35 Years and Counting!
By Pamela Mesmer, Ph.D. – Executive Director
On September 11th 2013, I celebrated 35 years of employment at Brookwood. To recap those years would take more space than I’m allotted. And to refer to three and one-half decades as ‘years of employment ’doesn’t do it justice either. Brookwood has represented my home-away-from-home, my second family, my best friends, and my opportunity to help generations of kids.
Discovering Brookwood during my six years as a St. Petersburg police officer opened my still-naïve eyes to the plight of abuse victims. All these girls without viable families, without the opportunities we give to our own children, without role models and goals, and essentially without hope, challenged me immediately. I thought…If I could positively impact the lives of these teens — before they became adults and repeated the negative experiences which brought them into care — then all the generations to come would benefit. Ideally, they would finish school programs, prepare for employment, garner independent living skills, and emotionally heal and grow through our counseling efforts. It could be a better world! I could have an important part in it. WOW, I had found my “niche.”
Thousands of girls later, I still believe in the resilience of youth, the importance of investing in troubled young lives, and the ability to break dysfunctional cycles. I gave up on the goal of 100% accomplishment, but I try never to give upon the possibility for success and the potential within each girl.
From a business perspective, one of the most challenging endeavors of my career was the establishment of two satellite programs in two other parts of Florida — first in Ft. Lauderdale (1993) and later in Ft. Myers (2007). Purchasing facilities, negotiating zoning variances,hiring and training 24-hour staffing, contracting with regional entities,screening potential placements, becoming certified and licensed, ETC. was quite a process!
We succeeded in our “mission” of reaching girls we would never have been able to accommodate in St. Petersburg. It was an appropriate time to de-centralize our programming efforts. With the changing economic times and evolving placement strategies, it has become an appropriate time to re-centralize to St. Petersburg. Both Brookwood East and Brookwood South have been closed and sold to other child-caring agencies. We have re-focused our energy and services to the St. Petersburg campus, while continuing to accept placements from all other parts of Florida.
Brookwood continues to treat three basic population groups. Not only do we accommodate the State’s teen abuse victims, but we have become the placement of choice by private families struggling with a myriad of issues. Over half of our family-placed girls are brought to Brookwood by adoptive parents needing help to salvage fractured relationships with their adoptees. Another growing population is the adult teen who finds herself homeless and in need of the skills essential to independence.
We continue to evolve as an agency to address the emerging needs of the community.Services are added as gaps are identified and funding becomes available. The challenges continue, as do the rewards. I received an email from“Ann” (1997 alumna) this week which read ‘My time at Brookwood was the happiest of my childhood…It was like coming out of a long, dark tunnel. Thank you for believing in me.’
And THAT could inspire another 35 years!