Monday, May 8, 2017

Alicia Stone, Clinical Intern: Giving youths space, to heal

            Alicia Stone has a crown tattooed on her finger.  It’s serves as a reminder that she, as young woman and aspiring professional, deserves to be treated well.
            Alicia, a student in the Master’s in Clinical Psychology Program at St. Michael’s College, has been interning under the supervision of Matt Sadowsky, Director of Laraway’s Clinical Program.  She earned an undergraduate degree from Johnson State College in 2010 and spent several summers working as a behavioral interventionist at Laraway.  She’s worked with a variety of age groups, but found a special affinity in working with kids.
            Alicia experienced some losses in her adolescence.  “I had some bad experiences with therapists when I was a teenager,” Alicia said.  “I want these kids to know that, whatever they’re facing, you CAN get to the other side.  Adolescents are a vulnerable population, between childhood and adulthood.  Rebellion is part of the process.”
            Alicia’s office is bright and cheerful with an image of a large, red heart on the wall.  There’s a stuffed animal---a brown bear---on her bookshelf and plenty of small manipulative toys to keep youthful hands busy while encouraging free-flowing, spontaneous chatter.
            When kids show up for therapy appointments, she may experience a variety of youthful emotions.  Some arrive ready to chat while engaging her in a game of Pokemon or a romp outside on Laraway’s 39-acre campus.  Others might be quiet, even sullen because of something that happened.  That’s when she gives them space.
            “You’re there for them, to hold their emotion,” she said.  “They don’t always like to let others in to help.”  This is when she might simply let them know she’s there if they want to talk.  Just being there, as a stable, supportive adult, can be helpful.
            Asked what she likes about interning at Laraway, Alicia smiled and said, “Every day is different.  Sometimes kids use you as a punching bag and, then, later, they’ll send some small message---a word or gesture---to let you know your relationship is still intact.”
            Alicia recognizes that therapists must carefully guard against vicarious trauma---becoming negatively impacted by the trauma experienced by their clients.  She takes time for self-care via yoga and a guided meditation app on her phone.  She sees value in her 30-minute commute to and from Laraway each day.  Her cats, Bolt, Callie and G (short for Giovanna) offer unconditional love.
            “Everyone should have some sense of unconditional love in their life,” Alicia said.
            Alicia’s 8-month clinical internship ends of June 5th and she’ll soon have a Master’s Degree in hand.  She’s thoughtfully planning “Termination”—the process of saying goodbye to clients and ending the therapeutic relationship.  Progress, growth and strengths are shared in conversation. There’s also a termination activity, planned with the client, to mark the passage.
            “You have to make an ending a positive experience,” Alicia said. 
            Reflecting on her experience at Laraway, Alicia said, “I highly respect Matt Sadowsky and strive to achieve the blend of both private and public sector work that he role models. He’s been a really great supervisor.  Actually, Matt and Mag (Sladyk-Benoit) have both offered me great insights when I’ve had questions.”
            “Interns like Alicia are the very reason we created Laraway’s Internship Program,” said Matt Sadowsky.  “She is bright, fun, and really interested in learning this craft.  Best of all, the youth that she worked with got to learn from her as she got to learn from them.  That’s one of the benefits of doing this work---we all get to be life-long learners.”
                We will miss Alicia and wish her well.  Her immediate plans are to study for the EPPP for Licensure and acquire full-time employment, working with kids, of course.
            What have the kids at Laraway taught Alicia?
            “PATIENCE,” she say, flashing her broad, beautiful smile.
            Thank you, Alicia, for showing Laraway’s kids that they, too, deserve to be treated well.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Laraway Youth Participate in Advocacy Day at Vermont Legislature

     Laraway youth participated in an advocacy training day at the Vermont State House in Montpelier. They learned about the legislative process (i.e., how a bill becomes a law) and how to contact their legislators to advocate for topics important to them. During the training they picked apart a bill on raising the minimum wage, a significant issue for young people entering the paid work force, many in minimum wage, service sector jobs. During the activity they all agreed the minimum wage should be raised. They also identified who might be opposed to such a bill: employers facing slim profit margins. 
     Sitting in on and observing the workings of legislative committees was also an important part of the experience. Youth witnessed Bethany Pombar, Executive Director of the Vermont Coalition of Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs (VCRHYP) testify before a House committee on a bill addressing housing for youth. Overall, youth representing Laraway behaved appropriately during these sessions even, it shall be noted, when some of the adults in the room presented challenging examples of role modelling. Legislative environments can be stressful when high stakes issues are considered!
      During lunch, a member of the House of Representatives from Dover approached the youths' table in the State House cafeteria and started chatting. All youth shared their transition goals---an important bridge to adulthood---but especially important for youth who've been in state's custody. Two were fairly engaged throughout conversations, articulately noting changes they'd like to see to ease their transitions. One youth suggested that Guardian ad litems (GALs) should be Educational Surrogates when possible, not placing this expectation on foster parents.  Another youth suggested better regulations for quality foster homes. The third youth did not share their view publicly, but shared with the Laraway group their feeling that law enforcement needs to be trauma informed. The representative from Dover encouraged our youth to reach out to their local representatives. 
       There was a photo op with Senator Bobby Starr of Orleans County and friendly introductions and exchanges with Lt. Governor David Zuckerman. Youth received a tour of the State House and witnessed House passage of a resolution naming the day, April 13, 2017, as Youth Development Program (YDP) and Vermont Coalition of Runaway and Homeless Youth Programs (VCRHYP) Youth Awareness Day.  
      It was a long---11 hours---and exciting day.  Laraway youth participants expressed satisfaction that they attended and would encourage other youth to participate in the future. Spending time talking with legislators and meeting Lt. Governor Zuckerman were highlights.  The representative from Dover was phenomenal---super genuine and engaging.  Another great day with our youth! 

Note:  Thank you, Mollie Norcross, for providing details for this story.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Laraway co-hosts Screenings of Film "Resilience"

     Laraway, in partnership with Lamoille Restorative Center, Lamoille Family Center, Lamoille County Mental Health Services, Johnson State College, Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union, Community College of Vermont and Healthy Lamoille Valley is sponsoring screenings of the new documentary Resilience.
     The film, a follow-up to Paper Tigers, which was presented last year at public screenings in the area, looks at the research surrounding ACEs or Adverse Childhood Experiences.  We are learning that negative childhood experiences can adversely impact not only emotional health and behavior, but also physical health.
     The following screenings are free and open to the public:  March 21, 6:00 p.m at Hazen Union High School; March 29, 6:00 p.m. at Johnson State College; and April 3 at 6:00 p.m. at Green Mountain Technical and Career Center.  A panel discuss will follow.
     For more information on the film, please visit

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

"I love how the property and how the outdoors are seamlessly embedded in the curriculum"

      Kristy Wrigley studied political science in college and started her career working in residential care with at-risk children.  She ran a group home in Burlington for five years.  She spent time outside, engaging the kids in therapeutic outdoor activities.  They went camping, building deep connections amid nature’s peacefulness.
     “I wanted to go live outdoors for a few years,” Kristy said with a smile.
     She began a Masters in Mental Health Counseling at Trinity College and interned with Mike Gray at The Howard Center in Burlington.  He worked with children who experienced significant sexual abuse. 
     “Mike was an incredibly influential mentor for me,” Kristy said.
     Kristy completed her degree and wrote a grant to support treatment for children with challenging sexual behaviors.  The grant was funded and she worked for Washington County Mental Health Services.  Her clients included those convicted of sexual offenses and those at risk of committing a sexual crime.  At the same time, she provided clinical consultation at a specialized camp, facilitating groups and providing therapy.  She then worked in private practice and as a contractor for the Vermont Department for Children and Families.  She became the Clinical Director of Comprehensive Care at The Howard Center’s Jarrett House, guiding program development.
     Kristy’s association with Laraway began three years ago; she provided consultative services in her specialty area.  Today, she is on Laraway’s staff as the Clinical Supervisor at Laraway School.  Kristy supervises and supports the clinicians working directly with students.  She supervises all treatment plans, making sure treatment is integrated with educational goals and insuring Medicaid compliance.  She also provides individual and group therapy for students, including initiating a Girls’ Group to foster open dialogue and positive peer relationships. 
     “I love working at Laraway, I really do,” Kristy said.  “The atmosphere is really positive and the students respond to that.  I love the property and how the outdoors are seamlessly embedded in the curriculum.  My roots are in wilderness therapy and Laraway is a great fit for me.  People here are very committed and constantly asking the question, ‘What is good for the student?’”
     Asked about her approach to clinical supervision, Kristy thought for a moment and said, “For better or worse, I’m a pretty direct person.  It’s the Philly girl in me.  (Kristy grew up near Philadelphia.)  I try to be direct.  I also try to empower.  I want to know what my supervisees’ passions are.  I want them to feel empowered to go in there and do what they think is right for a kid.  I provide a scaffold.  Within those parameters, a clinician is afforded all this room to make the work their own.  Providing consistent clinical supervision is also very important.  People need to have it every week to make sure they’re doing good work and that there’s a place to share it.”
     Kristy commented on all the good work happening at Laraway School.  “Kids are getting clinical offerings every day.  There’s all this sensory stuff going on and outdoor adventure education is amazing.  Kids will behave in a positive way when their sensory input is aligned. Some kids need a little; some need a lot.  We’re here to provide what they need, as individuals.”

     A question Kristy ponders in her work, and ancillary research, is:  How does Laraway become increasingly evidence-based and outcomes-based?  This is a tall order, but one that can’t be ignored as we strive to prepare students for happy, healthy independent lives.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

If You Teach a Youth to Prune...Increasing Laraway's Harvest

     George Swanson, Laraway’s part-time Land Steward, and a gentleman farmer with his own acreage in the Northeast Kingdom, has been planning plantings for when the snow melts and the ground rejuvenates. He sketched out a plan for crop rotation, to make the most of our fertile, certified-organic soil along the Lamoille River. He is planning a new plot for tomatoes, strategically located to minimize blight. After consulting with Lisa Rock, our inspired and creative cook, George will plant more root crops and increase potato production.  We want to grow what Lisa and Dave can use in the kitchen---and lots of it! The root cellar in our farmhouse can store about 400 pounds of produce.  George is aiming to fill the space with healthy, nutritious veggies for our cafeteria.
     “The saying goes ‘any month with R in its spelling is a month for tree pruning.’.  Our first tree pruning student workshop starts February 22 (weather permitting) and will continue into March,” George said.  It looks like snowshoes will be needed!”
     Seed starts will take root in Laraway’s classrooms in March and April, presaging what we hope will be a plentiful growing season.  Feeding kids healthy food helps them grow…and learn.  Teaching kids to grow their own vegetables satisfies their appetites while equipping them with self-sustaining skills for adulthood.
     Stay tuned…and WATCH OUR GARDEN GROW!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Greg Stefanski talks Community on "Present Time" at 99.3 WBTV Radio

     Greg Stefanski, Laraway's Executive Director will speak about the concept of Community on "Present Time" at WBTV LP 99.3, live streamed at on Friday, February 17, 2017 from 10:10 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.  In addition to his role at Laraway, Greg is a community activist and adjunct faculty member at Johnson State College and the Community College of Vermont.  He also designed a college-level course on the concept of Community.
     As Greg points out in his writing, "Community is can grow, it can be harmed.  We have to take care of it, especially in a world of competing influences, some of which might actually harm community." 
     So much of our work at Laraway is about helping the children, youth and families we serve find and sustain Community.  If this topic catches your fancy, we hope you'll give a listen!

Monday, February 13, 2017

You're Invited! Open House at Laraway on Thursday, February 23rd, 4:00-6:00 p.m.

     Have you ever wondered what it's really like to be a foster parent?  Did you know that Laraway's Clinical Program has expanded, offering services to local schools and community members?  Would you like to see our renovated youth recreational space, supported by a grant and designed with input from our clients?  If we've captured your curiosity, we encourage you to visit.
     Join us for Laraway's Winter Open House on Thursday, February 23rd from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at our Farmhouse at 275 Vermont Route 15W in Johnson.  Light refreshments will be served.  For more information and/or to RSVP, please contact Katherine Stamper at 802-635-2805 x 106 or  If you are interested in visiting Laraway and can't attend the Open House, please contact Katherine for a private tour.
     Laraway Youth & Family Services is a non-profit organization dedicated to identifying and building on the strengths of children and youth with emotional, behavioral and mental health challenges, through alternative education, therapeutic foster care and public school based behavioral intervention supports.  For more information, please visit