“These girls don’t deserve any less than you and I had.” — Kathy Szafran, CEO and president of Crittenton Services
Trauma is defined as “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury.” The girls at Crittenton Services are sadly familiar with many types of trauma. From drug addiction to abuse, all of the girls have experienced heartbreaking events that have resulted in traumatized minds. With the guidance of passionate adults and a safe environment, the girls have found a home at Crittenton Services.
It was in August, 25 years ago that Kathy Szafran joined Crittenton hoping to make an impact.
After finishing her education at West Virginia University, she worked as an outpatient child therapist and a protective service supervisor in Ohio and then joined Crittenton Services as an administrator.
Before her journey at Crittenton, she often wondered if her time as a therapist was truly making a difference. This thought eventually led her to new beginnings and Crittenton Services. After joining the organization as an administrator and witnessing the lives of these young girls, she began her mission to take more of a scientific approach to her work and dig deeper into the roots of each problem.
Szafran explained that for 10 years she was “working from the concept of behavior and not from the understanding that these kids had severe trauma as very young children and their brains were wired differently.” Now, she focuses on using more science to “understand what we need to do to help that healing, safety and resilience.”
When the girls arrive at the Crittenton residency, some of them have experienced years of abuse and misguidance, while some of them are pregnant searching for support and assistance. Here, they are provided new opportunities like education, counseling, a safe place to live and other experiences that prepare them for the next step in their lives.
Over the past 25 years, Szafran has taken the time to truly hear and observe each girl who enters the facility. Wanting nothing more than to help them build better lives for themselves, Szafran has greatly contributed to the development and expansion of multiple services at Crittenton.
Szafran is encouraged by where her position has taken her over the years, “Right now, I’m more excited about my field than I’ve ever been in my life. Understanding this as a science is like the light bulb that lit up on top of my head.”
‘Go Forth and Sin No More’
In 1882, Charles Crittenton, a Christian missionary from New York City, established the Florence Crittenton Mission. Florence was the name of his 4-year-old daughter who had passed away that same year. In the late 19th century, Crittenton preached to the public and encouraged young women of the streets to “go forth and sin no more.” Although, he soon realized that they had nowhere to go. Crittenton was devastated seeing such corruption and sadness in his city, so he devoted himself to finding a safe alternative for young woman.
He developed the National Florence Crittenton Mission, and through this, young girls were given the opportunity to live a substantial life. Soon after he began this journey, he met Dr. Kate Waller Barrett, an obstetrician from Atlanta, who became the co-founder of the National Florence Crittenton Mission. Barrett, too, had a passion to help the women of her time. Together, Barrett and Crittenton constructed numerous rescue homes. In the early years, the foundation focused on housing unwed mothers and prostitutes who had no other options, but as it strengthened, they began supporting girls and young woman who had been acquainted with any sort of trauma.
Growth and Wheeling Services
The Florence Crittenton Mission soon flourished with 78 agencies in five countries by 1914. Crittenton eventually made his way to West Virginia on his “Good News,” train, which traveled across the world to support misguided, young women. He visited cities to assess the amount of distress throughout the areas and donated money to help build Crittenton homes in each location in need. When he realized just how troubling matters were in West Virginia, he had to take action. Soon after, the women of this state were provided more love and support to live healthier lives.
Today, there are 28 agencies left in the United States, and six locations are in West Virginia. Each agency is independently governed and operated yet under the National Crittenton Foundation. Wheeling holds the only residency for young girls ages 12-21 across the state, and this particular agency is approaching its 124th year. Located on National Road, the residency consists of two houses and a larger facility built in the 1960s, offering a total of 48 dormitory-style bedrooms. The facility has a kitchen and eating area, recreational rooms, a relaxation room with exercise equipment, classrooms and a medical area with an onsite nurse.
A Selfless Passion
Since Szafran joined the Crittenton team, the many programs and services have grown alongside her. The national — as well as the local — organization offers services such as the TIES (Trauma Informed Elementary Schools) program, Wellspring Family Services and Telehealth, Outpatient Education, Trauma-Focused Care and Child Care.
Szafran expressed an obvious passion as she spoke of the TIES program. TIES has been implemented in 11 schools across four West Virginia counties. Szafran’s inspiration for this program was developed as she spoke with two girls from the residency. She asked them, “What would have stopped you from getting here?” Szafran was shocked when the girls said they only wished they had someone to turn to when they were younger, wished they wouldn’t have been left home with so many strangers or knew whether they would get to eat on any given day. She did not expect such simple responses. These girls just wanted some guidance from the beginning, and Szafran then realized that the root of the problem begins at a very young age.
With these answers, she wanted to figure out a way for these children to have more support in their lives. What better place to look than where kids spend most of their time every day? In the TIES process, Szafran explains, a counselor creates “an environment in the classroom for the teacher to help know and notice where we’re triggering kids.”
Part of Szafran’s scientific approach is to present relief to very young children who are going through traumatic experiences. Creating safety and mindfulness in the classroom is one of the most important goals that could lead to much better outcomes for the children. It’s important that the adults in their lives are giving them the attention and guidance that is needed.
The Wellspring Family Services caters to all adults and children across West Virginia. Counseling is available at home or school, along with the Telehealth services. This is a secure option for those who would prefer the comfort of their own home. The online video conferencing system provides more flexible and private counseling.
After asking herself, “How do you take a science that’s gray … and quantify it?” she said it is essential to incorporate different forms of therapy. The residency has implemented nontraditional ways of counseling such as dance, music therapy, drum circles and yoga. Oftentimes, the girls participate in trauma-informed yoga, which incorporates a safe and calming space for the participants. Yoga is one of Szafran’s personal passions, so she was eager to incorporate this therapeutic activity into the lives of the young girls.
Tears appeared in Szafran’s eyes shortly after she began describing her favorite part of the job: the kids.
The girls and some of the staff recently participated in the Dragon Boat Races at Wheeling Heritage Port. While on the water, Kathy was touched “watching them have these really healthy, happy experiences.” She reminds us that it is rare for these girls to see and experience laughter and happiness with the adults that are in their lives. “Watching this girl who never saw adults giggling and laughing together… to me was really important,” she said.
Szafran is open about her biggest challenges, such as “the balance between having to be the administrator and business person, having to understand the money to understanding what’s happening with the kids to understanding what’s happening with my staff and then of course just being a human being.” Juggling all aspects of the job is exhausting and Szafran says, “Sometimes I walk out of here and think my boat is so small and the sea is so large… and sometimes I feel like I have one oar.”
“Sometimes I walk out of here and think my boat is so small and the sea is so large… and sometimes I feel like I have one oar.” — Kathy Szafran
Even though her schedule requires incredibly demanding tasks, she still finds absolute joy in her work. With a team that has been alongside her from the start, the support system offers some relief. Just like the Dragon Boat Races, Szafran says, “You need to know when one of your team members needs to take that oar out of the water and rest.”
Together, they have worked toward the growth of Crittenton Services for 25 years and developed programs that truly focus on fixing the issues.
Szafran has had the opportunity to watch the residents at Crittenton grow from day to day. Especially after learning so many girls’ stories over the years, she said, “my life mission is that no girl has to come here.”
The Crittenton Servies annual Soup and Salad Luncheon is set for Wednesday, Oct. 10, at the McLure Hotel. Doors open at 11:30 a.m. For information, call 304-242-7060.
• Adelaide Estep is an intern for Weelunk, working on her bachelor’s degree in English at West Virginia University. There, she focuses on professional writing and editing, and public relations. She was born and raised in Wheeling and graduated from Wheeling Park High School. Some of her passions include music, performing and writing. Currently residing in Wheeling, she will be graduating from WVU in December and moving on to graduate school.