Children in Alexander’s Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF) are discovering the joy and the benefits of dance therapy. Introduced in April 2016, the dance therapy program involves the therapeutic use of movement to access creativity and emotions and promotes emotional, mental, physical and social health.
There are many benefits to dance therapy. It is a form of self-expression. In addition, there are physical benefits as it relates to it being a cardio workout. Dance therapy can create a modality of expressive art that can make the difference between resistance and relationship in the therapy setting by creating a non-threatening group. Moreover, it helps to improve social interactions among clients and clients and staff, as well as encourage discipline.
The dance therapy program is facilitated by Ms. Bahtyah Benyahmeen, a behavioral health counselor and a former dance teacher. During dance classes, she is joined by a PRTF staff member and together they work with the children on difference genres of dance, including Hip Hop, Ballet and line dances. Kids in PRTF enjoy putting together performances and are planning to do two performances a year.
Meet Alexander volunteer Pressly Williams. Pressly is 25 years old and grew up a couple of miles from Alexander. After college, she joined the family business (Renfrow Hardware). She also operates and manages a small farm in downtown Matthews called Renfrow Farms which sells fruits, vegetables, flowers and honey. She has been married to her husband for two years and is actively involved in their church. Pressly has been a dinner buddy for the past three months and enjoys doing all kinds of activities with her buddy.
What surprised you most about volunteering as a dinner buddy?
I was surprised to see just how much these kids crave adult interaction, constancy in relationship, and individualized attention. It’s been super fun to get to know and spend one-on-one time with an 11 year old. Despite our many differences, we have developed a true friendship throughout the past several months!
Any funny or inspiring stories to share about your dinner buddy?
My dinner buddy and I just have so much fun together! My buddy and I play basketball together for a full hour almost every single week. She practically inhales her food every time I come so that we can get to the gym as quickly as possible.
What do you wish other people knew about Alexander?
I wish everyone knew just how heartbreaking it is to sit in the cafeteria at dinnertime, simply observing all of these precious children eating and talking. I watch them and am brought back to my own childhood days eating lunch at school, lighthearted and carefree. And yet these precious children, who are so young and beautiful, have experienced neglect and abuse that I cannot fathom, carrying burdens that I cannot conceive. And yet I know and see that we are in fact much more alike than we are different. We all want to be loved, cherished and valued.
Yet there is hope! The staff at Alexander are doing all that is in their power to help these children cope with their troubles, learn to control their behaviors, heal from the trauma that has so deeply wounded them, and understand their worth and value in this world. The staff are truly changing lives with their deliberate care for these kids. We volunteers are privileged to come alongside them and be part of these precious children’s lives for this season!
What do you do when you aren’t working or volunteering?
I enjoy spending time with my husband, family and friends. I am a fanatic about growing flowers and love that it gets to be part of my job! I also love to read and listen to podcasts.
Interested in volunteer opportunities? We have a variety of ways for you to help our children. Visit our website and fill out the volunteer interest form.
Heading back to school can be a time of great excitement for kids and parents. Getting new school supplies, wearing a new outfit or pair of shoes is fun. But along with all the excitement, there is often a great deal of stress.
When kids head back to school, they have to manage meeting new teachers and classmates, adjusting to classroom expectations, and learning new information. In fact, school is often the most challenging part of a child’s day because it requires all their skills…social, self-regulation, and thinking skills to be successful. Children who struggle more than most with one or more of these skills can find school a pretty tough place.
What can you do to help make the transition back to school as smooth as possible? Here are some tips from Dr. Dawn O’Malley, Alexander’s Clinical Director.
Leave as little as possible to the unknown. If your child is anxious or negative about the start of school, plan a few trips to school before the first day. Ask for a quick, private introduction to the new teacher, volunteer to get classrooms ready, or check out some of the topics to be covered during the year. The more exposure your child has to their teacher and classroom before school starts, the less anxious they are likely to be.
Take it one step at a time. The first few weeks of school are really about getting back into the routine, so focus on sleep and wake times, getting out the door on time, and remembering to pack needed items for school. Keeping the same routine everyday will make this easier to master. At the end of the first week assess what worked and what didn’t. Maybe your child needs to wake up a few minutes earlier to get ready for school or to put all her things by the front door in the evening. Maybe keeping a school survival box in your car or at the front door is what you need. Fill your survival box with granola bars, lunch money, sharpened pencils, an extra set of gym clothes or whatever it is that your child seems to forget on a regular basis. Once the morning routine is going smoothly, take on another task such as the homework routine. Follow the same process, make a plan, try it out for a week or so, assess whether or not your plan needs tweaking.
Be realistic. We place more and more demands on our young people every year. At times, it seems we have forgotten what we can reasonably expect from children at each stage of development. If your child’s work load or a particular assignment seems way beyond what he can manage, help him to set his own goals. Maybe together you decide to complete 4 parts of a 5 part project and accept the lower grade this time.
Know your child. Every child learns differently and needs different things to be successful at school. Some kids study best in the middle of all the family action, while others need a quiet space. Some kids need a break before starting homework, while others need to get it finished right away. There are lots of ways to be successful at schoolwork, give your child a chance to try different things in order to figure out what is best for her.
Call in the troops. If your child is really struggling with the start of the new school year, let someone at school know quickly. Ask for a meeting with your child’s new teacher or the school counselor. Letting school staff know that your child is struggling and what you think might help, can prevent months of stress.
Ebenezer Baptist Church volunteers during the 2016 Easter egg hunt.
Cynthia first learned about Alexander through her niece Kendel and began volunteering last year. When she heard about Alexander’s need for volunteers during Easter this year, she got excited about meeting the kids and interacting with them. “It was rewarding to see how the kids helped each other find eggs. We saw kids take some of what they had found and share with others. Alexander has everything on site that a child will need to get them the help they need to get back on track and in school,” Cynthia said. Ebenezer Baptist Church volunteers couldn’t stop raving about their experience at Alexander. “Each person one that volunteered for the Easter egg hunt plans to return. One of our volunteers would like her son, a Psychology major, to volunteer at Alexander while he is home this summer,” she said.
Volunteering at Alexander was one of the most fulfilling times I’ve had this year. To see how spending a few hours doing an Easter egg hunt makes so many kids smile made me happy. It was truly an Easter blessing for each of us.
Cynthia currently works at Winston-Salem State University as Associate Director of Financial Aid. She lives in Charlotte and commutes to Winston-Salem each day. She enjoys spending time with her twins (who are away at college) and her daughter who is based in Greensboro. In her free time, she loves cooking their favorite foods whenever they visit home.