The STRONG MILWAUKEE Center plaque (Credit: Christian Family Solutions (CFS))

The Holton Youth and Family Center has been renamed The STRONG MILWAUKEE Center, and now houses the STRONG Child & Adolescent Day Treatment Program along with other mental health services from Christian Family Solutions, according to a press release.

HYFC, which services the Harambee and Riverwest neighborhoods, has been a force in the community for over 30 years working to reduce crime and give children better avenues.

This name change signifies a shift to next-generation issues in the city, the press release outlined.

The STRONG MILWAUKEE Center is the only in-person day treatment center in the city that assists children between the ages of 5 and 14 with significant mental and behavioral health problems, according to the press release.

“Early intervention is really, really helpful,” Dr. Ashley Schoof, STRONG program clinical director, said. “If we can get a kiddo in treatment as early as the age of five, we are changing more or less the trajectory of what they would experience if left untreated.”

While the need for youth mental health treatment is not new, the pandemic has caused circumstances to escalate, Schoof explained.

“We are getting more referrals because of the pandemic and the impact that the inconsistency, unpredictably and the lack of sustainability that the COVID pandemic has brought upon families, we are seeing that translate to incredible, significant emotional dysregulation and behavioral dysregulation,” Schoof said.

Children receive help through group, individual and family therapy, she explained, and treatment runs five days a week for three hours a day.

“What we do inside the building currently is child and adolescence day treatment,” Schoof said. “It’s a mental health treatment that is a higher level of care than your traditional outpatient treatment.”

The STRONG MILWAUKEE Center (Credit: Christian Family Solutions (CFS))

Upon hearing from schools about a growing concern for children’s mental health, Mario Costantini, chair of the HYFC board of directors, learned about STRONG and reached out, feeling they would be a good fit for the center.

Children in the city may not have the same access to mental health services as others, Costantini explained, and he recognized the need for these services.

“We decided this was a terrific direction for us to go based on the needs of the kids that live in the central city,” he said. “They don’t have the opportunity to have mental health services usually.”

Helping the community has always been at the core of the HYFC. Established in 1989, the HYFC aimed at getting children off the streets and reducing crime in the area. Over the years, they achieved their goal of revitalizing the area and even convinced other businesses to join the community, Costantini explained.

“I think it really changed completely the flavor of the neighborhood,” he said.

The STRONG program is continuing to assist the community, explained Schoof, as they strive to spark change through their treatment, helping children and their families.

“We’re teaching the community more of a trauma-informed approach by getting to one kid at a time, one family at a time, one teacher at a time,” Schoof said. “We’re really creating such a giant, significant ripple effect because then this kiddo is going to interact better with their siblings, they’re going to interact better with their peers at school. It’s just overall creating this positive environment.”