As Strengthening Families & Incredible Years Coordinator, Mackenzie Gillespie spearheads programs at the Children’s Center that are designed to help families. She leads two 14-week programs: Incredible Years for ages three to six and Strengthening Families for ages six to 11. Much of Mackenzie’s work with the older children is geared toward parents who attend the sessions to help them learn about their emotions and especially how to control anger.

The Children’s Center provides dinner and transportation to those who attend the sessions, which are often held in local schools. The programs are similar for both age groups, but children in the three-to-six-year-old age group go to childcare while parents learn about skills such as positive praise.

Mackenzie worked with a young woman named Janice in the Strengthening Families program who was a single mother with two boys ages eight and ten. Janice’s name has been changed to protect her identity. Here is her story as shared by Mackenzie:

Janice’s Story

The Department of Juvenile Justice referred Janice to the Children’s Center. After we saw her, we quickly recognized that Janice had both financial and mental health issues. Janice was very standoffish during our first session, and she made it clear that she didn’t want to be at the Children’s Center. However, within a couple of weeks we developed a trusting relationship with her.

Janice stayed in touch with us after her first 14-week session was completed. However, Janice had no support structure at home at all, and she was likely not taking the medications that she needed. Trouble continued at home, and the Department of Social Services eventually removed her two boys from Janice’s home. The Department of Social Services recommended that Janice take another parenting session at the Children’s Center, and she agreed.

When Janice arrived for her second group of sessions, she was a completely different person. Janice made friends with others during these sessions and began to get job interviews. She developed skills like patience and trust and the ability to communicate with her boys. As the second group of sessions continued, Janice got her two boys back, and she got a job.

Janice needed the support of the Children’s Center to deal with issues in her life, and we gave her the skills needed to prosper. Since completing her second groups of sessions, Janice has written thank you letters to her employer, the Department of Social Services and to the Children’s Center. Janice has overcome numerous obstacles in her life and continues to do well.