United Way of the Ozarks is creating opportunities for all children to reach their full potential by investing in mentorship and advocacy programs across our community.
Terrel’s world was turned upside down after losing his dad. His circumstances filled him with instability and uncertainty. As a teen, he “couch-hopped” between friends’ houses. “I used to argue with my mom really bad,” he said. “I would get kicked out of the house, or I would leave.”
He credits his ability to get through this challenging time to his mentor, Keyvan. Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks matched Terrel and Keyvan through its community-based mentoring program, partially funded by United Way of the Ozarks.
“It is part of the reason I changed my life around and I’m not dead or in jail,” he said.
Today, Terrel is thriving and looking toward a bright future.
Last year, United Way-funded programs provided 2,705 youth like Terrel with the support of a consistent, caring adult relationship, a vital component for resiliency. United Way partner agencies like Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks, Boys & Girls Clubs of Springfield, CASA of Southwest Missouri, Council of Churches of the Ozarks, and Ozarks Literacy Council are coming together to help ensure youth reach their full potential.
However, there is still much work to do.
Our community continues to face red flags such as wide economic disparities and child abuse and neglect.
Childhood trauma has broad effects on development. Toxic stress caused by adverse experiences negatively influences several aspects of mental and physical health. According to the CDC, traumatic experiences in childhood can lead to a lack of focus and reduced memory retention, causing a decline in school performance. Additionally, trauma makes it difficult for children to gain, build, and maintain relationships.
While Greene County has decreased overall childhood abuse and neglect rates in the last ten years, it remains a pervasive issue. Missouri Department of Social Services’ annual report on child abuse and neglect indicates that the number of substantiated cases in Greene County is among the highest in the state.
Facing adverse experiences does not mean a child is hopeless, but it does mean they are vulnerable. Resilience is the key to combating vulnerability. Research shows that a consistent, caring adult in a child’s life is vital to building resiliency. Positive adult relationships help children process difficult experiences, identify feelings, and create a safe physical and emotional environment.