'Breakfast With Santa' aids Kids Place

ALAMOSA — “Mary Hennessey’s Breakfast With Santa” in Alamosa Saturday morning will bless area children long after Santa parks his sleigh for the season.

The breakfast is a fund-raiser for a special place for children whose lives have been disrupted but now have a safe place to experience healing — Kids Place.

Operated by someone whose life and career have revolved around children, Kids Place offers a stable environment under the direction of counselor Mary Hennessey.

“The big primary focus is on children who have had major disruptions in their lives,” Hennessey explained. “The majority are living with grandparents either through kinship placement, or they have adopted them.”

Although working with such children for some time, Hennessey was still struck with the large number of children falling into that category in the San Luis Valley and the number of older adults — some of them in their 70’s and 80’s — raising grandchildren or even great grandchildren. Sometimes the only support they have for these children is their social security checks.

Although it is difficult, the grandparents are committed to these children who are now in their lives through no fault of their own.

Program is comprehensive
Kids Place began about two and a half years ago with the generous and ongoing funding of the Outcalt Foundation. “They are our primary source of financial support, and we are very grateful for it,” Hennessey said. Karla Shriver and Carolyn Kawanabe are trustees for the Outcalt Foundation, which provides funds for causes close to the late Ralph Outcalt’s heart, like children.

La Puente serves as the fiscal agent for Kids Place.

Kids Place provides more comprehensive services for children than a once-a-week therapy session could offer, although that was better than nothing, Hennessey explained.

“It’s a comprehensive service program so we can have a lot more contact with our kids.”

Highlighting the great need, she said, “We could take hundreds more than we could work with at any time.”

She added, “They are from all over the Valley. We take referrals from everywhere.”

Kids Place works with children from preschool age through middle school and some in high school. So far Kids Place has served 52 children.

“My intention is as children outgrow our services in terms of weekly groups, where appropriate, they can continue as mentors,” Hennessey said.

These children may now be living in a somewhat stable environment, but they have gone through a great deal of turmoil, disruption and stress in their lives. They may have been lucky to make it to school in the morning with their clothes on, but they might not have gotten their homework completed.

They are not the children who have been able to participate in band and football. When they have practiced and participated in a school program, very often the day of the performance, there is no one in the audience to watch them or no one to bring them to the performance, Hennessey explained.

“There are so many children who don’t know what it means to be a full fledged member of their classroom community, although they would love to be, or the broader community,” she said. “They don’t know what community means.”

She added, “They are not the children who get signed up for soccer or get to go to the rec center without support for that to happen. Very often they are children who can’t be in band. They don’t have the wherewithal to have an instrument.”

Hennessey mentioned one little girl, for example, who was in fifth grade band without an instrument. “She was playing in the air.” When Hennessey found out, she and a generous donor were able to get her an instrument.

Hennessey said the program at Kids Place is therapeutic with services primarily provided by Hennessey and Nicole Clark who serves as two-thirds staff member. Others assist when they are needed, such as Mary Susan Eldredge who is retired but helped set up the program and wrote the grant application for it. The staff is small, and Hennessey appreciates the assistance of volunteers such as retired teachers, other professionals “or people who were good parents themselves and love children.”

Kids Place provides group therapy, individual therapy and family therapy/counseling.

Kids Place staff is able to spend more time with the children “where we can really deal with the issues.”

Hennessey added, “What we are dealing with in groups is a lot of character development, not only how to keep themselves safe and who to turn to in the community to support and help them but what it takes to be a contributing member in places where they area … how to live in the world and treat each other … to be respectful of other people.”

The groups also talk a lot about appreciating their grandparents and understanding why they are with their grandparents because of choices their parents made, not because their parents don’t love them.

Kids Place has children who suffer the effects of their parents’ drug use or have lost parents because of the poor choices the parents made. Kids Place staff help children learn how to make better choices than their parents made.

Community is important
The children are also exposed to the community and get to visit places and see sites they had not been able to before. They go to movies, recently viewing “Coco,” for example, the Creede Repertory Theatre, the Crane Fest, Zapata Falls and other places and events.

(Anyone with a place where the children could visit, especially outdoors, may contact Hennessey at 719-580-4941.)

They work on community service projects such as picking up trash at Cole Park where they often go to exercise and play, or making Valentines for veterans.

“We are working on those kinds of projects so they feel we all belong to a community,” Hennessey explained. “We are a community, and we give to the community, and that’s terribly important to me.”

She grew up in a family where the message to help others was always there, and she encourages the children at Kids Place to also help the community they have come to be a part of.

The children participate in artistic and creative activities as well as physical activities.

Kids Place staff also support the grandparents who are the primary caretakers of the children at Kids Place, “to help them fill in the gaps,” connecting them with resources they might not otherwise be aware of. Kids Place hosts a “grandma coffee” several times a year.

“We share a lot of information. They share a lot of information with each other and get a lot of support.”
Kids Place also hosts family dinners and other events for the families.

Fund-raising breakfast is Saturday
To supplement the generous support of the Outcalt Foundation, Kids Place will hold a fund-raiser “Mary Hennessey’s Breakfast with Santa” this Saturday, December 16, from 9 a.m. to noon at the Alamosa Presbyterian Church at the corner of Fourth and San Juan Avenue in Alamosa. Enjoy pancakes, biscuits and gravy, sausage, juice and coffee for $8 for those ages 12 and over and $5 for kids under age 12. And of course enjoy a visit with Santa.

Those who are unable to make it to the breakfast but would like to support Kids Place may send donations to Mary Hennessey at P.O. Box 818, Alamosa 81101. For more information contact Hennessey at 719-580-4941.

Hennessey appreciates the support she has always had from the Valley community during past projects like summer camps and Mary’s Kids at Hallmark. She appreciates the continued support of the community for the children she now works with at Kids Place. Donations have included books, art supplies, a television and even an organ. In addition to supporting the breakfast, other needs include a van that could transport more children, donations to help the group take children to events and sites in and out of the Valley, donations for youth to take swimming lessons or participate in the hockey program and items like puzzles and games.

The group also needs access to a gym on a regular basis. In good weather the children go to Cole Park but need somewhere they can go when it is too cold for the park.

“We need people’s time, we need some financial help, we need a van, and it would be ideal to have an indoor place we could use,” Hennessey summarized.

She said, “in rural communities we all have to step up, and in the San Luis Valley we do. It’s a very generous community, the greater San Luis Valley.”