school or other activities.”

Campbell says that parents who react inappropriately to their kids’ battles often had the best of intentions at heart.

“When children have a conflict with their peers, it can be really stressful for parents. They want to be protective and advocate for their child,” she says. “But if they don’t keep their own emotions in check, they lose the opportunity to use the ‘teachable moment’ to help their children learn positive ways to deal with the conflict.”

Other parents get violent not because their child was wronged by a peer but because they perceive that they themselves have been disrespected.

“Their self-esteem gets threatened. They want to make the point that ‘No one does this to my child.’ ”

In other words, the conflict is perceived as an affront to their authority. And they react in ways that show they have no business being a parent in the first place.

That’s my opinion, by the way, not Campbell’s. But, sorry, I won’t mince words about an adult’s duty to hold it together for the kids who are watching and learning from their actions.

What happened in Juniata Park was a disgrace. The children deserved better.

All children do.


Childhaven uses brain science to help at-risk kids fit inChildhaven Logo (Green)

Originally published May 20, 2015 at 6:51 pm 

By Jerry Large (Seattle Times)


Ending childhood neglect and abuse is possible, and it happens now at Childhaven.

Watching a circle of 4- to 5-year-old children sitting with their teacher talking about whatever pops into their heads could make any adult smile. Kids say the darndest things, don’t they?

Sometimes, though, what they say can be painful to hear, as when a girl mentions her father’s drinking or a boy asks if it’s OK for parents to hit their children. You never know where the conversation might go when the children are sitting in a circle at Childhaven, a nonprofit that provides therapeutic care to children who’ve been neglected or abused. But there’s still reason to smile because staff members know how to guide the conversations in ways that help heal childhood wounds. That dynamic is far too rare.

It can be difficult for children whose lives are affected by divorce, parental substance abuse, mental illness in the home, housing instability and other negative factors to conform to expectations when they arrive at school, and schools often respond by throwing them out.

That makes intervention before kindergarten urgent so that children can arrive at kindergarten with a better chance of fitting in. The research that explains and helps change behaviors resulting from adverse experiences has been around at least since the 1990s and has been expanding year after year. Childhaven puts it to use, and that’s why reading the story about K-12 made me want to tell you what Childhaven does. It’s not just child care, but therapeutic child care and includes broad interaction with families to help them achieve stability and growth.

Its model works, and Childhaven President Maria Chavez Wilcox, told me that’s why she’s in Seattle. Chavez Wilcox learned about Childhaven when she worked for United Way of King County in the 1980s. She left Seattle and held a number of nonprofit leadership positions. She was CEO of United Way of Orange County in California when she decided she wanted to get closer to the work nonprofits do by running one whose mission energized her.

“I moved here because this is the only agency that has the best shot at ending child abuse,” she said. “Childhaven is the largest agency in the country that addresses this (child abuse and neglect), and the only one that is as therapeutically focused.” Mental-health care is at the core of its work. “People don’t know we’re doing brain-altering work,” Chavez Wilcox said.

She wants to expand the nonprofit’s reach. “We’re taking care of three to four hundred kids, and there’s over 3,000 in King County and over 20,000 in the state of Washington that are being hurt and neglected right now … from not being given any food, to being locked in closets to being hurt,” Chavez Wilcox said.

“I’m a child-abuse survivor, so I know what it’s like not to have (the support Childhaven provides),” she added.

“One of the things my mother always said to me,” she said, was: “ ‘I didn’t have any help and I didn’t know who to talk to.’ I don’t want one single person to say that to me in Seattle.”

The children at Childhaven’s three locations are between 2 months and 5 years old and are referred to the nonprofit agency by the state or a court because they’ve been subject to neglect or abuse.

Childhaven’s successful model begins with a highly trained staff. Teachers there need at least a B.A. degree in psychology, social work, education or a related field. Therapists need an M.A. Class sizes are limited.

Children learn emotional and social skills such as how to put their feelings into words and to control and direct those feelings. “We teach them, you can be angry, but you can’t hurt anyone,” Bethany Larsen told me.

Larsen is vice president for branch program operations and has a degree in elementary education. But that didn’t prepare her to understand and help children whose lives are full of chaos. That came as Childhaven absorbed and applied the lessons of recent brain science. She showed me around the Seattle branch this week and told me about the program.

Children learn how to interact with teachers and how to trust. They get the consistency and routine that a chaotic home may lack. There’s a nurse on staff at each branch, and the children are fed nutritious meals. Each child has an individual treatment plan based on his or her diagnosis and kept on track by regular progress reports.

The parents are helped, too, because often they haven’t had the kind of upbringing that would prepare them to provide what their children need. There’s parent-child therapy, visits to the home and crisis intervention.

Childhaven even picks up the children each day and returns them home, and that’s about more than transportation. Teachers ride along, which is comforting for the children, and the teachers get a chance to see the home and the parents each day, giving them a better idea of the circumstances that affect the child on a daily basis.

Some parents start out angry that they’ve been sent to participate, Larsen said, but they see that the staff treats them with respect, and they come around. There’s a parent-advisory committee, so parents have a voice; after all, the program is about inclusion, not exclusion.

That inclusion goes double for children. “We don’t kick kids out,” Larsen said. A child may bite, hit or throw a chair, she said, but the staff lets them know, “We’re going to be there no matter what.”

Every child should have that kind of commitment and stability.