This spring, at Schlagle High School in Kansas City, Kansas, Debra McKenzie gathered a small group of students around her to discuss the health risks of cigarette and marijuana smoke on their lungs. One 18-year-old student moved in close to McKenzie and whispered that he had already quit smoking marijuana because he’s on probation. When she asked why he started using it in the first place, he said he had been depressed ever since his cousin was shot and killed. He just wanted the pain to go away.
We run into that a lot,” says McKenzie. “Many of these kids start these behaviors to block out some of the stuff that has happened to them.”
Saint Francis mental health therapist Godswill Chuka, left visits with a student during a recent Youth Health Day at Schlagle High School.
McKenzie, Saint Francis clinical director for community-based services, sensed why the student had confided in her. He needed help. That’s why she likes to use outreach events to connect with kids who need help learning to cope with depression, overcome addiction, or deal with behavioral issues. A community outreach project of Saint Francis Community Services, Youth Health Day provides health and dental screenings to students at all 13 middle and high schools in Kansas City, Kansas. Working in partnership with the school district and with the nursing programs at Kansas City Kansas Community College and Metropolitan Community College, McKenzie and her staff focus on prevention by identifying potential health problems before they grow more serious. That includes mental health issues.
“I told him that in our ADAPT and mental health programs, we work with students just like him to find new ways to deal with depression and pain,” she said. “I told him I was sure we could help him and asked if he’d like to give us a try. Without hesitation, he said, ‘Yes,’ and gave me his phone number.”
They’re just two of the programs Saint Francis provides in Kansas City, but ADAPT and mental health treatment are essential pieces of the Episcopal nonprofit’s array of child and family services. ADAPT (Adolescent/Adult Drug and Alcohol Prevention and Treatment) provides multi-level outpatient alcohol and drug treatment within a therapeutic setting for persons struggling with substance abuse. Most of Saint Francis’ adolescent clients have been court-ordered to receive treatment, which means they often lack the motivation to participate. So, to ensure they show up to get the help they need, Saint Francis even provides transportation to counseling sessions.
“As part of our mental health services, we also offer psychological assessments,” said McKenzie. “Through our collaboration with the University of Kansas School of Medicine, we can provide psychiatric and medication evaluations. Our program fills a gap because Wyandotte County has a shortage of psychiatrists who serve indigent and low-income populations. Often the only other place where clients on Medicaid can receive services is through the Community Mental Health Center, which has long waiting lists. We can shorten the wait period for clients who need help.”
Saint Francis currently provides substance and mental health treatment for about 75 persons, most of whom are between the ages of 12 and 19. But clients don’t have to be youngsters to receive help. Nor, must they be low-income or referred by the courts. Anyone with an assessment indicating they need treatment can self-refer and get help.
Yet, most of Saint Francis’ work in Kansas City centers on struggling and at-risk young people. The ministry also offers the HEART (Healthy Empowering Adolescent Relationship Training) program, which helps young people develop self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship and decision-making skills. And, as in the rest of Kansas, Saint Francis provides foster care in Kansas City, which includes an anger management program for teens dealing with trauma.
Service to children and families is built into the DNA of Saint Francis Community Services, and its story of ministry is something The Very Rev. Chas Marks enjoys sharing with both his diocese and the rest of the Church. He’s a busy man. Priest In Charge of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church and Dean of the Northwest-Metro Deanery, Marks also serves as Saint Francis’ Senior Advisor for Community and Church Relations.
“Saint Francis is providing life-affirming services to an underserved population in the Kansas City Metro,” said Marks. “I get to share the story of the good work Saint Francis is doing in Kansas City and in other parts of the world with our local community and churches. There are so many opportunities for individuals and parishes to partner with Saint Francis to provide healing to children and families in Kansas City and beyond.”
When Marks isn’t pastoring, he’s talking about Saint Francis in pulpits and at coffee klatches throughout The Diocese of West Missouri. He hopes to meet friends and partners willing to join Saint Francis in its ministry of service to those most in need — the overlooked, the marginalized, the powerless. It’s a mission Saint Francis shares with the Church, and it’s a mission of hope.
Dozens of young people and adults regularly pass through the office doors of Saint Francis to receive therapeutic treatment for substance use or other behavioral issues. Some days, the clients include parents attending a support group because McKenzie and her colleagues always try to include the family in a client’s treatment. That’s because Saint Francis believes strong families produce healthy and happy children.
“Our hope,” said McKenzie, “is always to help those who need it most, especially those who lack the resources, the knowledge, the skills, or the support to help themselves. That’s why we’re here.”
To learn more or to arrange a visit to your church, visit The Saint Francis Foundation here.
This story was originally written for “Spirit”, a publication of the Diocese of West Missouri. Go here to access the “Spirit” homepage and read more articles related to the work of the Episcopal Church in West Missouri.