Last Generation of Residential Says Goodbye

Residential capsule header image

On Friday, June 23, 2017, a very special group of staff and clients gathered outside SaintA’s Capitol Drive location. They were there, on the west side of the building, adjacent to the Residential Treatment facility, to attempt to freeze a moment in time.

That moment is the end of the Residential (Res) program, which is closing after 55 years of caring for the emotional and behavioral needs of boys and young men.

“To commemorate the last generation of SaintA residential staff and clients, there was a time-capsule ceremony,” says Bob Themmes, SaintA Community Outreach Specialist and an intern with the Residential Program.

Bob has a unique perspective. Although he has worked at SaintA for a number of years, he had not worked directly with residential treatment until he chose it for his Master’s Degree internship.

“I really wanted to learn what it’s like to be a residential youth and family therapist, and have had the pleasure of learning from Child and Family Therapist Chris Kangas over the past 10 months,” says Bob.

Those in attendance for the time capsule ceremony included current residential clients, (boys ranging in age from 5-16) and first-shift staff, including therapists and teachers, the program director and other supervisors.

“The boys each placed something of sentimental value to them in the time capsule,” says Bob. “Some staff put items in the capsule, too. This is a highly sentimental time for everyone.”

This is the second time capsule buried at SaintA. The last time capsule was buried 25 years ago under a statue near the main entrance and is still there.

A Long History of Residential Care

The history of SaintA congregate care dates back to 1849, when St. Aemilian’s Orphanage began caring for children who lost parents during the cholera epidemic.

“It’s the end of an era,” says Bob. And he means it for current res staff and clients with whom he has formed strong relationships, as well as for the organization itself and the greater community.

SaintA’s Residential Treatment program has a long and proud history of providing on-site therapeutic and trauma informed care services to boys and young men from throughout the state.

Seth, now 27 years old, was a residential treatment client as a teenager. It was an experience his family feels helped him improve the trajectory of his young life.

“He has a full-time job and he and his long-time girlfriend are moving into a newly built home this summer,” says Seth’s aunt, Geri, from Ozaukee County. “Seth has come a long way since those trying times as a teenager.”

The beginning of the Residential program pre-dates digital analytics, so historical outcomes are difficult to measure. However, since the beginning of 2008, 77% of res clients have had successful discharges. “Success” can mean placement in a less restrictive environment, or returning home.

The Future of Care

After thoughtful consideration, and nearly six decades of success stories, SaintA leadership decided to close Residential.

“The recent census was around 30 boys, which is significantly lower than when the Residential Treatment facility was at its capacity with 135 boys in the early 1990s,” explains Teri Zywicki, SaintA CEO. “The declining census is because the future of therapeutics for children in need is not in a traditional residential setting.”

Instead, says Zywicki, research and experience have shown that children and youth who present with significant emotional and behavioral needs are best served in small-group or in-home treatment settings.

In addition to individual transition plans for each of the residents, SaintA has worked to help res staff find employment, either within the organization or with other mission-similar nonprofits.

SaintA leadership hopes the community will join them in saying thank you to all the residential treatment staff who have worked so diligently over the years to ensure boys received the best trauma informed care possible.

To learn about in-home family services that can make a difference in a young person’s life, read our Family Services overview.

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