Laurie Collins Interview
This is file 10 cycle 4. This is Jean McMillen. Today’s date is May 23, 2019. I am interviewing Laurie Collins. She is the head of the Housatonic Youth Service Bureau. She is going to talk about her employment, her career, future plans and anything else that tickles her fancy. First we will start with…
JM:What is your name?
JM:How did you come to the area the first time?
LC:I was born in Ontario, Canada in Toronto and moved here with the family when I was two years old. My parents moved here.
JM:You went back to Canada?
LC:At age 14.
JM:You came back to join the Youth Service Bureau.
JM:When did you actually join the Housatonic Youth Service Bureau?
LC:In August of 2018.
JM:What had been your previous job?
LC:Prior to that I worked at people with disabilities in Toronto, mostly in employment and autism services. It was at the Geneva Center for Autism & Developmental Disabilities.
JM:Your previous background was in nursing, was it not?
LC:That’s right. I graduated as a nurse first.
JM:Then you went to work and got interested in autism and developmental disabilities.
JM:When you saw the posting for this position here in Falls Village, why did you think it would be a fit?
LC:I told the board when I met with them for the first time and they asked me that question, the thing that really spoke to me when I went on line and looked at the position, was the type of services. I really felt like the core values of the organization were mine.
JM:It was a good fit, then.
JM:What was the interview process? Were you interviewed by one person or the board or several times?
LC:I was u=interview several times. The first time it was at the Hotchkiss Library in Sharon when I met with 3 members of the board whom I found out later were part of the Human Resource Task Force. At the second interview I met with a couple of more board members and Nancy Byrd, President of the Board. The third time I met with the rest of the board members and some of the clinicians.
JM:How many clinicians do you have?
LC:There are three.
JM:Do you like your new space over the 6 bay garage?
LC:Oh yes it is a great space and we love it.
JM:If you had had to recreate that space, would you have done it differently?
JM:What would you have done?
LC:Seeing now the kind of services we do the most of in that space, I would definitely have more small rooms for the actual clinical services, counseling services. I probably would make the big space, called the board room, a bit more transitional so we could use it for programing.
JM:Is the board supportive?
LC:Yes, we have an amazing board. As I think back, this is the only board I have even seen that provides this much support and is so engaged. They are on top of things. It is a great board.
JM:How many are on the board?
JM:Is there any special person on the board that is outstanding in your opinion for help, support and encouragement or is it all equal?
LC:That is a hard question. No they all stand out in different things that I have worked on with them.
JM:They all have their special talents.
LC:Nancy Byrd has been an amazing support to me. She is very supportive and reassuring and really able to bridge the gap between me and the previous executive director. There was an interim
person. She had been able to bridge that. All of the board members are amazing and contribute in their own way. There isn’t a one that I think is not amazing.
JM:That is unusual.
LC:It really is.
JM:There is usually a little dead wood on a board.
LC: Drifters! I think every single person has definitely stepped up and been engaged in activities, and the different fund raisers.
JM:I heard the same thing from the previous director. It is a big board but to have everybody so engaged is so unusual but the mission you all are working toward is so worthwhile. I am going to ask you about some of the programs and please explain them. Summer intern, what does that do?
LC:We have a summer internship program. The participants tend to be in grade 11. We put out some proposals and requests for funding for stipends for the students so we can have as many students as we have stipends. Then we can match students with non-profits in the area. The way we do that is to have the non-profit come in for an information day. We have all the students that want to be part of the program come in together. We try to make natural connections. The students work 200 hours over the summer for the non-profit doing various things. It could be in the office or outside. They get a stipend at the end for $700.
JM:$700 that is a nice bonus.
LC:One of the other things I should mention is that last year and this year we partnered with the high school about having a credit course be available to the students. Up to two students could participate in doing an on-line course over the summer which is paired with the internship. Then they can get school credit.
JM:That is an excellent idea. What is a “pipe-cleaner” group?
LC:The “pipe-cleaner” group is one of our new programs that the clinicians put together on their own. They came up with the curriculum using bits and pieces from their own clinical journeys. It is for kids that are from split families, divorce, and difference kinds of things that have made the family severed. The idea is that a pipe cleaner is flexible. It teaches them how to be bendy, agile and flexible.
JM:That is a skill we all need. Empowering Youth came out of something else, didn’t it?
LC:It did. Empowering Youth came from the program called “Empowering Young Women” which was in place for years. It was offered to the students in the high school. This year when we offered it as one of the things to do in the flex block, instead of getting young women, we had 9 young men show up. We weren’t really sure if they were serious or not, but we figured after one session that they were very
serious. They continued to come back and at one point we had about 14 or 15 of them. That was the maximum so that became a discussion group. This was student lead; they would tell us what topics they wanted to discuss. They wanted to talk about things like gender, sexuality, building the wall in Mexico. They talked about all kinds of things. The clinicians’ role was to facilitate the conversation, not to give their opinions or to tell the kids if they were right or wrong. They were teaching them how to share their opinions and hear other points of view and not judge.
JM:Do you work only with high schoolers or do you go into the elementary schools?
LC:We go into the elementary schools too. We respond to any of the needs in Region #1, planning with families, and work with ages 2 and up. The “pipe cleaner “group is an example of what we do with grade 5 and 6 level. We partner with McCall’s to provide training in life and social skills and prevention training. We do this in all of the schools. We do a bunch of social skills groups. We respond to the need of an administrator or teacher. They call us and say, “We have a group and we need help with this group”. We will go in and help with that group.
JM:One of the other things with social skills was autism.
LC:That was a new program this year. There was a particular school in the region which had a small cluster of kids with high functioning autism. One of the clinicians pulled together really fundamental; social skills building curriculum that would help them in various situations like lunch and conversations with their peers.
JM:Do you do role playing at all?
LC:In the group? Yes, that is part of it.
JM:What is Second–Step Curriculum?
LC:This is a curriculum that already exists. One of the schools has a situation where there was borderline bullying, this group against that group. The administration remembered this particular curriculum. It is really about friendship and good relationship building at a young age. It is more preventative rather than the bullying that you might deal with with older kids.
JM:What age level would that be?
LC:They are doing this at grade 5 and 6.
JM:That is a little late.
LC:With the friendship building?
JM:Yeah they are 10.
LC:Right so if you need that kind of social skill building at age 10 the need exists.
JM:No but I am thinking I taught 4th grade and even at that age, this was a program that could have been used with some of the 4th grade classes that I had.
LC:Some of the things that already pre-packaged curriculum have different age ranges that they think age going to work the best. The relationship skills probably are probably more senior than 8 and 9 year olds. It might touch on content at some level a bit deeper or more sensitive.
JM:What is the Juvenile Review Board?
LC:In Connecticut the Juvenile Review Board is a diversion option for minors who get arrested. If a young person in the high school gets caught smoking or vaping with marijuana in it, the State Police are called as well as obvious consequences with the school. The State Police make a determination about whether or not the student goes to the Juvenile Review Board as a diversion rather than going to the court system.
JM:There is a policeman on that board?
LC:Yes so we have a State Trooper who is on the board and 6 other members on the board.
JM:Is it the Resident Trooper or is it someone different?
LC:It is not the Resident Trooper. We try to keep it as objective as possible. We do have someone from the school, and a counselor from HYSB, me and the rest are community members. Someone from Hotchkiss is there someone from the Foundation for community Health and so on. That board reviews what the offense was; thus there is a consequence but it is not penalty based but more growth based. It will teach them by learning from experience. We send them to McCall’s to talk about marijuana and interview someone and write an essay for us.
JM:Tell me a little bit about McCall. I am not familiar with that.
LC:McCall Center for Behavior Health is in Torrington, their main campus. They are also in North Canaan. They do all kinds of addiction and prevention programs. A person from McCall is a network prevention facilitator and is part of the Connecticut Prevention network. She facilitates that collaborative. She sits at that table too to keep avenues open for all parts of the corner to be able to connect with McCall’s Center for Addictions.
JM:What are some of the challenges that you face, but not necessarily the students but other things?
LC:As an organization the biggest one is always funding no matter what the organization is. This is an organization which is mostly funded by the community by donations, sponsorships at events. We do a funding here and there from the state and local levels. The bulk comes from fund raising activities. One of the things we try to do is keep the community engaged so they know what we are doing and how
we are doing it. How we are helping people and the other part of it is making sure that the community has a true picture of who needs help and how much. I think there is a gap.
JM:That is difficult sometimes. How about transportation? Is that a problem?
LCTransportation is the biggest barrier always. It is hard to get kids to any program. Sometimes it is hard to get kids to clinical services with us for counseling. We do what we can so the clinicians go out to all the schools to see kids one to one and to provide the programing needed. Sometimes we cannot see the child in the school so they have to come to us. The other part of transportation issue is if they need a higher level of care. There is nothing locally so we often refer them into one of the bigger cities. It is a long way for kids to travel, especially if they are going back and forth.
JM:Is there a fee for the students to use your services?
LC:No that is why we need the funding. All the services right now are offered at no charge, whether it is one to one counseling or a program.
JM:Do you feel you have enough clinicians or would you prefer to have more?
LC:I have the right clinicians who are very good at what they do and what they do in the community. That is one saving grace. This year we have doubled the number of counseling referrals that we have had. Last year we carried74 and this year we have had 120. What that means to me is that I don’t have a good handle on what the needs actually is.
JM:Or that they are so impressed with the programs that they are seeking help.
LC:There is a need.
JM:Yes there is a need, but New Englanders tend not to ask for help. The very fact that you are getting referrals means, to me, that they are comfortable with what you are doing. They are willing to extend themselves which is quite a compliment.
LC: Yes, it is amazing. We have the right clinicians who connect with the kids. It helps the clinicians who go into the schools with programs who meet the kids. Later on if one of the kids needs to be seen clinically there is already a bit of a connection. Whether or not we need more clinicians time will tell.
JM:One of the things that surprised me when we talked before was that there are peer referrals, or self- referrals.
LC:At the high school level it does not make up a huge number, but we do have student who will walk over to see a counselor. Usually when they do that, it is because something is going on in the school or maybe something going on at home that they don’t really want to share with the school or a parent just yet.
JM:Recently you had an event where the Donald T. Warmer Award was given, but you have added something new to that event. Tell me about the new scholarship.
LC:This year was the first year where we really looked at all the events we are doing and we wanted to make sure that the events were connected to the organization. This event is a fun night and is focused on the adults in the community. We decided internally that we would do a special fund raiser to pull together some funds to provide an award to one senior student at Housatonic. The scholarship was meant for a student who is working through some challenges in life, and not necessarily been a part of HYSB. Someone who has worked very hard and had given to the community what they could in the course of high school. We got 10 applications which were probably 8 more than we thought we would get. There were10 very compelling letters about things that kids have worked through and were continuing to work on. We had to go externally with a small committee of 5 people, three of whom were external to HYSB.
JM:How much money did this person (Miri Rinehart) get?
LC:We decided on #1,000 scholarship. That was our goal this year. It was what we could do in a short amount of time for fund raising. We decided that this will become one of the regular fund raising events next year. I should say too Katlyn Thornhill, one of our clinicians, that this was her brain child. She has been thinking about this for a couple of years and it had not taken off until this year. When this year it did take off, she offered to run a Spin-a-thon in Lakeville. She partnered with the business and offered the stakes. Katlyn got up there on the bike and rode for 2 hours to raise funds for the scholarship and that is where the funding came.
JM:Who won the Donald T. Warmer Award this year?
LC:Lori Belter, listening to her stories and what she has accomplished in a very short amount of time was incredible. To celebrate what she has done with the students in the Housatonic Musical Theater Society, the kids came and sang at our event. They did a little clip from each of the 12 years of shows in which she was involved. They sang 3 or 4 bars from each show; a little medley that they put together. It was the most amazing thing ever.
JM:She deserves it. She had worked very hard on that. I did an oral history with her on that. She is so enthusiastic and so pro-kid that it is wonderful.
LC:It is a perfect connection for HYSB to give her that award. Everyone who receives that award does a lot for the community, but she connects so much with the high school kids.
JM:It was an excellent connection. It was a connection with kids where some of the others have been more of a connection with the community. This was a good fit.
JM:Hard question, what haven’t I asked you that you want to talk about?
LC:Oh wow that is a hard question. I am not sure that is a lot that you haven’t asked. You have been pretty thorough.
JM:I try. How about future plans? What would you like for the future?
LC:Future plans at HYSB-when I started, one of the things that I did was to go into all the schools K-8 and the high school and school counselors and asked, “What else should we be doing?” It was a wide open question because I really didn’t know what the needs were. I think over the course of the year we have really tried to dabble in different areas to show them pieces of what the service bureau can do. That is not just one to one counseling, although that is a very big need. There are other things that we can do like scholarships and programs. At the end of the year I am going back to all the schools and ask how did it go? What else can we do?
JM:So you are going to get some feedback?
LC:Based on what they say, we can plan what to do next year and broaden the services a little bit. We could use more breadth in the groups.
JM:What do you mean by that?
LC:Without duplication of services of those of Parks & Rec. because a lot of things happen at that level and they have some great programs too. There are some social/recreational activities that we could be doing with the kids. Maybe something in the vein of prevention, yet keeping things light and getting the kids engaged in some programming that they want to be part of. That keeps them busy.
JM:Always keep them busy. Thank you so much.
LC:Thank you for this opportunity.