Supporting Maryvale's children
"The best way out is always through," said writer Robert Frost. In honor of May as Mental Health Awareness Month, when it comes to addressing mental health needs, we'd like to say "the best way out is always through ... with the help of friends and mental health professionals."
You can make a difference today by taking the pledge to spread awareness at https://www.endthestigmatoday.com/pledge. You can also raise awareness and provide resources for those in need by sharing Maryvale's "Did You Know?" mental health awareness infographic with family, friends and associates. With 350 million people globally who are affected by some form of depression, it's important to know you are not alone and where to find help.
If you had the chance, how would you articulate the experiences that reach deep into the subconscious?
For many of Maryvale’s children, a new form of expression is helping them cope with those feelings – art therapy. This developing process, which combines psychotherapy with various art forms, is becoming an essential part of our Trauma Informed Care program.
At Maryvale, art therapy takes the form of group projects, which not only teach the value of communication and collaboration, but also emphasize to these fragile children that they are not alone.
With a community loom, children expanded their imagination, growing as a team, trusting each other to construct a beautiful and intricate art piece that featured words of expression.
The healing power of art is well known, and its application as therapy for children coping with trauma is growing and has tremendous potential.
It is hoped that through this creative process they may help reconcile their painful past and visualize a future filled with hope.
Before you launch into your holiday shopping on Cyber Monday, consider becoming a superhero to Maryvale's children who need extra support during this emotional time of year.
A percentage of every purchase you make from now (until infinity and beyond!) will go directly to Maryvale's children, at no cost to you.
And while you are visiting Amazon, consider taking a peek at our children's Amazon Wish List. All Amazon presents will be delivered directly to a Maryvale girl or boy over the holidays.
In November, we give thanks for the beauty of life, the comfort of family and friends, and the strength of the human spirit to persevere when times are unkind.
It's humbling to see children who have already been through so many challenges find the quiet courage and grace to care for others who are in harm's way. This Thanksgiving, Maryvale's boys and girls have been writing loving cards of hope and gratitude to comfort U.S. troops far from home. Whether it's the simple message "I would like to give my heart to you for serving our country. Bless you" to drawings of hearts, flags, and reminders of holiday cheer, we are so proud of our kids' open hearts. And of your thoughtfulness too.
Because of our supporters, we have been able to provide foster children with a place of sanctuary with opportunities to heal.
As emotions intensify for Maryvale's children during the holidays, know that thanks to the kindness and generosity of so many, our kids are surrounded by love during this season of giving.
Please take a moment to read their notes and get a glimpse into the spirit of our children.
Maryvale team member Kristina Velasquez was born to serve. For 13 years she worked with the cognitively impaired, and later with seniors.
Those years were professionally satisfying, but she didn’t feel as though she was where she needed to be until she began working with the youngest residents at Maryvale; girls ages 6 to 12.
“They are my family,” Kristina says. “I teach them that they are each other’s sisters. To me, they’re superheroes. They really are. They’ve gone through some stuff, and it’s so hard for them to be vulnerable, to accept our love and support. We have to be there when they’re hurting. We have to inspire them to be more, no matter where they come from, no matter the obstacles they’ve encountered.”
Kristina is busy (an understatement!) four days a week, 10 hours a day providing guidance, empathy, and a loving ear to these children in crisis. More than that, she offers them a sense of dignity and respect, and shows them what it is to be loved unconditionally. As much as anything, she wants them to feel safe, and to learn how to trust.
Kristina challenges, and she teaches. But she also learns. “Every day these kids teach me something,” she explains. The daily exchanges have had an impact on her own life in ways she never imagined.
The mother of an adult daughter, she also has a young son and two grandchildren. She says her experiences with the girls of Maryvale have helped her to love and appreciate her family even more.
As the voice of wisdom and compassion, Kristina’s ability to connect with the children is a gift. “This job is life-changing,” she said.
For Maryvale's girls, ages 13 to 18, the path out of trauma and addiction is building trust and healthy bonds with staff and each other. Every interaction and activity at Maryvale is designed to foster an environment that is positive and safe, generating the relationships that are vital to helping them through the stages of recovery to community and connection
But gaining that trust isn't easy. Thanks to supporters like you, a group of our residents recently had the opportunity to bond in lasting ways.
Working with art therapists, our children learned to expand their imagination, trust each other and construct something beautiful and emotionally moving from strips of fabric, dye, and a giant loom they built together. Over five weeks, they worked to create a large-scale, intricate woven art piece.
The community loom had a distinct purpose: to allow them to individually transform through art with the opportunity to grow as a team. The finished piece was layered and dynamic, an artistic way of showing the evolution and interconnectedness of the relationships essential to life outside Maryvale.
And the personal notes that adorn the piece show the heart behind the creation. "Be adventurous." "You're beautiful." "Enjoy today because tomorrow is not promised." "Love." "Never lose hope."
Thank you for your support and helping to give a voice to children who otherwise would not have one.
Give today to help children's needs!
For Virginia Riggio-Babin, the act of giving, of making a difference in young lives, has come full circle.
Virginia has made it her mission to provide for people in need, and her dedication to Maryvale's children is no coincidence.
In 1969, 16-year-old Virginia was taken in as a resident at Maryvale, having run away from home because of a complicated relationship with her parents. She had lived with a friend's family for a time before they brought her to Maryvale.
That stay lasted for two years and helped turn her young life around. Virginia now seeks to do the same for others, and in 2016 she and her husband created the Riggio-Babin Scholarship to help fund college or vocational school tuition and fees for Maryvale residents and alumnae. Wanting to ensure this scholarship is available beyond their lifetime, Virginia and her husband have included Maryvale in their planned giving and have become members of the St. Louise de Marillac Society.
The motivation behind joining the St. Louise de Marillac Society and establishing the scholarship fund is both simple and sincere.
“My husband and I like to do things that directly impact our community,” Virginia explains.
The memories of her time spent at Maryvale are many, from the old plug-in telephone switchboard to the special trips the girls were given, including the times when “the nuns would haul all of us in buses and take us to the beach in the summer.”
She also remembers the grounds, especially the sense of peace they provided.
“I found security and structure for my life at Maryvale,” she said. With that came the support of a foster care community that included the other girls, the Sisters, and the Los Angeles Orphanage Guild – a family when she needed it most.
“It was a turning point for me. I felt like I was cared for, defended, and secure. I took that time and those experiences into my life going forward,” she said.
The St. Louise de Marillac Society and scholarship fund are two ways the Riggio-Babins intend to help other young lives go forward – with a sense of confidence, poise, and purpose.
“I decided to make a difference at the place that made a difference to me,” she said.
“I hope other people will join us in believing in and supporting children who need it most.”
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects more people than you might think: To raise awareness about the prevalence of PTSD among the children Maryvale serves, Maryvale President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Gunther shares the success of the Trauma Informed Care (TIC) approach with its foster children. Maryvale has implemented the TIC principles, which address the neurological, biological, psychological, and social effects of trauma and how those experiences impact those who seek and receive mental health services. Click here to see video.
Recent high school graduate and Maryvale resident Haley has a dream, and it involves helping children less fortunate. “I want to be a social worker,” she said. “When you’ve been through the foster care system, and you know how it works, you’ll be a great social worker. I can give them advice, and they’ll know I’ve been there.”
Her troubles began as a child, when she, her mother and brother, lived for a time with her uncle and aunt. That’s when her uncle tried to molest her.
She remained silent about the episode, but internally she experienced rage and defiance. Her path toward self-destruction surfaced during high school when she repeatedly tried to get expelled. In desperation, she overdosed on drugs, which landed her in the hospital. When she finally shared her secret with a social worker, she was placed in a group home.
Unfortunately, that group home proved unsafe and she ran away. In three years, her life included five failed foster care placements and a life-threatening period of being held in captivity by a man.
It was the beginning of nine months of abuse, as 16-year-old Haley was imprisoned and repeatedly beaten; she was forced to take drugs and, as a result, became addicted to methamphetamine.
“I couldn’t go to school; he wouldn’t let me out. I was malnourished,” Haley said. “He would threaten me, hit me. He would try to brainwash me. He would tell me ‘you have no one else. There is only me.’”
Though she tried to escape, he would catch and hurt her. Haley was a victim of Stockholm syndrome.
One day, her body covered in bruises, she saw an opportunity and finally escaped. She ran to a friend’s house where she stayed until a detective located her with the help of her family. She filed a police report, and was transferred to Maryvale. She wasn’t done testing boundaries, however, and her distrust of others was damaging. She was still having nightmares and flashbacks.
“When she arrived here, she assaulted staff. She was on the verge of being sent away to a rehab facility to face her meth addiction,” said Isau Graves, Maryvale Group Supervisor. “But then she turned it around. She is a real leader now.”
Her turning point happened during a frightening AWOL episode. She left Maryvale and ended up at a house with drug addicts. What she didn’t expect to see, however, were two toddlers playing in the midst of adults who were taking drugs.
“When I saw those babies with their mom right next to them getting high, I said what’s going to happen to them? Those children deserve a better life,” Haley said. “After I came back to Maryvale, I reported to staff what I saw, and changed my life.”
That shift in attitude enabled her to graduate early from high school. “Even after a year of not going to school, I was able to catch up quickly,” she said. “I learned I was smart.” Her efforts resulted in a much deserved Alhambra Latino Association Scholarship. It was life-changing.
At 18, Haley is eager to begin the next chapter in her life. She has enrolled in college with the goal of graduating with a sociology degree so she can help foster children just like her.
Not long ago, this would have seemed impossible. “Only we can stop ourselves from achieving our goals,” Haley said. “And I will succeed.”
You see them in your child's classroom. They play on soccer teams too. What you probably don't know, is that some of these boys and girls are victims of the unthinkable - sex trafficking.
Human trafficking, and child sex trafficking, in particular, has saturated society to such a degree that January has been designated Human Trafficking Awareness Month. This is a time to offer recognition and support for the countless victims, many of whom live, hidden in plain sight, in our neighborhoods. This modern-day tragedy has become too common, and Maryvale is helping more and more of these young victims recover from the pain and betrayal they have endured.
We will keep working to help our children no matter how extreme the traumas they have experienced before joining Maryvale's family -- including the young victims who have fallen prey to sex trafficking.
To learn more about the sex trafficking of children and how you can help these young victims, see below.
Against all the odds, Angel has flourished. Angel decided to step away from the agony of her rape, the trauma she suffered as a victim of child sex trafficking, prior alcohol abuse, and other unspeakable horrors. She chose not to allow her past to define her future. Triumph in the face of such adversity would seem impossible for the emotionally-scarred 17-year-old, who first arrived at Maryvale with a defiant attitude, openly throwing tantrums, immersed in kicking and screaming matches, refusing to attend school, leaving the premises without permission and initiating conflicts with her peers.
Maryvale’s staff never gave up on Angel. The team was relentless in its pursuit of providing Trauma Informed Care treatment for Angel, offering empathy and guidance, giving her much needed hope to infuse her with enough strength so she could finally break free from her pain. “We let her know that we were here for her, even when she so forcefully pushed us away,” said Group Supervisor Isau Graves. Diligent work in intensive therapy paid off. Angel persevered, eventually volunteering and counseling young children herself. A year later, Angel is independent, graduating early from high school and presently enrolled in college. She received a letter of recommendation from the Yvonne “Sunset” Agee Scholarship Award. “Before, Angel was lost, angry, misunderstood,” said Graves. “Now she is happy and determined and showed she is capable of great things because she is focused on succeeding.”
To read more about Maryvale's children, click here.
In his life, everything happens for a reason.
After working four decades as a project manager in the aerospace industry, recent retiree Nabil Said decided it was time to give back to his community. Then Nabil learned about Maryvale’s Emergency Placement Center (EPC) and its mission to help children, 6 to 12-year-old boys and girls suffering from abuse, neglect and abandonment by their families. He was certain that he had to do something – something more than his monthly financial contribution.
“Maryvale triggered something inside of me because I have children and grandchildren who are very lucky,” he said.
Nabil decided to spend one to two afternoons a week with boys living in the EPC. For children whose lives have been turned upside down, with only uncertainty, sadness and fear to greet them each day, the loving presence and care of a returning volunteer like Nabil brings them hope on an emotional level. “You can tell the kids are starving for attention,” he said. “I worked with one 10-year-old, Danny, who was silent and was struggling. I remember the first time I met Danny, he was closed up.” After repeated visits, Danny welcomed Nabil and spoke animatedly.
Though volunteering has been a rewarding experience for Nabil, he quickly acknowledges the harsh realities of foster children’s lives. “People at Maryvale are so compassionate with the kids,” he said. “It’s a special place. However, the children will eventually have to move on because it’s short-term, so you do what you can (when they are with you). I talk to my older grandsons about the children at Maryvale. These foster kids don’t have one percent of what they have, so they should be thankful.”
Anna Catalano greets each new morning as she has for the past 30 years, with renewed hope that the day will bring with it special blessings for Maryvale’s children and its staff.
Through the years, Anna has become the unofficial keeper of Maryvale’s memory book, and with encyclopedic precision she can recite the members of the Daughters of Charity who have been at Maryvale, including Sr. Mary Vincent, Sr. Elizabeth, Sr. Joanne, Sr. Carol, Sr. Monica, Sr. Mary Genevieve, Sr. Diane, Sr. Barbara and Sr. Martha.
Anna praises Maryvale’s unwavering commitment to the children. “The children here are courageous,” she noted.
Though Anna doesn’t work directly with the girls, she greets them warmly every morning. Some of them ask her for a hug, and she responds compassionately, “I love hugs.”
Anna has enjoyed working in housekeeping around campus, but no assignment surpassed her role as the dog walker during the years the sisters lived in the residential halls and had pets at Maryvale.
On her daily walks with Kollee, a bulldog mix, there was one 6-year-old girl whose gaze was constantly fixed on the dog. “The girl fell in love with Kollee,” she said. One day the girl ran toward her then stopped abruptly, looking directly at Anna.
“I asked her what can I do for you?” said Anna. The girl pointed directly at Kollee. A supervisor shared that the girl wanted to walk Kollee with Anna. That marked the beginning of a special relationship between Kollee, Anna and the girl.
“We held the dog together and walked all around the campus,” she said.
Every day at 10 minutes to 12 she was right there waiting for me.” This ritual continued for the next nine years, until at the age of 15 the girl was adopted by a foster parent. A few years later, the girl and Anna shared a visit. “I’m really proud of her,” she said.
Maryvale is the children’s sanctuary, a place of retreat from a confusing and sometimes hostile world, and in some ways it is Anna’s sanctuary, too. “I enjoy being at Maryvale,” she said. “It’s a wonderful place, and the people are really nice. They have become my second family.”
Mother Teresa will be canonized on September 4th by Pope Francis at the Vatican, culminating a lifetime of selfless devotion to the “poorest of the poor” on a journey that began in Calcutta, India, and grew to a worldwide mission.
The beloved Catholic nun, recipient of many honors including the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Catholic congregation, with more than 4,500 sisters in 133 countries, running hospices and homes for people with life threatening illnesses, in addition to soup kitchens, dispensaries and mobile clinics; counseling programs, orphanages and schools. At the time of her passing she was responsible for establishing 610 missions across the globe.
In 1973, Maryvale was blessed with a historic visit by Mother Teresa, who at the time was receiving the St. Louise de Marillac Award by the Ladies of Charity in Los Angeles. Sr. Estela Morales remembers Mother Teresa well, as a warm and caring person, but most of all impressed by her genuine kindness and deep humility.
Mother Teresa stayed overnight in Maryvale’s Sister’s House. The next day Mother Teresa toured Maryvale’s programs, spending significant time at the Early Education Center, thoroughly enjoying her talks with the children. While the other members of her tour left to attend another location, Mother Teresa chose to remain at Maryvale to “be with the children.”
“The children were enthralled with her,” Sr. Estela said. “And they later made gifts to send to children in one of the Mission of Charities works in India.”
Mother Teresa's acts of kindness and social justice spanned the course of her 87 years. Whether she was sharing her leftover food from her airplane travel with the poor and hungry, or, requesting that the $192,000 needed to hold a traditional Nobel honor banquet in her honor instead be given to help the poor of India. Her conviction and work changed the world forever.
On Sunday, Maryvale will celebrate along with the world as she joins a sainthood community.
About Maryvale: Maryvale cares for severely traumatized children, ages 6 to 18, who require specialized treatment in an intensive therapeutic 24-hour environment. We have been caring for children in the greater Los Angeles area since 1856.
Recently a single parent, Tammy, and her 3-year-old daughter, Sue, left their Washington home abruptly, under crisis without financial or family support. In Los Angeles, Tammy’s only resources were Cash Aid and Cal Fresh, but she was able to obtain a spot at the Family Promise Shelter after spending many nights at area churches.
Lindsey Reynolds, Program Support Specialist at Maryvale, met Sue and Tammy through a homeless shelter. Reynolds worked with Tammy and was able to enroll Sue into Maryvale’s subsidized preschool program. Sue’s natural sense of curiosity flourished and she excelled in the joyful learning program.
“Our Early Education Center provided a consistent and safe place for Sue,” said Reynolds.
While Sue enjoyed the benefits of preschool, Tammy was able to secure a full-time job nearby. Tammy no longer needs Cash Aid and Cal Fresh benefits due to her steady income. She is in the process of saving money for an apartment.
Keeping hope alive has provided a fresh outlook for Tammy and Sue.
“I love what we do,” Reynolds said. “We are making a difference.”
How a child succeeds in life can often be traced to the preschool years.
Now every eligible 3- and 4-year-old child can attend preschool, thanks to a government subsidized program. Most California preschools including Maryvale’s Early Education Centers in Rosemead and Duarte accept government subsidies for qualifying families.
The benefits of a preschool education are substantial – academic development, enriched socialization and emotional growth, with long-term advantages such as higher earnings and better jobs. Early Ed families can also be referred to Maryvale’s Family Resource Center for supportive programs to help children and families with emerging needs.
Learn more about Maryvale's subsidized preschool program in Duarte and Rosemead.
Learn more about subsidized preschool in California.
In the purest spirit of St. Vincent de Paul’s “First the heart, then the work,” Sr. Martha Garcia will be leaving Maryvale to minister to children and families at a school in San Francisco.
The Provincial Council requested Sr. Martha’s assistance with the De Marillac Academy in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, due to her extensive experience as an educator and principal.
Her foundation in education began during her first Daughter of Charity assignment in Denver as a 23-year-old teacher opening the first-grade class of 62 students.
With that success came much more, as Sr. Martha soon was responsible for teaching in other schools 1st through 8th grade as well as serving as a principal. Sr. Martha also obtained her degrees and credentials in the educational field.
Though her educational experience will greatly assist her new endeavor, Maryvale will miss its beloved matriarch of seven years, Sr. Martha, whose devotion to God and its children is unmatched.
Sr. Martha’s fondest memories focus on the children and the time she spent with them. “I loved connecting with the children on a one-to-one basis,” she said. “There were those who wanted to pray, receive a hug or just to cry. I will never forget these moments.”
Sr. Martha’s door was always open, to not only the children but to everyone who needed a discerning ear. As the leader of Maryvale’s Mission Integration Team, Sr. Martha’s counsel was inspiring and comforting, and will be sorely missed. “I will treasure the memories I’ve made with the Maryvale staff I’ve grown to love and admire,” she said.
“I was in awe of the Maryvale team members’ dedication and love for our children, despite the daily challenges they faced as they helped the children heal from their trauma,” she said.
For those searching for a way to live life without Sr. Martha’s daily wisdom, she offers her most valuable advice and the words that guide her interactions: “Look for the positive in anything that happens. Look for the beauty in every person. Even if there is negativity in a situation, there is beauty to be found in every person.
“Be a part of the mission, live the core values and pray.”