Caterpillars Clubhouse had an official ribbon cutting on Tuesday, hoping to become a place where struggling children can blossom.
Or, to borrow from the mantra they like to say at the clubhouse: “Bright futures.”
Several dozen people attended the ceremony at 600 N. Park Ave., for the facility that will help 22 children and already has a waiting list.
“It’s powerful,” Jenifer Gursky, executive director of the Helena YWCA, said about opening the first trauma-responsive and therapeutic child care center in the Helena area.
Lewis and Clark County Commissioner Andy Hunthausen called it a much-needed program for the community.
Caterpillars Clubhouse will serve children who have experienced trauma, whose families live at or below 150% of the federal poverty line and who have had out-of-home placement in the foster care system, YWCA officials said.
Hunthausen said this is a population that has had difficulty finding help.
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“I am grateful (the YWCA officials) have done this and I am hopeful or their future,” he said.
Vicki Wilson, a teacher at the facility, agreed it’s a much-needed program in Helena.
“I’m really excited,” she said Tuesday at the ribbon cutting. “It’s going to be good for the community and for children who have had adverse childhood experiences.”
These children have experienced trauma and often need specialized counseling and services unavailable in typical day care settings and have social/emotional/behavioral issues.
These children often experience intense emotional stress, depression and anxiety.
Nearly 7,100 people, or 10% of Lewis and Clark County’s residents, live below the federal poverty line, YWCA officials said, noting 2020 U.S. census data. There are nearly 3,900 children under the age of 5 in the county, and 611, or 16%, live below the poverty line.
The clubhouse is open to YWCA clients and the general public. It will enroll 21 children between the ages of 6 weeks old to 5 years old. Children will be admitted based on a referral process made through Child Protective Services, mental health providers, physicians or other centers.
Gursky said the YWCA had a woman in its care who had children who were 8 and 3. Both children were having behavioral problems.
She said the 8-year-old is now in his school’s gifted and talented program after Caterpillar workers, who are trained in early intervention, were able to help him to focus his attention elsewhere.
The YWCA had a Caterpillars program already going, but not to this extent.
It provided programs such as supervised parenting time, parent coaching and respite. The clubhouse is an expansion of services.
She said they wanted to create a place where it was safe for adults to work with these kinds of children.
Gursky said the program survives off of federal, state and county funds plus local support.
“It’s very diverse, because that is what is sustainable,” she said of the funding, adding 25% of the support needs to come from community members.
She said the yearly cost to run the program for 22 kids is about $500,000. She said people can support children through scholarships.
A pamphlet for Caterpillars notes it cost $1,600 per month per child for child care. It states the YWCA subsidizes $800 per month beyond what the state will provide for full-time care.
Jessie Fuzesy, Caterpillars’ director, said she is excited about the program.
“We have put a lot of work into this in the last year and we look forward to the work will be doing in the next year,” she said.
“There is so much need.”
Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.