Pamela Hollands and Astrid Koenig

Bridging the service gaps for youth

Assisting individuals with diverse abilities in the Sooke area

  • Jan. 18, 2012 8:00 p.m.

Assisting individuals with diverse abilities

Christine Vopel

Sooke News Mirror

Building Bridges is a cozy, family-oriented support home,  recently created in Sooke. The advocates are Pamela Hollands, Astrid Koenig and Adi the therapy dog. Working as a close knit team they plan to bridge the gaps and service children with diverse abilities and their families. The two women possess over 50 years of combined experience working with children, youth and adults.

The mission statement of the organization reads, “Through individually focused planning, Building Bridges Community Support empowers individuals with diverse abilities to achieve their maximum potential.”

 

Hollands and Koenig met three years ago while working for another agency. Both wanted to create changes and from there the idea for Building Bridges blossomed. The guiding principle they both share is to, “focus on the needs of the individual and develop a plan of care to meet those needs.”

Last February the two friends opened a home to meet the unique needs of a local Sooke youth, in April a second child moved into the support home. By September it became apparent it was time to move into a larger home. It all started in January 2011 when Koenig received a call from a concerned parent.

“The situation was not conducive to the needs of the individual with autism,” said Koenig.

This created a need that could not be met by conventional means and there was no such agency available at the time, she explained. From there things happened very quickly.  The ball began rolling on a Monday  and by the following Tuesday  the child was able to move into residence. “Even though the dust hadn’t settled, we wanted to push forward,” said Hollands.

Koenig and Hollands screen workers for confidence, patience, skills and a minimum of two years experience with children of behavioural concern, not to mention a clean criminal record check.

Building Bridges, which prides itself on taking a holistic approach, has 15 regular workers performing shift work around the clock.

“We worked 16 hours a day during the first two to three  months. Our whole way of thinking is what does the child need and what can we build to support that individual?” said Koenig. These children are at risk of falling through the cracks, she explained. “After the age of 19 these individuals are at the bottom of the list,” Hollands added. Both women would like to see groups for children and adults but the needs for children appeared first.

“We intend to stabilize these youth, give them the skills they need to move on —  not have them grow up here,” she said. At times the duo has trouble saying ‘no’ Hollands tells me. “We want to fix everything and we don’t want to exclude anyone. The little guy calls us grandmas,” she said.

The children at Building Bridges have a need for one-on-one interaction. Both women agree their staff have developed a fantastic rapport with the children.

So far Building Bridges has gained recognition through the website and word–of-mouth but remains a relatively unfamiliar amenity to most Sooke locals. “The families that do know of us have been very happy with our services,” said Koenig.

One of the biggest needs in Sooke is a respite for young families said Koenig. The idea would be to give parents a three or four hour break.

“Families are going into crisis quicker and quicker because the government support is not there,” she said.

There is $22,000 available in government funding for children with autism prior to the age of six but that amount is cut back to $6,000 once they reach six-years-of-age, said Koenig.

The staff at Building Bridges are trained in non-violent crisis intervention. One of the speech pathologists uses pictures to aid the individual in describing what she or he is trying to express. Sometimes it’s Adi the dog who comes to the rescue. The child might only be communicating non-verbally and when Adi shows up that interaction between child and animal motivates the individual to speak and use verbal cues, said Holland.

When things get especially difficult, “we cry on each other’s shoulders,” Koenig says with a laugh. The kids often cheer them up as well without even realizing it. “When I’m having a really bad day I walk out there and get all these hugs and ‘hi’s!’  That’s what I’m working for,” said Koenig.

For Hollands, “It’s reading the story before the nap, that’s my favourite,” she said.

The two friends often finish each other’s sentences having worked together for so long and forming a close bond of friendship and camaraderie.

“What I can’t do, she can. What she can’t do, I can,” said Koenig with reference to Hollands.

Occasionally diverse abilities and being gifted seem to go hand in hand. “One of our children has perfect pitch,” said Hollands. Another taught himself to read at a grade one level at three years old and another child who suffers from a very limited attention span helped gather and stack firewood for four hours with a focus that amazed Koenig. “He wanted to impress me. If you look at autism, it doesn’t necessarily affect intellectual ability — the barriers are communication and social skills,” said Koenig.

“We’re hoping to be here a long time but the community will dictate what’s going to happen next. My vision is that when a child is diagnosed with a diverse ability, that the parents will say, I know where to get help,” said Koenig.

Building Bridges can be reached Monday through Friday by phone at 778-425-3337 or through their website: http://buildingbridgescommunitysupport.org.

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