Children with serious and complex needs turn to people such as Star View Teammates facilitator Sergio Reynaga for help.
“They need to feel loved,” Reynaga said. “They need to feel safe. Some of them move around so much, and they never establish that feeling of having a family. They have attachment issues. I think most of them just need to feel loved. I think that’s generally the need for pretty much all of them.”
Star View Teammates, a wraparound program of individualized care management, intervenes in the lives of more than 300 troubled kids each year to help stop their patterns of self-destructive behaviors. Reynaga has been working with the Star View Teammates for more than a decade.
“The program itself was created to kind of stabilize kids– to help them avoid going into a higher level of care,” Reynaga said.
“Basically, we want to keep them either at home or with relatives, or even with foster parents, to avoid [their] going to juvenile detention, residential facilities and institutions. A lot of these kids have emotional and behavioral problems that could be the result of abuse. It could be neglect, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, abandonment– pretty much anything that will cause any kind of trauma and they tend to act out.”
The Wraparound program model was designed to help high-needs, high-risk children access their resources, Reynaga said.
The Teammates try to help families to stay together, keep the kids in school and encourage extracurricular participation.
“In the past 10 years, thank God, we’ve had so many success stories,” Reynaga said. “I think the ones I’m most proud of are the kids that are heavily involved in drugs– drugs and gangs– because, you know, some of them are really deep into it, and to be able to remove themselves from the situation is awesome. We had a kid who was heavily involved in gangs and ended up graduating from high school and enrolling in college. We had a girl who was heavily involved with drugs, graduated high school a year early, put herself in a drug counseling program and started community college last semester.”
Teammates offer high-risk kids a variety of services, including personalized family safety planning and support, health screening and referrals, independent living-skills training, crisis intervention, mental-health services, psychological and psychiatric assessments and services, specialized groups for both youth and parents, as well as transportation and other support services.
“Helping kids learn some coping skills and teaching them how to be in the community and how to utilize their resources– it’s a big support to them, and I think that a lot of these kids that grow up in the ghettos, they just don’t have a lot of resources,” Reynaga said.
The program tries to tackle both mental-health and child-welfare problems using a team to “wraparound” the child.
The teams include professional staff, family and community representatives, counselors, social workers, probation officers, and therapists– basically anyone who may be able to assist the child in need.
“I really like what we do,” Reynaga said. “You see a difference in these kids immediately. A lot of these kids need consistency, and they will test you at first. They will push you away. They don’t want you around. But, once you show them that you are there every week when they call you or need you, immediately all that pushing away goes away, and they are more welcoming, and they are happy to see you. It’s just a complete difference.”
Although the Teammates may lose touch with some of the kids after they age out of the program, some make sure to check in.
“They like to share their successes with us,” Reynaga said. “Many of them never felt the sense or feeling of family until they met us. They call us on holidays and to wish us a happy birthday.”
Those rewards come after lots of hard work, he said. The Teammates are no stranger to middle-of-the-night crisis calls, but Reynaga said that working with other dedicated people makes his job easier.
“Our teamwork shows the kids that we are all on board to help them succeed,” Reynaga said.
That diverse team even includes former gang members who left a life of crime and now serve as positive influences for the children.
“They are good for the children because they know what the lifestyle is like,” Reynaga said. “After working with many of these kids, a lot of them want to be counselors, therapists and probation officers. It’s so funny how you get a kid that’s heavily involved with drugs and gangs, and a couple years after working with them, now they want to help communities as well. I think that’s the benefit, the fact that they turn around and help themselves and the next generation of kids that are having issues.”
Star View Teammates has locations in Los Angeles, Compton, Torrance and Carson and can be contacted at (310) 868-5379. For more information, visit starsinc.com/teammates .