Aye, 19, from Peoria, sits in a conference room with windows looking out on a green, idyllic lake scene and says, “Allendale brought hope back into me.”
Surrounded by nature, with time to be quiet and relax, Aye says changing her surroundings “gives me time to know me more and what I want in life.”
Aye is one of 1,200 children, adolescents and families who are served annually by Allendale Association.
Children come to Allendale with moderate to severe emotional and behavioral disabilities. Many are DCFS wards of the state. They arrive broken, with devastating stories of misunderstandings in the classroom, rejection in the home, isolation in the community, abuse and neglect. They leave, like Aya soon will, with hope and healing.
“I was lost,” Aya, a chronic runaway, says. “I didn’t know myself at all. Once you start feeling good about yourself, instead of walking around feeling angry, you’ll stop. Why would I want to get lost again?”
Ten percent of all children have a mental illness, and in most cases, it manifests by age 14. Many times, it’s not diagnosed.
“It’s critical to intervene,” says Allendale President Mary Shahbazian, “Healthy adults is what it’s all about.” Her advice for adults who sense a potential problem with a child they know? “You have to not be afraid to insert yourself,” she says.
Missing the signs of emotional and mental distress can mean much larger problems later, Shahbazian says.
In 20 months at Allendale, through counselling and schooling, Aya has gained confidence in herself, started on her GED and received treatment that’s enabled her to handle any future emotional or mental distress. She’s rebuilt a relationship with her family and started dreaming again. Her new dream is to go on to college to become a physical therapist.
“I’m a workout person,” she laughs. “I don’t mind helping someone else.”
Most importantly, Aya says, “They made me think of the importance of life and if I mess up this big opportunity, my life would be not right. I don’t give up on myself too easily any more.”
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and to give to Allendale, which brings Illinois kids from the brink of tragedy back to health and life, please visit www.allendale4kids.org, click on “make a difference” on the left-hand column, and then “giving.”