In South Carolina, the Carolina Youth Development Center provides care for young people who have been abused, neglected or abandoned. All of the children have challenges, and many have emotional disorders.
As head of the center, Barbara Kelley Duncan plays an important role in helping the healing process begin.
“When children come to us, we help them feel safe in a nurturing environment,” she says. “We want them to know that things in their lives might be different, but they are going to be OK.”
Founded in 1790 as the Charleston Orphan House, the Carolina Youth Development Center has served Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties for 222 years. With nine residential and outreach programs, it provides shelter, safety and treatment to more than 600 children and at-risk youth each year. Its continuum of services covers prevention, assessment, intervention, treatment and transition.
The Duke Endowment has supported Carolina Youth Development for decades. Since the mid-1990s, nearly $2 million in grants have helped the organization with training, operating costs and program expansion. More recently, Endowment support has focused on improving well-being.
Since 2007, for example, grants have supported an aftercare program to help youth—both during and after discharge—transition from group living to independence.
An earlier grant helped renovate buildings on campus and construct a vocational center. Through education, leadership and technology programs, the Bakker Career Center helps youth explore employment possibilities and learn the skills they’ll need to be successful adults.
This year, the Bakker Center will be the focus of a new $175,000 grant from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation in New York. Carolina Youth Development—one of 102 nonprofits across the country invited to apply for a grant—was one of 15 winners.
The Edna McConnell Clark initiative, called PropelNext, will help Carolina Youth Development examine its work in the Bakker Center.
“PropelNext provides an awesome opportunity … to refine and evaluate our model,” says Kelley Duncan. “It will ensure that the work coming out of our organization is data driven, that we are doing the work that we should do, and that we are having the impact that we need it to have.”
She talks more about the Bakker Center and Carolina Youth Development in the following interview.
When you talk about the Carolina Youth Development Center, what’s the main thing you want people to know about the children and young people you serve?
Our young people are really the same as all other young people. They have been dealt some serious blows early in their lives and they have to do a lot of work to overcome that, but when you come to campus you will see that we have the most amazing and wonderful children.
Staff members are helping children who have really serious challenges. What do you tell them about their work?
We remind them that every day and every moment they have an opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child. Every moment can be a teachable moment; every day they have an opportunity to be a life coach.
If you could expand a program or add a new one, what would it be?
To provide housing services for young people as they exit care. If we had sufficient resources, transitional living would be our next program.
In this work, there has always been an emphasis on transitions, but there have never been enough resources – human or financial – to really do it well. More and more you are hearing about transitions as young people exit care, especially with the emphasis on having children in care for a shorter period of time.
When young people begin transitioning to living on their own as adults, what hurdles do they face?
If they have been in group care surrounded by nurturing people who are going to pick them up when they fall, getting out there “on their own” is scary. When children leave care, they typically go back into the environment from which they have come. They often face unemployment, incarceration, pregnancy – all those societal ills that we try to address in group care.
Through The Duke Endowment, we created a very formal aftercare program that helped us understand the importance of being available to our young people when they do leave care – to let them know that they can reach back and get help.
Could you share a success story?
“George” is 19 years old. He came to us in our high-management home. He had a lot of anger and a lack of trust. Life had dealt him a really tough hand.
While he was with us, he was putting all his time and effort into his education and to obtaining a job. He recently graduated from high school and has been accepted into the Army. But an additional success is that he has been with us as a part-time staff member, helping coach other youth and supporting us in the work that we do.
What was the idea behind opening the Bakker Center?
When young people leave care, they often face many of the challenges that we try to address in group care. We realized there was a gap in services.
But lucky for us, we have a former board member, Linda Bakker who, with her husband, donated the majority of the funds needed to build a center that would focus on academic support, career and vocational services. And with the support of The Duke Endowment, which provided additional capital funds for the building and furnishings, we have been able to develop and expand our program offerings. With funding from the Endowment, we have developed a unique curriculum that not only focuses on basic job skills, but also includes leadership and life skills to ensure that our youth are able to navigate through the many challenges they will face as they prepare for adulthood.
How did you decide which programs to offer?
We wanted to mirror businesses that were in the local community that might offer opportunities for our young people. We partnered with some of those community businesses, and we asked our young people what they would like to be involved in and which skills they would like to learn. The goal was to create a safe environment for learning skills that employers were looking for.
Being part of the Edna McConnell Clark initiative sounds like a wonderful opportunity. What does it mean for the center?
For us, it means acknowledgement of the successful work that we have done in the Bakker Center over the past six years. But it also allows us the opportunity to find answers to our questions: Is it the right model? Are we collecting the right data? How does all of the data ensure that we are having the successful outcomes that we want for young people? It is an amazing opportunity to look at what we are doing as we develop best practices and refine our model.
What constitutes a good day for you?
I know this sounds kind of hokey, but it is true: Every day is a good day for me. I love the work that I do and I am grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our children and youth.
Are there difficult days? Absolutely. But I am still aware of what I am doing and why.
Phillip H. Redmond Jr.
Director of Child Care