Youth Leadership Palm Beach County, Class of 2014
Health and Human Services Day
November 7th, 2013
Written by: Madie Anderson
I arrived at the Hanley Center with my dad about a quarter to 8. Everyone seemed pretty relieved that none of these people were complete strangers anymore, so most preoccupation was with the food and not any gastrocolic butterflies. Seeing on the agenda that we would receive a “light breakfast”, I had eaten toast before I came, expecting the measly donut I got last time that had to tide me over several hours. Of course, though, the Hanley Center not only had pastries that weren’t donuts, but coffee, tea, fruit, and juice. Directly from the full-mouth of Katie Brenner: “The croissants are so freakin’ good.” I came too prepared, but better full of toast than sorry.
The first speaker of the day was Kevin Brandy, the director of recovery at the Hanley Resource Center. Instead of a doctor or researcher standing up in front of a bunch of bored, half-awake teenagers, telling us the endless medical dangers and consequences of substance abuse with big words like “cannabis”, Mr. Brandy had an indefatigable sense of humor and rawness with which he spoke to us about a not so comical topic. As he told us a rather disturbing account of his adolescent struggle with drugs and alcohol, he made sure to emphasize to us that addiction is more prevalent than we think. Ten percent of Americans suffer from addiction or substance abuse disorder. What stuck with me is the fact that a predisposition to addiction is hereditary, and only one male in Mr. Brandy’s family had been untouched by the tendency. At the end of his speaking, I think everyone in the room realized that we knew a lot about how bad drugs were, but nothing about what addiction actually is, what it looks like, and how it can easily be treated with a lot of support from people like Mr. Brandy, who works with adolescents having the same difficulty as he did twenty years ago. This was proof to us that drugs didn’t have to ruin your life, but that you could overcome it and benefit the world around you with your story.
After our session at Hanley and a rather long wait in line for the bathroom, we were off to the Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County. The MHA was one of the most interactive and hospitable stops YLPBC has made so far, and it was unfortunate that we didn’t get to stay very long! They had bowls of candy and snacks for us to enjoy while we played Mental Health Trivia, and the winners received prizes as well. Aside from the treats though, Ms. Kimberly Lucas and Ms. Jillian Edelstein did an excellent job talking to us about subjects that we often shrug away from normally. For example, did you know that half the people in that room would develop a mental disorder in their lifetime? (I never knew that, and it made me wonder about all the undiagnosed disorders that people have and that I might possibly have!) Did you know that Narcissism is actually a personality disorder? Because there are a lot of things that the community isn’t informed about pertaining to mental health, the MHA is starting an initiative in January to spur dialogue to gather information and create solutions to prevent the mentally ill from entering the legal system. It was neat because they even asked for our input, and encouraged us to contact them afterword with our ideas and questions.
Next we visited the Arc of Palm Beach County, which serves disabled children and adults—over 2300 families a year! Every staff member we met was extremely passionate about their job and these people they helped, which was truly amazing. However, more incredible were our brief experiences with the children in the Potentials Charter School. This school is only for kids 3 to 10 who can neither walk nor communicate on their own. In the intermediate class, we did autumn crafts with the kids, who were just as thrilled or bored to be at school as we might be, which was fun, because we could all relate. The highlight of my entire day, though, was playing with the kids in the primary class—more specifically a boy named Jason. Jason had on glasses and glossy new sneakers, and his face lit up the moment we gave him the handle to the parachute. To a bunch of teenagers, we were just waving a big parachute up and down and up and down, but to Jason, we might as well have been flying with that parachute, because never in my life have I seen such a face beaming with pure joy! He had one of those smiles that make your own heart smile inside. At that moment, I could not feel sad for him, because I knew that he held the secret to happiness, and for that I was a little jealous.
Quantum House was our next stop, a real “house” that lodges family with children receiving treatment at St. Mary’s. I’ve been to the Quantum House a few times before this, so I was familiar with the house and its functions. A few things I did learn were that many of the children have PBC tutors visit them and some do virtual school; also, with the donated putting green in their “backyard”, a PGA instructor comes every week to teach the kids how to play golf! The Quantum House is a truly special place that the community has really rallied around to support with the House’s upkeep, meals, and events. This experience just deepened my feelings for their mission. We concluded the tour with lunch in the kitchen area—I’d like to make a note that this lunch has been the best so far! I loved the sub sandwiches, but the cookies were especially tasty.
One of the most interested hours we spent this day was at the Senator Phillip D. Lewis Center, which is a homeless resource center funded by local property tax dollars. It opened last July and has seen nearly 7000 people get out of homelessness! On the other hand though, I wasn’t so glad to learn that there isn’t a homeless shelter in the entire county, or that there are over 1200 homeless students in Palm Beach County schools. Ezra Kreig, the director, led our tour, and explained to us how the Lewis Center is run, and how they value getting a roof over people’s heads before anything else. The Lewis Center then offers social services to get them back on track. Although Mr. Kreig was extremely interesting to listen too, I think the most memorable part of our time at the Lewis Center was hearing Kenalta Clark’s homelessness experience this April. A single mother of two small children, Ms. Clark found herself homeless when her uncle died and his apartment foreclosed. She lived in a shed for a little while, with no water, AC, or stove, until the police forced her to leave because of code violations. As she waited to be assessed to receive help from the Lewis Center, Kenalta and her children stayed in an abandoned building. All the while, she had lost her job and couldn’t get her kids to school, and had to face their confused questions with strength and grace. Once the Lewis Center could help her and her family, Ms. Clark was able to find a home and a job, and how she is an advocate for the homeless and for the Lewis Center. Her story was beyond inspiring, because I could tell the experience inspired her to help people who have to suffer that same experience far longer and far worse.
Our day ended at St. Mary’s Medical Center, where we were greeted by Polly the dog and her owner, the assistant administrator, Don Chester. The group split up to tour three areas of the humongous hospital: Stroke Intervention and special procedures, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and the Trauma Center/E.R. Michele Ritter led my tour, where we first visited the two stroke intervention rooms—rooms that apparently cost $4 million apiece! Brandi, the supervisor of special procedures, gave us a detailed run-down about how they treat patients with the different types of strokes, and some of the really special cases they’ve gotten. Next, we peered through the window into the NICU, which had to be the most memorable moment of St. Mary’s. Never have I see a baby so small! Nurse Eileen talked to us about the top-notch care that St. Mary’s provides, care that other hospitals don’t always have. As a result, the NICU gets many transfer babies to treat. On that day, there were over 40 babies, either premature or full-term. All of the babies lay sleeping in temperature and moisture-controlled incubators, covered as to mimic the darkness of the womb. Our last stop at the hospital was the Trauma Center and the E.R., which was crowded as most E.R.’s are. We were rushed through for this reason, a little jealous that two tours before us a trauma had come in. Nonetheless, we got to see the helipads outside and learn about the hundreds of transfers from all around the region that St. Mary’s receives. In 2009 they were flown in patients after the earthquake in Haiti! In one year 60,000 people come through the center, and according to Nurse Margaret Steele, there is at least one traffic fatality every single day. In fact, that trauma that had come in earlier was the result of a car accident.
After a short bus ride back to Hanley, we were dismissed and no doubt enlightened from our endeavors. I was most happy to take my shoes off after leaving (not wearing those again!) and to give my dad a lengthy recap of the day, and then to my mom, and then to my friends at school the next day. Because the events of Thursday November 7th are tattooed into my brain, and the fact that I enjoyed this session the most so far, it’s a good thing I was chosen to scribble madly in my tiny notebook so that I could write this recapitulation. I thank you, Youth Leadership Palm Beach, for fulfilling my eidetic memory!
But I really thank you for the amazing day! :)