Adalyn, with her straight brown hair, is the last in line to leave the playground. She plants herself firmly 5 feet from the door to A Child’s Haven. Spreading out her arms for balance, she watches the preschooler ahead of her walk into the building. Adalyn will not move and is shaking her head.
At age 4, Adalyn might be expected to know better. If this were a day care or preschool playground, she would be disciplined for her obstinance. In fact, the little girl was expelled from three day care centers. Her mother, Amanda Morgan of Easley, lost her job as a certified medical assistant because she could not find child care for Adalyn, whom she describes as both sweet and very theatrical.
“I’m a single mother and had one-and-a-half years without income,” Morgan says. “It was the scariest time of my life.”
Fortunately, a friend recommended Morgan take Adalyn to A Child’s Haven, where her daughter could receive therapy and help for her communication delays and anger issues. Each month, Morgan has seen improvements.
At A Child’s Haven, young children who are delayed physically, mentally, and behaviorally learn how to handle everyday challenges. They practice new skills that most children pick up on their own. Instead of teachers, they have highly skilled therapeutic providers. Instead of classroom instruction, they have therapy.
Even the facility’s playground is different. It’s a natural playground with a climbing amphitheater rock, box gardens, a slide built into the hill, and a large pad with water jets.
Also, trained providers visit families’ homes to observe and offer parenting tips and advice. Amanda Morgan learned a great trick in dealing with Adalyn’s frequent temper tantrums. She now pulls out flashcards and distracts her daughter, asking her to select a card. “It takes her brain someplace else for a minute, and I never would have thought of that,” Morgan says.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary, A Child’s Haven is preparing for the next few decades with big plans. These include a tiered garden with a child education and activity building and an anniversary fundraiser, hosted in the fall by Greenville philanthropist Betty Farr and former Governor and Secretary of Education Dick Riley.
Helping young children overcome developmental delays that might hurt their ability to learn is a great cause, Riley says.
“Betty has 15 grandchildren, and I have 14. We’re experts in that field,” Riley jokes.
“The earlier you get children into A Child’s Haven, the better it is. So they started an infant center to help these early preschool kids,” he says.
One of this year’s fundraising goals is for the organization to become less financially dependent on Medicaid funds, says Laurie Rovin, executive director.
A Child’s Haven’s $2.2 million fiscal year 2017 budget includes $794,723 in Medicaid funds, which support individual, classroom, and family therapy, as well as home visitation and transportation.
The organization had a $100,000 Medicaid budget deficit this past year, and it was covered through donations from United Way, Synnex Share the Magic, foundations, corporations, and private donors, Rovin says.
“The challenge with Medicaid is that it drives treatment,” Rovin says. “We have children we feel need to remain in treatment, but Medicaid wants us to discharge the child.”
Rovin gives the example of a 3-year-old child who witnessed a parent kill the child’s twin sibling. One parent was arrested, and the toddler later was removed from the other parent’s custody. The child was referred to A Child’s Haven because of developmental delays, but Medicaid thought the child should be discharged after three months. Believing the 3-year-old needed more help, A Child’s Haven made the decision to find alternative funding for the additional time in treatment.
“If we do not agree clinically with Medicaid, we will keep the child,” Rovin says.
For this reason, and because the organization plans to expand, A Child’s Haven has started the Lifting Lives campaign. There are 70 children on a waiting list for its services. Eventually, its fairly new 11-acre site will be able to expand to 96 children. Last year, the organization served a total of 120 children and families.
Success in reaching these goals is partly dependent on the organization’s ability to convince corporate donors of its return on investment to the community.
“Some of the most astounding numbers I’ve seen are that when you spend a dollar on helping a child, then you get $1.85 or more back,” says Sims Propst, senior vice president of Park Sterling Bank and a member of A Child’s Haven’s advisory board.
“When you get their brains going in the right direction, it’s much less work than having children repeat a grade, and it greatly increases their chances of graduating and going to college,” Propst says.
A Child’s Haven’s other expansion will be to add more homegrown fruits, vegetables, and herbs to the facility’s daily breakfasts and lunches. A LiveWell Greenville partner, the organization grows tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, watermelon, cucumbers, strawberries, and herbs in its playground area.
“Children can eat some food off the vine, like strawberries and tomatoes,” says A Child’s Haven chef John Zuber. “One boy picked a green strawberry, cleaned it on his shirt, and said he loved it.”
The surplus fresh produce could be sent to neighborhood markets, benefiting the facility’s Berea neighborhood.
The program’s success is as much dependent on working with parents as it is working with the children.
“A lot of times the parents are good people, but they don’t know how to parent,” Propst says.
The families need so much help that parenting can take a backseat.
“We have had families that were homeless, and we helped to connect them to the resources they needed to get a home and job,” Rovin says. “Our mission is to treat children with developmental delays as a result of limited resources, abuse, or neglect and to provide support and education to their families.”
Families, visitors, researchers, and others can observe classroom therapy sessions via two-way mirrors and learn how effective parenting works. “Parents see the kids are better behaving here than at home,” says Alesia Lowe, clinical director.
Therapeutic providers, gently and patiently, guide children to more acceptable behaviors.
That’s why Adalyn’s therapeutic provider does not pick her up and carry her into the classroom when the little girl refuses to budge. Instead, she coaxes Adalyn to use her words. The girl finally explains: She didn’t get to say goodbye to her friend, a fourth-grade girl from Christ Church Episcopal School, whose class was volunteering on the playground.
So the therapeutic provider takes Adalyn by the hand and leads her over to the older girl. Adalyn hugs her friend, grins, and runs into the building.
Hearing stories like this gives Amanda Morgan hope that her daughter soon will be able to handle school. If this happens, Morgan will return to college and complete a registered nursing program.
“I feel like we should have been here earlier, but we had to learn the hard way,” Morgan says.