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

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.

Volunteer Spotlight: Carole and Larry Nicholson

Carole and Larry Nicholson
Carole and Larry Nicholson, Pet Therapy Volunteers at Alexander Youth Network

Meet Alexander volunteers Carole and Larry Nicholson. They moved to Charlotte from Tennessee and have been living here for 20 years. Carole, now a retired community volunteer, used to work in advertising and marketing and Larry works in the bank security industry. They have two boys and three grandchildren ages 9, 7 and 1 month old. They enjoy doing the pet therapy program at Alexander, which provides special therapeutic visits to kids who would benefit from interaction with a well-trained, loving pet.

How did you get involved with pet therapy at Alexander Youth Network?

We have always have had dogs at home and have been doing pet therapy for 15 years. We started out doing pet therapy at nursing homes, and shortly after we met Cindi Leckey who told us about Alexander Youth Network. After we got two puppies, we trained them to become therapy dogs. We currently visit the kids in the Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF) on the fourth Saturday of each month. We also visit the kids in the Day Treatment program once a month. The kids love the dogs – when they see the dogs on the playground, they yell and run towards them.  If the dog is sick, they get worried. They know what the dogs like and dislike. The kids even have nicknames for our dogs Bailey and Daisy – they call them Vanilla and Chocolate.

What has surprised you most about volunteering in pet therapy?

It’s wonderful to see how loving the kids are towards the pets. I especially love to see how excited they are when the dogs arrive to campus. As a volunteer at other organizations you don’t always get quick feedback, but as Alexander volunteers we get immediate positive feedback from the kids – it makes us want to visit Alexander and help more.

Any inspiring stories to share?

I remember a memorable story. It happened 7 years ago during a Saturday visit. We were visiting with the kids, and I saw a sad little girl sitting in the corner. I walked over with my dog Daisy, and Daisy went to the little girl and gave her a kiss. The little girl stopped crying and I saw her smiling. She later told the staff: “Daisy came to make me feel better.”

What do you wish other people knew about Alexander?

I am impressed by Alexander’s staff and how they interact with the children. They give equal attention and care to each child. The staff members in Day Treatment are especially patient. I was also surprised to see that there are so many opportunities to volunteer. I had no idea that there was so much available we can do with the kids.

What do you do when you aren’t working or volunteering?

We provide pet therapy at assisted living communities and an Alzheimer day care. We also bring the dogs to a local CMS school to assist as tail wagging tutors. The third graders love reading to the dogs and it gives them the confidence to learn English, especially since a lot of them are ESL (English as a Second Language) students.

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.

Speedway Children’s Charities Grant Helps Occupational Therapy Program

Alexander Youth Network


Thank you to Speedway Children’s Charities for providing a $17,930 grant to Alexander Youth Network’s Occupational Therapy program. The funding will help provide the tools to create a calming and healing environment for the kids, including floors, lighting, storage and furniture. In addition, the funds will allow the purchase of necessary activities and supplies, including publications, deep-pressure rolling pins, self-calming cards, squeeze balls, finger paints, pencil grips, small trampolines and more. These tools help to treat the children and provide the resources necessary to meet each child’s sensory needs. “With appropriate intervention these kids will be more settled in their environment and their bodies, allowing them to make better human connections, moving them toward strengthening their skills in the other most complex areas of the brain, the relational and cognitive areas,” said Sarah Cummings, Education Manager. “We are very grateful for this grant and to be able to provide a state of the art environment for our kids to receive Occupational Therapy services. The funds really help us meet the intense and specific needs of each child, as well as help our staff do what they all love doing, to go above and beyond for the kids.”

New Dance Therapy Program in PRTF


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.