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UNITED WAY: Dubuque organization helps children cope during difficult times

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KWWL) - As conversations surrounding mental health become increasingly common, one local organization is guiding children through emotional hardships.

St. Mark's Youth Enrichment is a Dubuque-based non-profit. Their goal is to teach children how to manage social and emotional behaviors.

Beth McGorry, Director of Donor Relations at the organization, said many life situations can affect a child's emotional health including parental divorce, death of a loved one, changing homes and more.

"Believe it or not, we all have trauma. Whether it's something simple or something that's really, really scary, everyone has had some sort of trauma.," McGorry said. "And our job is to help walk through that trauma and get them to a place where they can be a healthy person."

Staff meets with children both individually and in group sessions. The staff focus on literacy improvement as well as teaching children how to express their feelings through art and games.

Ronald Paar, Social-Emotional Program Learning Coordinator at St. Mark's, said current events have especially made an impact on children's emotional development. He said their staff has had to alter their lesson plans to help children who may be distressed by COVID-19, economic hardship and social unrest.

"Our kids are going through trauma. They are being traumatized by the world around them. It is a new normal, it's more threatening than it used to be," Paar said. "This is a new way of life. When they hear stories of police precincts burning down 4-5 hours away from here or they hear stories of older people getting sick and dying, that's threatening to kids."

However, when the center had to be temporarily closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, staff continued to stay in touch with kids by giving away take-home packets. The activities were designed to keep children engaged and manage their stress while they were home from school. Staff also reached out to kids by phone and video calls.

McGorry said the lessons they teach children at St. Mark's will help them blossom into becoming well-adjusted adults.

"And what we all want are really great kids who are connected to each other," said McGorry. "The gift of empathy, the whole world needs a little more empathy now. And if we can teach these kids how to do that now, imagine what it's going to be like to work with them."

St. Mark's is currently hosting their Heroes Summer Academy. The organization is also fundraising to support their back-to-school supply drive.

McGorry said she expects about 3,500 families to need their assistance this fall due to pandemic-related economic hardship. The organization works with 7 schools in both the Western and Dubuque Community School Districts.

Ashley Scott

Reporter, Dubuque

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