Grassroots stepping up school counseling Students offered help at Hammond NORTH LAUREL/SAVAGE

August 27, 1993|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Staff Writer

Perhaps best known for its the 32-bed homeless shelter in Columbia, the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center is returning to the mission it took on at its 1970 founding -- providing alternative mental health resources for teen-agers.

The nonprofit agency is beginning its second year offering on-site counseling, information and referral services at Hammond High School, where many Savage and North Laurel youths attend high school. And Grassroots counselors are hoping to be more visible this school year.

"We started out being a very discreet entity with very little advertising," said Cathy Latham, a mental health clinician at Grassroots who coordinates the Hammond program.

"We're going to be more high-profile this year," she said. "The more visible we become the more likely it is that the students will bring their concerns to us."

Ms. Latham spoke at Hammond's ninth-grade orientation yesterday, telling new students about the counseling services. In addition, Grassroots counselors will attend back-to-school night in October to discuss the program.

The walk-in crisis counseling center is the result of an educational partnership between Grassroots and the county school system.

Currently Hammond is the only county school with such a center. Expansion depends on finding other human service agencies that are willing to donate counselor time, said Don McBrien, the county's director of pupil services.

Grassroots began the counseling service at Hammond because principal Marshall Peterson expressed interest and was willing to work with the counselors, Ms. Latham said.

Grassroots opened its counseling center in January in a small room in the media center.

A counselor is available each Monday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. All services are free and confidential. Students do not need to make an appointment.

During the first year at Hammond, Ms. Latham estimates that counselors provided an average of one counseling session per week. The response was less than expected, but Mr. Peterson says he's glad to have the program at his school.

"Kids are more willing to go to staff members" with problems, Mr. Peterson said. "But Grassroots is another resource that kids can referred to."

But Ms. Latham said that frequently students are reluctant to go to a teacher or guidance counselor with problems.

"There are a lot of times when people don't want to talk to somebody in school," she said. "When you have an outside agency like ours come in, you can provide that information and referral service."

Teens talked with counselors about issues such as relationships, problems with parents, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse.

"There's so much drug and alcohol abuse around that families, the school system, neighbors and communities are in denial about the extent of it," Ms. Latham said.

Counselors may provide some short-term counseling or refer students to agencies equipped to help them, including the Department of Social Services, drug and alcohol treatment centers, and eating disorder programs.

Depending on the situation, counselors might talk with a student's teacher or parents about difficulties a student is having.

"Sometimes it takes an outside person to approach the family and say your child has got some stuff going on and we've got information and referral if you want to check it out," Ms. Latham said.

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