Preschoolers and staff at Santa Maria Valley YMCA got into the spirit of the season Wednesday morning with a gift-wrapping party. The packages, wrapped adorably by preschool-aged fingers, will be delivered with basic supplies, food, and festive decorations to families in need served by Child Abuse Listening Meditation (CALM).
"We identify families we're working with who are also living in poverty and most likely won't be able to provide presents for their children. Local donors adopt the families and shop for them. YMCA staff adopted some of those families, the kids wrapped, and our office, which is already super crowded, is just full of gifts," said Sandra Fuhring, North County development associate for CALM.
CALM was founded in Santa Barbara in 1970 to reach stressed parents before they hurt their children. In 2010, the program expanded into Santa Maria Valley with an office on Carmen Lane. Today, it remains the only nonprofit agency in Santa Barbara County focused solely on preventing, assessing, and treating child abuse and family violence through comprehensive, cutting-edge programs.
"Our mission is to prevent, assess and treat child abuse. We won't turn anyone away. If there's a need there and we're the best people to help, we'll take them," Fuhring said.
North County CALM programs have grown to include therapeutic programs for children who are at risk of or who have been abused; therapy for children with behavioral programs; parenting classes; and home visitation programs in which paraprofessionals help with discipline and parenting techniques.
There are special programs such as Welcome Every Baby in which CALM paraprofessionals team with Marian Regional Medical Center to identify families in need of services, provide developmental screenings and help new parents as needed to avoid potentially abusive situations.
"It's amazing how much goes on in your own backyard, in your own neighborhood, that you had no idea existed," said Fuhring, who was raised in Santa Maria Valley by parents Marla and Mike Gibson. "I grew up very sheltered. I had no idea. I never experienced abuse, neglect and violence, so it was a shocker to see that it's so prevalent in my own community. It's also incredible how willing people are to meet the needs of those who seek help."
Last year, CALM introduced its own domestic violence prevention and response program for adult and child victims of domestic violence. The nonprofit is now developing its Child Sexual Abuse Treatment (CSAT) program for child victims.
"We continue expanding services as we grow," said Fuhring, also a marriage and family counselor for the program for more than two years.
CALM currently employs about 20 staff members, but Fuhring said that number is expected to double over the next three years while the nonprofit fulfills its strategic plan. In the spring, the nonprofit will move to bigger digs to make room for staff and clients.
"It's been fun to watch CALM grow and be successful and learn how to do things the Santa Maria way. Up here, it's all about building relationships," said Cindy Most, CALM board member and YMCA membership services director.
Referrals generally come from child welfare services, public health nurses and preschools, but the programs are available to all.
"People are welcome to just call us. We can take them, or, if we don't have a program that can help, we can refer them to another agency or program where they can get the help they need," Fuhring said.
CALM is funded largely through private donations, grants and contracts with First 5 Santa Barbara County, and Santa Barbara County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services.
For more information about all of CALM’s services, call 965-2376 or visit www.calm4kids.org.