Meet Sarah, a Teen Served by the Center

Could you imagine not having a place to call “home” as a child?  That your reality of home, family structure and way of life was decided for you by a government agency?  Perhaps you can’t even imagine. Or, perhaps you can relate.

Meet Sarah, who has been in the foster care system since she was 1-month-old. Read of how Sarah’s experiences have fueled her determination to live a joyful and healthy life – and how she discovered a passion for the culinary arts.


Sarah is a smart teenager with eyes wide open to life.  At the young age of 15, you could easily mistake Sarah for being well-beyond her years and preparing for a legal case given how well-versed she is about the foster care system.  Not to her own fault, Sarah grew up in the system, which she has known as her only home.

“I didn’t get into the system for something I did.  I couldn’t have, I was a baby.  My mom had to do something,” shares Sarah.

Sarah was born to a 32-year-old mother with a mental disorder, who unfortunately was not seeking help to address her challenges.  Instead, her mother served as a harmful presence.  At 1-month-old, Sarah was removed from her harmful home in Riverside and transferred to San Diego.  Since then, Sarah has lived in over 3 cities, 3 foster group homes and 2 states.

“From the time I was 8 to 13-years-old, I thought I was going to get placed in a home, but my heart would be broken over and over again.  It wasn’t a great feeling that my life wasn’t going to be normal.  It’s not like I’d be saying, ‘Mom, I’m going to the beach with my friends, see you later.’  By 13, I accepted that I would have to learn how to do things on my own, make money and go grocery shopping and stuff.”

Sarah first came to the Center when she was 5-years-old and then returned at the age of 11 to live again in the Residential Treatment Program.  During this time, Sarah received educational support and therapeutic services to address her severe traumatic experiences and her bipolar and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders.

After Sarah was discharged from the Center due to her positive progress, her life went down a less positive path.  Negative influences resulted in Sarah spending 2 ½ years in lockdown – a juvenile facility for children with no criminal offense history.

“I was upset a lot. Confused, where I was going to go in the system and what was going to happen to me.  After being in lockdown, I ran away from the group home I lived in.  I was mad and did things in order to get by.”

During this turbulent time, Sarah became pregnant.  During her pregnancy, Sarah reflected on her life and the life she wanted to provide for her baby.  Sarah didn’t want her baby to experience the life of turmoil, loss of hope and pain she knew herself too well.  Sarah came back to the Center in 2015 to attend the Academy while living in a foster group home.  A part of Sarah’s curriculum at the Academy included culinary arts in the Center’s Clark Adolescent Program kitchen.

“I was scared when I first started cooking.  I didn’t want to do it, get by the stove or anything.  My therapist mentioned it might have something to do with me being traumatized as a young child, but I don’t remember.”Sarah Cooking

Sarah worked slowly through her fears and hesitations to become a natural in the kitchen.  Through her interactions with Tina Reyes, Life Skills Manager of the Center, Sarah learned about healthy nutrition, cooking with various vegetables and their health benefits, cooking techniques and use of basic cooking tools.Sarah and Tina

“Now I love to cook.  I’m not afraid of the kitchen.  In my group home, I’m the one in the kitchen cooking and telling other kids in the home of how easy it is and healthy it is to cook your own food.  I really like the sauce that Tina taught me how to make. It has garlic, lemon juice, broth and seasoning.  I put it on my fish because it’s my favorite thing to cook and it’s healthy.”

Tina learned that Sarah was a young mother toward the final classes of the 2016 school year.  Inspired by Sarah’s deep interest in the culinary arts and impressive questions, Tina offered to teach Sarah private classes in the Clark kitchen focused on making baby food.  Sarah was excited for this opportunity to continue her passion for cooking during the Academy’s Extended School Year summer program.

“As a mom myself, I felt it was important for Sarah to not only learn of proper nutrition for her baby, but also the importance of learning how to cook for her child,” says Tina.

Over a one-month period, Tina taught Sarah about nutrition, hygiene, sanitation, cost-effective approaches to cooking, and meal planning specifically for an infant.   When Sarah cooked in the Clark kitchen, a sense of pride, focus and determination was clearly visible.  What Sarah cooked was then provided to her baby during their weekly visits together.  Sarah would then modify ingredients at the next class based on what her baby enjoyed.  Sarah found an avenue to be creative in her cooking that was guided by the love she has for her baby girl.Baby Food

“I think I’m pretty good at being a mom, and I thank Tina for teaching me how to cook for my baby.  I want to be a stable mom for her, give her a permanent place that allows things to be stable in her life not like how it was for me.  I need to keep going with my education, take my therapy and use what they teach me in therapy and anger management.  My daughter is my motivation to succeed.”

An end goal of the Center is to ensure children and teens are equipped with the tools needed to continue their treatment success when they transition back into their community.  The Center wishes Sarah the very best as she continues her passion for cooking and drive to complete her therapeutic and academic goals near a location by her group home.

*The teen’s name has been replaced in order to protect their identity.

 Help a child like Sarah…

To bring hope to a child as a loving parental figure and role model, please click here to learn about our foster family programs.

Unable to provide a home for a child, but interested in making a difference?  Click here to donate to help a child receive therapeutic, educational, foster care and transition services.

Thank You to CPCMG

Doctors, nurses and staff from Children’s Primary Care Medical Group (CPCMG) took time from their weekend to volunteer at our “Sunday Funday” challenge stations and obstacle course!
CPCMG
This fantastic group of JoyMakers also hosted a pizza party for children and teens living in our therapeutic residential treatment facilities and generously donated recreational supplies and equipment. We’re so thankful to the CPCMG for providing JOY to the children and families we serve!

For more information on ways you or your group can help create JOY at the Center, click here or contact Kristi Worley, Senior Development Manager at (858) 634-8342.

Thank You to Vespa Motorsport

Thank You to Vespa Motorsport
A big thank you to the fabulous crew at Vespa Motorsport!  Vespa celebrated their 24th Anniversary and held a raffle with proceeds benefitting the Center.  We appreciate Vespa Motorsport for their long-time support and partnership!

Summer Jam Event

Our annual Summer Jam event brings the joys of childhood to children and teens living in our therapeutic Residential Treatment Program.  Summer Jam Gaslamp District Media

A friendly basketball tournament, wipeout machine, jumpy house, music and award ceremony were a part of this grand event!  We appreciate Gaslamp District Media for volunteering their time, talent and treasure.  This fantastic group pitched in by refereeing and keeping scores of the games, and donated new basketballs and prizes for the kids!

Center’s Partnership with North County Academy

We are proud to partner with North County Academy to provide therapeutic services to their students. It’s truly a team effort to help students feel successfulOur School-Based Partnerships and hopeful of a joyful life, both academically and personally.

Please read this article by the San Diego County Office of Education, highlighting North County Academy’s accomplishments and their partnership with the Center.

A Success Story: Meet Tommy

The children and youth we serve through our therapeutic residential programs have oftentimes experienced a severe amount of trauma in their lives. Pain, fear, discouragement and a sense of failure have unfortunately been themes weaved throughout their young lives.Success Story Meet Tommy

Tommy came to the Center with a history of trauma and neglect, and unfortunately, without the support from his parents. As a trusted partner of the County of San Diego Health & Human Services Agency, Tommy was referred to the Center given our ability to treat and care for the most impacted youth. Tommy was unsafe to live in a traditional home setting and needed the highest level of therapeutic treatment on a 24/7 basis.

One factor that contributed to Tommy’s growth was his engagement in the community, an important component of our therapeutic Residential Programs. Our community engagement efforts connect children and youth with a structured activity in the community where they can learn new skills, feel successful in the community, and continue their passion for their chosen activity once they complete their therapeutic treatment.

Tommy was very athletic and expressed an interest of being involved in a community sport. He met with Nancy Adams, the Center’s Community Engagement Manager for Residential Programs to identify activities that he would be passionate about.

Nancy shares, “Tommy was a great athlete, but being coachable was a skill that he had to work on. By being involved in weekly practices and games, he had another setting to practice and work on skills he was learning in our therapeutic setting. This involved Tommy learning how to follow direction from his coach, improving on his social skills and anger management when he didn’t score a goal, and learning how to be a teammate rather than controlling the ball all the time.”

Tommy continued in other sports, which improved his ability to release anger while also developing self-regulation skills. Sports were Tommy’s outlet and through his positive changes, he became a role model to other children living at the Center. Not only were Tommy’s changes in his behavior recognized by his peers and his therapeutic team at the Center, but also by the father of a fellow teammate. This father learned that Tommy’s parents weren’t in his life by seeing Tommy’s CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) at games as he was in the foster care system. Inspired by his passion to help children, this father decided to adopt Tommy in order to provide him with a loving family and expose him to experiences that he was gifted as a child.

Nancy ensured that Tommy received a successful transition, as she does with every child discharged from the Center, to provide the resources necessary for continued success. Tommy received a backpack with soccer items and Nancy helped Tommy’s father enroll him in the Spring 2016 sports season. This current summer season, Tommy’s father was able to register him on his own, which is the goal of our community engagement efforts to create sustainability in activities after a child’s discharge.

Today, Tommy and his father are traveling across the country exploring new cities. Although Tommy has a new home and a new family, one thing remains constant which is his passion for sports and staying connected to the Center.Success Story Meet Tommy - Soccer Ball

After the last soccer game of the spring season, Tommy huddled with his former Center peers to share something important from his heart.

“You guys need to work your program (meet treatment goals) and let them help you and listen to them, so you can get a great family like I have.”

Not only were Tommy’s peers inspired by his words, but also Nancy and other adults who were at the game. Mental illness is a topic that can be shunned and stigmatized by many. Though to see a young child, like Tommy, be proud of who he is, where he came from, and acknowledge the Center as something positive is quite powerful.

An important lesson can be learned from Tommy…we can find happiness in our lives if we’re willing to change and be open to receiving help.

To learn more about our Residential Programs, please click here.

*The child’s name has been replaced in order to protect their identity.

Thank You Farrell Family Foundation & ResMed Foundation!

You Make Success Possible!

The Farrell Family Foundation & ResMed Foundation have been valuable partners in our efforts to help bring hope and healing to San Diego children and families.Thank You

We’re fortunate to have been awarded by the Farrell Family Foundation a 3-year grant for $105,000 to support our Academy’s Intensive Reading Improvement Program. Additionally, the ResMed Foundation has approved a $10,000 grant for our school’s Intensive Math Improvement Program.

Both of these programs give highly-focused, individualized instruction to a student who is struggling in either subject, helping them reach the academic skills at their appropriate grade level. Oftentimes, the needs of students struggling with mental or emotional health challenges aren’t able to be addressed entirely in a traditional school classroom and many come to the Center’s Academy multiple grade levels below in critical subject areas. This can have a devastating impact in their academic success – and beyond.

Because of the generosity of our donors, we are able to provide the excellent level of therapeutic care and special education that is truly changing the lives for these extraordinary young people. Each gift made to the Center allows the resources to ensure each child’s individual needs are skillfully and fully addressed… with the goal to set each on a solid trajectory for a lifetime of success.

Meet Nancy Adams

Community Engagement Manager for Residential Programs
Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist & Recreation TherapistNancy Adams

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.Nancy Adams Early Years

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 Nancy Adams Mark Shipman Award 2007in 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.

Sullivan Solar Power selects Center as its 2016 Charitable Partner

This month, a surprising and wonderful partnership was announced.Sullivan Solar Power Partnership

Locally headquartered Sullivan Solar Power selected the Center as its charitable partner for 2016.  Sullivan Solar Power will not only donate a solar power installation on our main campus in Kearny Mesa, but will also contribute $500 for every installation they complete between now and the end of the year. The savings from solar and the donations will help the Center further its mission and support a brighter future for San Diego (View commercial currently airing on NBC 7 San Diego).

“We’re very grateful to Sullivan Solar Power for this partnership and their generous contribution,” says Dr. Moisés Barón, Center President & CEO. “The San Diego Center for Children is celebrating 130 years of caring for children who are struggling with emotional, behavioral and mental health challenges, and strengthening families. Because of support like this, we can provide the effective level of treatment, care and education our next generation deserves, to more families in need in our community.”Sullivan Solar Power

For information about solar power installation, please visit Sullivan Solar Power.

Iris Auxiliary Annual Meeting

Iris Auxiliary Donation Presentation

We are very thankful for the Iris Auxiliary’s continued support over the past 35 years! This amazing group of ladies presented us with a $28,000 check at their Annual Meeting. Their generosity will help fund our therapeutic and educational services that directly benefit the children and youth we serve. Thank you Iris Auxiliary for bringing hope and joy to the children in many different ways!