New facility adds capacity to aid youth and families.
The Children’s Center of Synergy Services, a Parkville-based non-profit shelter for women and children, has experienced growing pains for years.
“The Center typically serves 125 children annually, nearly 2,000 children since the program began in 2000,” says Dennis Meier, associate executive director at Synergy. “Unfortunately, the program turns away more than 300 each year due to limited capacity.”
Synergy’s new 13,500-square-foot Children’s Center, located at 46th St. and NE Antioch Rd., doubles its size and increases capacity. The Center will house up to 16 children per night. Building is scheduled to be completed in August with a planned mid-September grand opening. Built with financial support from the community, the complex will benefit individuals and families in need throughout Kansas City.
Robin Winner, executive director of Synergy, says, “We can help the trajectory of kids’ lives if we can help them overcome trauma early on.”
The new Center was constructed on donated farmland that belonged to a succession of Northland residents.
Jack and Marge Borden, parents of Northlander Joyce Berry, once owned the property. The Borden family had a farmhouse built in 1925 that included a barn, horses, carriage house, garage, plum orchard, and garden on the six-acre property.
“My parents bought the property from a judge,” says Berry. “My father later sold the land to Judge Pratt.”
Former Clay County judge Stephen Pratt donated the land to Synergy in 2008.
Berry’s family annually hosted two orphan children. “A girl named Margie and a boy named Charlie came to stay with us each summer and during Christmas,” says Berry. “My parents went to the Mennonite orphanage in the Argentine neighborhood in Kansas to pick them up.”
Now the property’s history begins a new chapter also tied to the welfare of children.
Healing From Trauma
In 2014 alone, 102,100 children were involved in child abuse or neglect investigations by the Children’s Division of Missouri; an increase of 10% over 2013, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services Annual Report.
Some families and children in crisis lack a safe support system among family and friends. Synergy Services and its Children’s Center provides a refuge, programs, and services to those that face disruption and separation to state custody of children.
“We take self-referrals and referrals from churches, schools, and other groups like Head Start,” says Winner. “We act as a safety valve in the community.”
Often, these individuals cope with poverty, domestic violence, homelessness, intergenerational child abuse or neglect. These experiences are called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in a study by the Center for Disease Control.
“ACE’s cause high levels of toxic stress to anyone’s brain, but particularly to a child’s developing mind,” says Meier. “Attachment, learning, psychosocial development, and emotional regulation is impaired when toxic stress is chronic and becomes overwhelming. The study also links increased risk of heart disease, obesity, addictions, and mental illness later in life when a child has an ACE score of 4 or higher.”
According to Meier, if a child is in a chronic “fight/flight/freeze” state as a result of stress-inducing ACE, normal play and social interaction activity is curtailed. Children are hypervigilant and defensive, so developing an inner sense of trust and safety becomes more difficult.
The Children’s Center engages children and families in therapeutic activities like art and play therapy, parent education, and case management support to access primary, mental, and dental health. Children may stay in the shelter and receive crisis care services while parents regain safe relationships, stable housing, and food security. Staff members focus on building secure attachments to parents and emotional resiliency for each child in an integrative treatment approach.
“When successful, fewer children go into state custody,” says Meier. “More importantly, families will be able to fully heal from trauma and prevent another generation of ACE’s altogether.”
“Providing support for kids and families pays back with positive returns,” adds Winner, referring to health benefits, prevention of additional trauma, and breaking ACE cycles. “We know how to help. We just need the capacity to help.”
Designed by Blackbird Design Studio LLC and built by JE Dunn Construction, the farmhouse was completely renovated. The complex includes bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, playground, and creative art center for art therapy. Additional rooms are designated for counseling, training, reception, and a lounge.
Meier says, “At the Children’s Center, our goal is to create a state of safety and trust that invites children to explore, heal, play, and engage in an environment that builds resiliency.”
For more information, visit SynergyServices.org.