Volunteer Spotlight: Nancy Bunt

One person can change a life forever. That’s what Nancy Bunt does with children at Alexander through Reiki, meditation, guided imagery, and relaxation techniques. It all started with ‘Dan the Artist’, a young man who visited Nancy’s second grade classroom just once to lead the class in a guided relaxation exercise. That one moment solidified meditation practice in her life forever. While Nancy does not know Dan’s full name, she made a promise to herself to pay his gift forward.

Nancy Bunt, Alexander Volunteer

Nancy discovered Alexander Youth Network through one of her students who was interning at Alexander while she worked on her master’s degree in social work. When asked what inspired her to commit so much time and effort, Nancy responds that “after learning about the integrative approach Alexander takes in supporting the healing of children recovering from the effects of trauma I knew it was a place I would enjoy sharing my skills.”

When she first began volunteering weekly at Alexander she thought she would help out for maybe six months. “That was almost six years ago”, Nancy says with a spirited laugh. “I never imagined just how much joy, inspiration, healing and growth was going to come out of this experience for me personally. I’ve been able to witness the positive impact it has, and I believe it’s a valuable experience for the children, the staff, and myself.”

One of Nancy’s favorite experiences involved a diminutive six year-old boy name Marvin*. Marvin would wrap himself up tightly from head to toe in a blanket on the floor during guided mediation. He would not move a muscle the entire time she was there, declaring that he didn’t want anyone to touch him. This went on for six weeks. On the seventh week, Nancy saw him in the hallway as she was walking to the class. “When he saw me coming his eyes got huge, his face lit up, and he exclaimed to his teacher, ‘I can’t sit here, I have Reiki today!’ She knew in that moment that her small gift was a huge one for Marvin.

When Nancy is not working at A Reiki Life Academy and volunteering, she often spends time in nature, goes hiking, enjoys yoga, and enjoys amazing adventures with her husband Dennis.

*Name changed to protect privacy

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Service for a Lifetime, Impact for Forever

“Our fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch.” – Judy Blume

You just don’t see many 90-year old women driving a burnt orange Hummer. And if you called it orange, friends say Hazel would remind you it was in fact ‘Solar Flare’. Often spotted jumping into her mammoth vehicle for a quick trip from The Cypress to Blowing Rock, Hazel Solomon was a sight to be seen according to her good friend and money manager Al Winget. Duke and Yale educated, Hazel worked for 39 years as the head nurse in the ER of Charlotte Memorial Hospital (now better known as Carolinas Medical Center).

A close friend of hers in Blowing Rock told us Hazel “loved new experiences, tennis, Duke Basketball and studying at school.” In her eighties, Hazel set out to try a motorcycle for the first time and also dragged friends along for a trip in a hot air balloon. This zest for life crossed over into her professional drive as well. She was one of just a handful of women selected to attend Yale in the 1940’s, breaking down barriers to women’s equality within education.

Introduced to Alexander Youth Network in April 1995 by her friend and business acquaintance Ben Vernon, Hazel began to make small gifts to the agency on a regular basis. She would visit campus to chat with the children, demonstrating her incredible compassion those most marginalized in our community.

Three years after her first visit, Hazel decided to include Alexander in her will. A dedicated member of Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church, Hazel believed in the power of service and philanthropy. Having outlived her parents and sister, she began to invest in real estate ventures to much success. She would immediately invest the proceeds of her dealings and her estate continued to grow. When Hazel passed away in February of 2016, she left the bulk of her estate to charity. Alexander Youth Network was one of those beneficiaries.

We are forever grateful for Hazel’s warm smile and huge heart. For more than 20 years, Hazel provided the children at Alexander the opportunity to heal and realize their potential. The legacy she leaves behind includes countless lives touched, dreams made possible and hopes realized.

Bark and Heal

There is a special magic that happens when children and dogs connect. An exciting new one-of-a-kind pilot program at Alexander Youth Network launched in January 2018 to accomplish just that. The Bark and Heal program, offered through the support of Furbabies Animal Rescue, pairs dogs in need of adoption with children in our Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF). Daryl Wagner, a long-time Therapeutic Foster parent with Alexander, is also the owner of the rescue. “These children, like the dogs they train, have been treated as though they do not have value. But they have so much love to give and should know that countless people love them in return.”

Drawing on the success of the A New Leash on Life program, the children teach basic obedience, house training, and socialization through positive reinforcement and repetition. Throughout the program the kids learn how to manage their assigned dog’s personalities, including rewarding positive behaviors and redirecting undesirable ones. Lori Douglas, program manager, notes that “the process of teaching the dogs to moderate their energy and emotions allows the kids to model those own behaviors themselves.”

The program is already making a huge difference in the four weeks since its launch. Nikki Cannon, one of Alexander’s residential treatment supervisors, shared that after the first day of the program she overheard one of the participants telling his teacher, “I can’t swim anymore…I am a trainer now and I won’t have time!”

Lori, who first envisioned the program 25 years ago while working as a social worker on the streets of Baltimore, cannot wait to review results of the first eight-week session. The University of Northern Georgia is also conducting a study of the program with pre and post outcomes to help better refine the effort. We are incredibly grateful for the support of Daryl Wagner, Furbabies Animal Rescue, the University of North Georgia and the Bill and Sharon Allen Family Foundation whose transformative gift made this program a reality.

Gimme a Beat!

Have you ever found yourself completely lost in a song or piece of music, perhaps bopping your head or walking in step to the beat? There’s a reason why. Joe Heritage, lead trainer at Alexander Youth Network, explains that “Research suggests that music can positively influence brain function, mood, pulse rate, respiration, blood pressure, posture, and stress level. All of these functions can have an impact on emotional states, behavior and learning. In other words, music is good stuff.”

 

The children in psychiatric residential treatment at Alexander’s main campus were recently treated to multiple music sessions with Liz Corwin and Holly Johnson, singer-songwriters who teamed up to create Liz, Holly, & The Jolly Lollies.

Liz shared, “Holly and I looked forward to each music session and getting to sing and dance with the children at Alexander. We believe a significant aspect of our job as educators and musicians is to provide music that can support children in learning how to self-regulate. We also believe that music is a birthright and that all children can learn to sing in tune and keep a rhythm.”

Made possible through a gift by Ryan Hyslop of Rhino Market, a former volunteer yoga instructor at Alexander, the Jolly Lollies plan to be back on campus soon for more time with the kids. “We felt like the children were all very receptive to our lessons and not only learned some new songs, rhythms, and musical games but were able to lose track of time and have fun,” Holly and Liz said after their final visit to campus. “Thank you for sharing these amazing kids with us and we hope to come back and sing with them again soon.”

Thank you, Ryan, Liz and Holly. Music is medicine, let’s all take a moment to tune out and tune in.

Giving is Living

This past July, the Forest Hill Middle School Urban Serve group brought to life the old adage that your greatness is not what you have, it’s what you give. The teens joined us for a three-day campus beautification service project that included painting benches, refreshing the children’s garden, laying mulch and more.

Laura Wilson and Ellie Lacey of Forest Hill Church shared that the project provided a great opportunity to empower their students to serve others in their community in small and simple ways. Volunteer Ellie Golbus remarked, “I believe that serving Alexander is important because we are called to serve locally in our community. At Alexander I am given the chance to meet kids that have had a difficult upbringing and help them to build healthy relationships. I am fortunate to be raised in my family and serving Alexander allows me an opportunity to give back.”

Alexander welcomes nearly 1,200 volunteers to our various campus locations each year. Volunteers can serve in several different capacities, including beautification and clean-up, tutoring, lunch and dinner buddies and more. Interested in volunteer opportunities? Visit our website and fill out the volunteer interest form.

Cruising with TIAA

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TIAA Volunteers

Albert Einstein hit the nail on the head when he said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” The use of bicycles not only provides an excellent outlet for the big emotions children at Alexander Youth Network often experience, but the simple act of pedaling has actually been shown to help them self-regulate and self-soothe.

Many of the therapies utilized at Alexander are both rhythmic and repetitive in nature. These types of activities positively impact key neural networks which help children who have experienced trauma find their balance, physically and emotionally. Plus, biking is just plain fun. On any given day, the kids on the Alexander main campus can be seen hitting the trails and the quad with their staff, lunch and dinner buddies in tow. Pamela Rebak, a current volunteer lunch buddy for nine-year old Robert*, notes that Every time we ride bikes, I think of how one day my buddy will be able to look back on our time together and remember that in that moment he was just a kid on a bike, just like every other kid who has ever ridden a bike.”

With nearly 8,700 children served last year alone, Alexander maintains a constant need for new and lightly used bicycles. This past June, the agency was the lucky recipient of 20 new Specialized bikes donated by TIAA. The company hosted a bike build on their Charlotte campus, with staff members unpacking and assembling each bike as a team-building activity. Jarian Kerekes, Director of Corporate and Social Responsibility for TIAA shared, “Our staff had a great time assembling the bikes and contributing to a cause about which we feel passionate. We’re glad to know that the bikes provided by TIAA will put smiles on so many faces.”

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.

 

*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality

 

Tips for Back to School Success

It’s that time again. The start of the school year can bring excitement, as well as fear and anxiety. Back-to-school time can be exceptionally difficult for the 20 percent of children who suffer from mental health challenges. The ability to sit still, get organized, adapt to a new schedule can be overwhelming for children with anxiety and other mental health disorders. So how can parents make the transition to school as easy as possible? We asked Alexander Youth Network’s new Vice President of Clinical Services Dr. Kamilah McKissick for some tips.

Dr. McKissick
Dr. Kamilah McKissick, Vice President of Clinical Services at Alexander Youth Network

What can I do as a parent to start my kid off on the right foot this school year?

Set a schedule. The sooner the whole family, especially children and adolescents, get back on a regular schedule for school the easier it is for kids to adjust to the school routine.

How can I support my child who is going to a new school?

This is a great time to have a conversation with your child to see how they are feeling. Are they worried or scared about anything? If they are worried about who they will sit with at lunch, it can be really helpful to “role play” or talk through it with them. They might feel silly, you might too! But this practice can help them feel confident in that situation. Don’t forget to ask them what they are excited about. This is a great time to identify the positives with them to build on – in fact they might be delighted to be leaving one group of kids behind and having a fresh start at a new school, on a new team, or other activity. Also, plan something special for the first day or week. Take this time to process with them about how the day or week went.

What is the most important thing I can do if my child seems really anxious or depressed?

Don’t minimize their feelings. Hear their concerns – really listen and validate what they are saying. Normalize their feelings and then get a game plan together for them to be able to deal with their feelings. Sometimes, it helps a child to be able to voice their fears, realize their feelings are normal, and then get a game plan together to deal with it.

When should I seek help for my child?

If you see changes in your child’s normal behavior – sleeping, eating, change in friends, change in grades, an increase in irritability, withdrawing from their normal activities (i.e. sports, friends, etc.), then it is time to consult with your pediatrician. It is always important for parents to monitor their children’s internet usage. Your pediatrician will likely refer you to a therapist. Therapists help children and families talk through their feelings and problems and develop positive ways to express themselves. Sometimes, they will suggest a referral to a psychiatrist who uses medicine to help manage the symptoms related to mental health issues.


About Dr. Kamilah McKissick

This year, Alexander Youth Network welcomed Dr. Kamilah McKissick as its new Vice President of Clinical Services. Dr. McKissick brings a wealth of experience working with children and families to the organization. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She completed her Masters and Doctorate degrees at Loyola University. Dr. McKissick has had a vast array of clinical and leadership experiences in multiple settings, including hospitals, schools, psychiatric facilities, day treatment programs, outpatient programs, community mental health centers and departments of juvenile justice. She looks forward to bringing her lifelong passion to give children with mental health issues a voice in the treatment process. She is a strong advocate for the health care system to place equal focus on mental and physical health.