BE INVOLVED TOPEKA!
Although Florence Crittenton Services was founded in 1896 and has had a presence in Topeka since 1900, most people in Kansas have never heard of it.
“I think Florence Crittenton is a hidden gem,” says CEO, Dana Schoffelman.
“Our biggest challenge is getting people to know we’re a resource in the community.” She also believes there is some misinformation out there about who it helps.
When the nonprofit agency was founded by Charles Crittenton and named after his late daughter, Florence, its mission was to provide a place for sick and indigent women, and act as a daycare provider for working women. It later evolved into a home for unwed mothers and their adoptive babies.
“That’s really not what society needs from us anymore, so several years ago we pivoted our mission to the mental health needs of our community,” says Dana.
Today, Florence Crittenton has 25 locations across the country and serves a diverse population. “In our inpatient program and our psychiatric inpatient program, we predominantly serve ages 13 to 18,” says Jolee Eckert, director of clinical services. “In our outpatient program, we serve all ages and genders.”
One of the families the agency has helped knows all too well how important its programs are. A couple of years ago, Cathy* needed assistance with her two adopted teenage daughters, Julia* and Christine*.
The girls had suffered terrible childhood abuse from their father and abandonment by their mother. When they were little, even though Christine was younger, she would try to take care of and protect Julia, who is on the autism spectrum and has ADHD. As children, survival was their main focus.
Due to this trauma, the teens had multiple mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. They were becoming harder and harder to control. Julia was defiant and suffering from depression and other issues. Christine started using drugs and running away and was taking part in risky behaviors. Cathy was constantly worried for their mental and physical wellbeing and was desperate to find a place where the girls could get help and live happier and healthier lives.
“I originally chose Flo Crit for Julia because it was a 14-bed facility, it was a reasonable distance from home, and it was only for young girls,” she says. “I didn’t want boys there to be a distraction and I didn’t want her to get lost in the system.”
Julia was in the psychiatric inpatient treatment program for two months, and when she left, Christine entered the program after completing a 28-day drug rehab program at another facility.
“Flo Crit saved my family,” says Cathy. “They saved the girls and they saved me because we would never be where we are today without their support, their help, and their encouragement.”
During family therapy, Cathy also learned how to change her reactions to the girls’ behaviors at home. “I trust the folks at Flo Crit because they helped keep me grounded as well. I always felt like I was part of the team. They listened to my input and gave me suggestions. I learned that there were things that I needed to work on too.”
Christine, now 15, is currently doing outpatient therapy with Florence Crittenton and although she is still battling with some depression, she is doing great overall. She is on the honor roll at school, has a part-time job, and just acquired her driver’s permit. Julia, now 17, also has a part-time job and is doing well. Cathy says they still roll their eyes at her at times, but that typical teenage behavior is something she can easily handle.
Everyone at the agency is really passionate about helping families and individuals live their best lives. “I really love that the services we provide help people rediscover their innate health and to rediscover their goodness,” says Dana. “We have this saying about being able to see the good in people before they can see it in themselves, and that’s how we carry the hope for people."
By the time people finally come in for help, adds Jolee, they are often feeling so defeated and ashamed about their situation that it takes some time to empower them and give them hope. “It brings me a lot of joy to be able to create programming for our community that allows people to show up as their best selves and to really understand themselves as good human beings.”
One prominent issue many people are facing, says Dana, is anxiety. “I think there is so much anxiety, especially in adolescence. There’s a lot of pressure with having to be ‘on’ all the time and constantly comparing yourself through social media. The inner critic that people have about not being quite good enough has created a lot of anxiety in our society.”
And of course, COVID-19 has greatly increased or exacerbated mental health issues. “There is a deep sense of isolation, especially with COVID,” says Jolee. “This isolation can also lead to depression.”
This spring, Florence Crittenton recently opened its Center for Integrative Health, so there are now two locations in Topeka. Among other clinics, the new center houses their Stress Management Clinic, which addresses the biology of mental health and the body’s reaction to mental health symptoms, and how that can lead to physical health problems.
“We’re really excited about this,” says Dana. “People can come in and just engage the Stress Management Clinic, even if they’re not a patient in our mental health services.”
To help the community, Florence Crittenton in turn needs help from the community in order to continue providing these much needed services. There are a number of ways to do so, such as becoming a long-term donor, having your company match your contributions, purchasing items on its wish list, or volunteering your time as a member of its Board of Directors.
For more information on Florence Crittenton Services of Topeka, and how you can help or be helped, go to www.flocritkansas.org.
[*Names have been changed for privacy.]