VOL. 133 | NO. 129 | Thursday, June 28, 2018
By Don Wade
The old name, The Exchange Club Family Center, required some explanation. And not just because The Exchange Club Family Center was vague to those not familiar with the organization, but because as executive director Jennifer Balink put it, “Among people who already knew us, our name equaled confusion.
“We have an opportunity to start new,” she said.
The nonprofit’s new name, which is in the process of being rolled out, is Kindred. Balink will be the first to concede that kindred is “an SAT word.”
Nicky Hitching (front), Catherine Collins (back, from left), Jennifer Balink, Carole Clements, Patricia Manard and Daphni Ishak are members of the leadership staff of Kindred, formerly The Exchange Club Family Center. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
But as Catherine Collins, the agency’s clinical director, points out, “It describes the concept, this sense of community and all of us being in involved in this project of life together.”
The old Exchange Club model started in Detroit more than 100 years ago. “As a way for men to exchange ideas, because that’s the way the world was then,” Balink said.
In 1982, members of the Memphis/Shelby County Exchange Clubs raised money to establish a Family Center and bring Parent Aide, a child abuse prevention initiative developed by the National Exchange Foundation, to Memphis.
The Parent Aide program, which offers mentoring for parents whose families are in trouble because of anger and violence, was the agency's only program until the early 1990s. Over time, the Exchange Club Family Center grew from a $225,000 startup serving a few hundred families into a $2.3 million organization serving thousands of children and adults. Its services have expanded to include assessments, anger-management classes, parenting support, visitation services, and group and individual therapy.
Counselors, social workers and therapists use trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy to work with clients of all ages, backgrounds and personal histories. In 2013, the agency merged with CASA of Memphis, a longtime partner in advocating for child well-being.
In most instances, the people that agency works with are sent to them via court order.
“So that judgment piece doesn’t live with us,” Balink said. “Our role in this is a narrow window of intervention.”
Their task is as simple as it is difficult: change the behavior in the home, which usually starts by helping a mother, who in many cases is raising one or more children by herself.
“It’s like being on the airplane,” Balink said. “You’ve got to put your own mask on first.”
The nonprofit world is under increasing pressure to accumulate data for work being done, and Collins says over the last decade they have moved in that direction, too, adding, “We have to test our own hypotheses.”
Across the country, many agencies are trying to tackle the problem of violence in the home and the potential longer-term consequences from it and other traumatic events. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can set a child up for increased risks later in life. This ranges from a greater possibility of mental stress and reduced education and employment opportunities to heart disease and stroke and diabetes.
The more toxic the stress children are exposed to in the home, the greater the future risks.
“Children are not really equipped to process seeing someone shot, stabbed or beaten,” Balink said.
To this point, Collins says data show much more encouraging results working with the non-aggressor members of a household. That said, there are some sobering national statistics: One in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. One-third of all female homicide victims are killed by partners with whom they share an intimate relationship and 1.3 women are victims of domestic violence each year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Kindred is in the process of adopting a new model for working with aggressors, based on a recent study led by Amie Zarling, a clinical psychologist at Iowa State and who partnered with the Iowa Department of Corrections to pilot her Achieving Change Through Values-Based Behavior program.
As Collins explains it, previous efforts had focused on trying to force a change in thinking patterns among perpetrators. The new work instead directs aggressors to approach the situation from a different angle: How do you get to what you value?
Early results have been encouraging, with a 50 percent lower rate of recidivism for offenders going through the new program as compared to those in a traditional model. All of this work, and the other ongoing work at Kindred, are forever works in progress. There’s not a cure, per se, but there is ongoing work aimed at producing better outcomes.
Balink says their charge, under any name, is to help people break the cycle.
“Peace,” she said, “begins at home.”