Community Engagement Manager for Residential Programs
Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist & Recreation Therapist
When you enter Nancy Adams’ office, you are welcomed into a soothing environment adorned with photos, woodworking pieces and artwork of children served by the Center. Behind every beautiful creation and every photo capturing a stage of accomplishment, there is a story that Nancy can share.
Just like her office, there is an astounding amount of stories and history that Nancy embodies now going into her 28th year of working for the Center. Here is a slice of Nancy’s amazing passion and contributions to the Center…enjoy meeting Nancy Adams!
Why did you decide to work at the Center?
I had heard feedback from another student where I attended college, University of Iowa. She had interned at the Center and enjoyed her experience. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Therapeutic Recreation and a minor in Psychology and wanted to complete my internship in a city where it was more manageable to lead recreational activities. I’m from Chicago and was living there at the time. I knew I could enjoy the weather in San Diego much better while connecting to my passion of working with children. After my internship, I was offered a position by the Center as a Child Development Counselor and then worked my way to become the Recreational Manager. I’m now the Community Engagement Manager and will celebrate 28 years at the Center on December 18.
What do you do in your role as Community Manager?
I work with children and teens living in our residential treatment programs to help them identify areas of interest that will help them feel successful and engaged in the community. This can include joining a sports league, attending art classes, doing community service, interacting with animals, visiting local libraries for activities, horseback riding and much more. The goal is to ultimately have them choose an activity on their own that has structure, brings them passion, and allows them to learn a new skill that can be continued on after they’ve stepped down from treatment at the Center.
I’m currently working with over 50 children and teens who live at the Center. I meet 1-on-1 with each child to assess their interests and then provide my recommendation to program managers for their approval. After approval is received, I continue to work with each child and engage them throughout the process. For example, they’re with me while I’m on the computer ordering recreation materials or sports equipment they will need to decide a certain color or style they want. They need to feel in control in order to have a sense of ownership of knowing why they’re doing this and what it’s for. This is also important as they’re not provided many opportunities to make decisions for themselves as their level of care has been chosen by other people. This helps them feel a part of their treatment plan.
Once I enroll each child in their community engagement activity, I’m assessing them throughout their therapeutic treatment process. This can involve going to their meetings and games, taking pictures, having conversations with their coaches and treatment team, whatever is needed to ensure I support them in their success.
Building rapport with each child from beginning to end is important. Before a kid is discharged from the Center, I prepare a backpack as a gift to them. These backpacks help kids feel excited and hopeful of a successful transition, and they also promote sustainability for them to continue their community engagement. Each backpack is unique and personalized to each child’s needs. For example, it can include a football with cleats and pre-paid registration for a football league. Or additional resources such as a list of theaters that cater to the autism community or support groups for the LGBTQ community. The children love these backpacks and it motivates them to continue their success and know they have people who support their growth.
Why are the Center’s community engagement services important to the children and youth served?
I believe these services expose them to new opportunities and allow them to learn new skills they might not have been able to do without the Center. They’re able to practice what they’re learning in their therapeutic setting outside in the community, such as improving their social skills and attention span, managing frustration, handling impulse control, how to follow direction and much more.
Very often, the children we serve have experienced significant trauma in their lives. Community engagement activities allow them to understand that there are good people in the world and community members who are rooting for them. They’re then able to build bonds with adults and other children. This helps ease the transition when they’re discharged because they know that they can feel safe in their community due to their positive experiences. This also goes to the families of the children we serve. We don’t disclose any private information about the children and families we serve within their community engagement activities. This helps a child’s family feel like no one is judging them for what they’re going through or the struggles of their child. They can have fun and see their children in more positive situations.
Why are the Center’s community engagement services important to the community?
Through this program, the kids we serve are learning how to be productive community members in our society. We are reaching them at a young age which will help them as they get older. Not only are the children benefiting, but also the adults they’re interacting with. Coaches have come up to me to share of how our kids made them a better person. They see that mental illness is real and affecting many lives. They have learned to adapt their instruction and coaching skills, which in the end allows them to be more compassionate and understanding toward the kids we serve. On both ends, seeds are being planted that allow for individual growth and a better society.
What would you consider your major accomplishments?
This is a hard question because there are so many success stories of children and also fun events and activities I’ve created in my many years of working here!
The first accomplishment that comes to mind is knowing that I’ve helped children realize their potential and feel successful through community engagement. The coolest thing is not only hearing from current children and youth of how much they enjoy being in the community, but also receiving calls from alumni who share with me that they’re doing well based on what they learned at the Center. We have the capability of changing a child’s life. And, at times, they might not see it until later, but it’s rewarding to know that our efforts are appreciated. The kids are what motivate me to continue my passion and dedication of working for the Center.
The second would be receiving the Mark Shipman Award in 2007, which was in honor of a former medical director of the Center. This award was given in the past by the Center and recognized outstanding clinical service by a Center employee. It meant a lot to me to be nominated and acknowledged by the Center through this award. It was a validation that the Center believed in my work of developing and implementing the recreational therapy program and saw it as a clinical piece that contributed to a child’s therapeutic treatment. Additionally, receiving this award was special on a personal level since I knew Mark Shipman and we were a part of the running group I started at the Center for employees and also children in our care.
The last accomplishment would be starting various sports leagues for children living at the Center. I started a basketball team with former Padres player, Jerald Clark, who was interested in volunteering. This then grew to creating more sports teams and competing in the community, working with our Academy’s PE teacher on developing other activities, and planning an awards banquet for the kids. I was then approached about the Center joining the CAPSES Sports League, which is geared for children with special needs. Our Academy school is still involved with CAPSES and our teams have won championships throughout the years.
What are a few words that describe you?
Dedicated, kind, compassionate and nurturing.
What’s your favorite song?
My favorite song is Lean on Me. This song touches me not only because of its lyrics, but also for my experience with singing the song. I have sung with our children’s choir for many of the Center’s Anniversary Celebrations as a way to show my support for the kids. One celebration we had Michael Bolton performing and he sang Lean on Me with the choir. I like to be behind the scenes and usually stand in the back, but Michael Bolton stood by me. It was a bit terrifying, but a fun experience, because it was all about the kids and for the kids.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I enjoy reading, being outside, playing sports (including my water aerobics class) and watching my son play sports. I lived in Jamaica too, so I like listening to reggae music.