On a blustery Saturday afternoon, dozens of families gathered at Mission Oaks Park in Camarillo for a picnic. As some barbecued and others participated in sack races and other activities, Casa Pacifica’s Director of Community-Based Services Dr. Jody Kussin was thrilled by the turnout.
“It was incredible,” said Kussin. “It was one of those days where you just go, ‘God’s in heaven and all’s right with the world.’ It was that touching.”
The Family to Family picnic brought the families of children and teenagers together for a meet-and-greet for those who have received assistance from Casa Pacifica in the form of a Wraparound service, in which teams from Casa Pacifica visit the homes of troubled children or teenagers in order to do “Whatever It Takes” (WIT) to assist the individuals in overcoming their issues.
For the families attending the picnic, the Wraparound Team has been actively involved. For some of these families, and especially for the young people who receive the counseling and assistance, it can be easy to feel isolated from their communities.
“A lot of times, families dealing with issues relating to mental health feel very isolated, embarrassed or ashamed. I can’t go to church because what if my kid starts acting out?” said Kussin. “This is an opportunity to bring families together and say we’re all people, we all want to enjoy one another and build our community.”
The Whatever It Takes service is a statewide program tasked with reaching troubled youth in their homes rather than at offices or hospitals. Staff working with Casa Pacifica, under the WIT banner, literally do whatever it takes to get a subject in better spirits — even if that means making a house call at 6:30 a.m. to get a child out of bed, says Kussin.
Peer advocates, former foster children and a diverse mix of volunteers and professionals make up the WIT team at Casa Pacifica.
Shirley, as she prefers to be called, is a foster parent who has fostered several children varying in age over the past five years. Her family is certified as an ITFC (intensive treatment foster care) home, giving her the ability to host children and teenagers with special needs, and is hoping to become certified with Casa Pacifica.
The picnic was an opportunity for her children to not only enjoy a Saturday afternoon, but to make friends and interact with others living under the same conditions. While some had their nails painted, others participated in a raffle or played with the therapy dog Gus.
“It’s a great event for families, especially families of my size,” said Shirley. “My boys especially enjoyed the DJ.”
Shirley has fostered numerous at-risk and troubled youth since becoming an ITFC provider. Through Casa Pacifica’s Wraparound program, however, the stress put upon a family when dealing with their troubled wards has been lessened.
“When these children are removed from their home, the type of people who are there are usually the police,” said Shirley. “You can more or less imagine what the frame of mind is going to be. Most of these kids have just witnessed parents possibly crying, begging for someone not to take their children.”
The picnic is a way for the children to take their minds off the stress of adapting to new surroundings while also allowing them to meet and make new friends, says Shirley.
“It gets you out of the frame of mind of all work and no play. It makes them feel a little bit more comfortable about themselves,” said Shirley.
For Kussin, the benefit of having a picnic over a serious meeting means breaking away from the typical office visits, which are all too common, and allowing children to be themselves.
“We just wanted them to have a day of fun and frivolity where families can just be families,” said Kussin. “We want to be able to build community outside of just one family. We hope that they’ll take each other’s phone numbers and go, ‘Oh my gosh! You live around the block from me, let’s walk our kids to school together.’ ”
For more information or to get involved, go to www.casapacifica.org.