No appointment needed to find help at the Boys & Girls Clubs
In the moment, when a teen’s emotions are careening toward overdrive, Laquita Becker gently whispers a suggestion: Breathe.
Becker is case worker and licensed professional counselor for Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare. But every work day, you’ll find her at the Amie L. Mathy Center, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse, Wisconsin, where she listens, counsels and advocates for youth who come there.
On a typical day, more than 100 young people, ages 5 to 18, may spend time at the Mathy Center, to hang out, play basketball, football or baseball, learn to play guitar or cook a healthy meal. The club is open to all and especially welcomes youth experiencing challenges in their lives.
Helping youth learn to get along
Becker’s day-to-day work is fluid, with very few set appointments. “I spend my time getting to know kids and go from there,” she says. “A lot of the kids here come from impoverished backgrounds and have unresolved issues in their families that show up in their behavior. I focus on the kids who are struggling the most.”
She helps young people:
Improve social skills and manage emotions
Better understand what triggers anger and how to manage it
Write personal plans to address behavior concerns at the Boys & Girls Clubs, at home or at school
Connect with other resources in the community
She relies on her observations and relationships with the young people to determine the best ways to assist. “It helps to see what’s happening in the moment and watch interactions among peers,” she says. When needed, she can unobtrusively intervene with a reminder to breathe or to just walk away. Becker also works with families and advises staff at the Boys & Girls Clubs on strategies to engage youth.
A novel approach
Becker’s position was first funded in 2015, with support from the Boys & Girls Clubs, Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Western Wisconsin and Southeastern Minnesota. In 2017, Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare fully funded the salary and has hired second case worker for another club location.
“When we started this, it was a very novel to have a mental health professional based in our clubs,” says Jake Erickson, executive director, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater La Crosse. “We’ve seen the positive impact Laquita has had on some of our most at-risk youth.”
A recent community health assessment in La Crosse identified access to mental health care as a top priority. “We’re addressing that by having Laquita work where the kids have easy access to her services,” says Teri Wildt, director, Community Engagement, Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare. “Helping kids navigate the stressors in their lives benefits them now and will have a long-term positive impact on the overall health of the community.”
Becker sees the impact, too. “I’ve had kids bring a new member back to meet me, saying, ‘This is who you go see when you need help.’”
She adds, “That tells me they like having me here.”