Peace begins with a smile. – Mother Teresa
Individuals living outside of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, may pause when they hear about poverty in a city that is considered so affluent, but a 2013 survey conducted by the City of Lee’s Summit shows that this affluence only makes things more complicated. Lee’s Summit residents living at or below the poverty level find themselves trapped in a “bubble” of poverty surrounded by a larger, affluent community. This geography creates gaps in services that make it seem impossible to access transportation, social services and community resources.
To address these gaps in services, Lee’s Summit CARES introduced two different programs in 2013: an in-school therapy program and Bridges.
The in-school therapy program provides access to a therapist for students with mental/behavioral health needs who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to receive such care.
Bridges is an anti-violence initiative that combines Lee’s Summit CARES’ well-known parenting program with a liaison who helps families navigate social services.
In 2016, with funding from the Health Forward Foundation, Lee’s Summit CARES began to focus on our city’s most vulnerable population by merging these two programs. The result is wrap-around services for individual families, including parenting education for mom and dad, mental health services for their children, household budgeting, workforce development and 24/7 access to a parent liaison.
One young man who has benefitted from these services is a fifth grade student named Javion. Javion has a special love for sneakers, his favorite food is fettuccini Alfredo, his favorite school subject is reading, and he likes to spend his free time drawing. Javion’s mom has been attending Love and Logic parenting classes hosted by Lee’s Summit CARES for eight years. She credits Love and Logic for helping her maintain sanity in her home by decreasing stress and arguments. However, it wasn’t until this year, when Javion began receiving direct services through the Health Forward-funded program, that this family was able to address some of their bigger issues.
Anger issues that had previously gone undiagnosed bubbled up to the surface and threatened to keep Javion out of school. A team of caring individuals – including Lee’s Summit CARES’ parent liaison and in-school therapist, Javion’s school principal, counselor and teacher, as well as Javion and his mom – worked together to come up with a plan to keep Javion in school.
Today, Javion is making progress. He is learning to control his anger, he’s developing a strong relationship with his teacher, he has been connected to a mentor and he’s gained access to basic health needs, including orthodontic care for his contagious smile, accessed through the parent liaison.
After nine years of Love and Logic parenting classes and a full year of in-school therapy, Javion and his mom are committed to maintaining the life skills they have acquired. They, and all the community partners invested in this program, are well aware that there is no quick fix for the pervasive effects of poverty. But there’s a peace in knowing that this initial investment means Javion’s genuine, engaging smile will make a positive impact on countless lives for generations to come.
Lee’s Summit CARES is a nonprofit community coalition that provides programs for youth substance use prevention, parenting and character development. The 30-year-old nonprofit agency works to maintain a healthy and safe community for children, youth and families of the Greater Lee’s Summit area. For additional information or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit LSCares.org or call (816) 347-3298.