Each year as summer approaches, Dr. Benjamin Pe worries whether a program that helps children and teens with mental illnesses can continue.
The donor-supported Children's Summer Day Treatment Program, operated by Lourdes Counseling Center in Richland, is a haven for children ages 7 to 18 who have disabilities because of behavioral, emotional and cognitive impairments.
Pe said the children have trouble in classrooms because they can't control their behaviors and don't have alternatives offered at school that work for them.
Without the program, they're the kids who could end up in juvenile detention or possibly hospitalized, he said.
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"These are good kids, but they don't really have the tools developed yet," Pe said. "Our approach is to find what their strengths are and make them aware of areas they really need to grow. We try to make a child feel supported. I think that is the big thing. Frequently they're angry because they feel they've been labeled as a bad kid. We have to change that whole mentality."
Participants, who come from as far as Sunnyside and Othello, receive therapy to help them change their thinking and behaviors, get help building their social skills and attend lessons in anger management and conflict resolution.
They also go on field trips, such as an outing to Leslie Groves Park on Thursday, so they can practice their skills out in the community.
"Really the goal is to help the child be successful, to be able to manage their own emotions and develop interpersonal and social skills so they can be transitioned back into the public school setting," Pe said.
During the school year, school districts pay for the program and participants take one academic class at the counseling center during their three-hour daily visit.
Funding for the summer program, which started June 21 and runs four days a week until Aug. 12, is dependent entirely on donations, and program officials never know whether it will continue from one year to the next.
"Unless we get donors, there is no summer day program," said Pe, the program psychiatrist.
For a child such as 10-year-old Levi Warner of Pasco, the summer program provides a valuable outlet where he can spend time with other kids like him instead of isolating himself in his room.
Levi's mother, Kayla Warner, said her son was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome at age 5 and then with bipolar disorder at 6 -- an unusually early diagnosis for the mental illness characterized by alternating manic and depressive episodes.
Warner said her son was manic and had an excess of energy before Pe diagnosed his illness and began treating him.
"Medication has really helped him," she said.
Levi also has been helped by his three years in the day program.
Asperger's syndrome causes impairments in social interactions -- inability to make eye contact and read facial expressions -- and also often is marked by repetitive behavior and clumsiness.
Kayla Warner said it's been hard for Levi to keep friends because he's impulsive and can become upset quickly.
"He does a lot of stuff that kind of scares other kids," she said.
But he is smart and loves school and science, although he experiences a stigma because he has to be in a special McGee Elementary School class.
"It's really nice to have the day program that keeps him active and learning something, and using social skills while he's around other kids every day," Kayla Warner said. "He looks forward to it every year."
The program also gives him a routine and schedule to keep in the summer, and routine is a very important tool for him.
But perhaps most importantly to Levi, it gives him the chance to go miniature golfing or to the movies or to see the Reptile Guy at the library.
"Levi really loves the outings," his mother said.
The program costs about $55,000 to run each year for staffing, providing meals to the children and keeping the lights on.
Pe said he fears what might happen to children like Levi if the summer day program were to lose funding and go away.
"We know these kids without structure can get into serious behavioral problems," Pe said. "The program is a real benefit to the child, the family and the community."
Anyone interested in donating can contact Connie Gillespie at the Lourdes Foundation at 546-2254.