By: Katie Sobiech
Yesterday morning a young man about 17 years old, with sagging pants and a baggy sweatshirt approached my car outside of my apartment complex. I rolled down the window, he said he was stranded and needed money to get back to the West Side of Akron.
As I drove away from this young man, several thoughts flooded my mind, including ‘Why isn’t he in school?’ and ‘What is this teenager doing in an apartment complex that has ‘No Trespassing’ signs?’
Maybe he was a runaway? Maybe he didn’t have supervision? Unfortunately, he is just another one of the many youth in Akron, on his own, out to fend for himself.
Maybe if he had someone to watch out for him he wouldn’t be out on the streets, asking a stranger for money?
Pastoral Counseling Service of Summit County (PCS), founded by Church Women United, is known for their School-Based Therapy Program within Akron Public Schools.
This therapy plays a major role in getting kids to school and keeping them there.
PCS has partnered with Akron Public Schools for nearly a decade to offer services to troubled youth.
“Our primary goal is to provide mental health support to children,” Rev. Dr. Byron Arlidge, who has led the agency for 37 years, said.
PCS is currently in 64 school buildings, with a total of 120 counselors and case managers combined. Their active case load includes 1,600 children. Their goal is to have 2,000 by Christmas.
PCS doesn’t sleep. They even make sure their kids are up and out of bed in the morning.
“We call our kids to ask if they’re out of bed, to get them into school. Then we’re there to support them while they’re in the building so they will stay and not get upset and leave,” Arlidge said.
PCS is certified by the State of Ohio to do diagnostic assessments, individual and group counseling, and to provide psychiatric intervention. They see ages 3 through High School.
Working with the Schools
Akron Public Schools offer PCS office space in return for their services.
“We allow them to use space in exchange for providing services for our children. It’s a community partnership,” Dr. Ed Roshong, Director of Pupil Services at Woodridge Local Schools, said.
PCS has been working in Woodridge Schools for about four years.
“It’s been a good experience. They send us very qualified people,” Roshong said, “When our counselors identify a student that needs more time and attention, they go to PCS which is a really good fit for the kids that need that support but can’t get it.”
Keeping Kids in School
“The upside for the schools is the kids who see us come to school, and that’s huge. The bottom line is that we help get kids to school and help them focus while they’re there,” Arlidge explained.
“If a child in the classroom gets upset because of a particular issue, they can call our therapists who will go in and bring the child out to help with whatever is going on with them, calm them down, and send them back,” he continued.
“The schools are very receptive to the therapists being there. They are very accommodating to PCS,” Blake Urmos, from Pastoral Counseling Service, said.
“We like to help the children with whatever issues are barriers to them attending and succeeding in school. We help them focus,” Arlidge shared.
Some of these barriers include mental health issues, anxiety, depression, anger management, lack of motivation, divorce, abuse and neglect. All are major issues PCS is seeing in our youth.
“I’m working with one student now whose brother passed away not long ago,” Jeff Antoon, Counselor with Pastoral Counseling Services at Barret Academy, said.
“I’ve got another young girl who’s an absolute sweetheart and she just wants to know that she’s a good girl. She doesn’t get that at home – it’s a single parent family. They’re looking for attention, for someone to say ‘Hi, how are you?’” he continued.
Antoon says PCS staff remind the children daily that they aren’t bad, but that some of their choices are.
“We deal with mood disorders a lot, or maybe their father’s been incarcerated or they’ve lost a family member,” Antoon said.
“Many of the kids we see are in single parent families, struggling with behavior issues at home and at school. They’re also dealing with emotional issues due to living in single parent families and the low income aspect,” he continued.
Antoon works with children ages 5 to 11.
Making a Difference
So what steps can individuals in the community take to ease this pain and help this cause?
Antoon says consistency is key.
“We’re here to treat children, so we can’t always work with mothers, fathers, grandparents or foster parents. Maintaining a strong social support with the primary care givers would help out a lot. Many of them are overwhelmed with either trying to find jobs or working, and taking care of their children. They don’t always have the support that they need to help themselves,” Antoon shared.
The nature of a non-profit is to give, therefore PCS finds it crucial to provide for the children they see living in poverty.
“Were always looking for donations to help the children,” Arlidge said.
They collect clothing and food, get them to doctor’s appointments, and help their clients with rent and other needs. Monetary donations are taken through their Shepherd’s Fund.
“A lot of it is just showing the kids that you actually care about them,” Antoon said, “In addition to being counselors we’re here because we love people and most of us are grounded in faith, which we can’t share with the children but that’s part of who we are. We really care about these children and want to see them succeed.”
“Our main objective is to see a lot of kids, help them succeed, and give them the strength and support within themselves to succeed,” Arlidge said.
For more information on Pastoral Counseling Services please call 330.996.4600.