Last year, The Center hosted a virtual Camp Wellness. While the event was still a fun, enriching, and educational experience for the kids, its impact was unavoidably diminished by the virtual setting. However, the kids got to send heart-warming letters to the elderly all over the state who were shut in due to the pandemic. This year, we were especially excited to bring back Camp Wellness in-person! We hosted one in San Antonio and another in La Vernia / Wilson County. 

Camp Wellness is a three-day event where children ages 5 – 15 learn how to build wellness habits from professional counselors and artists. The kids engage with the therapeutic expressive arts to create artisan masks, compose their own poetry and music, and paint on canvases. We also give the campers wellness boxes with a journal, stress ball, and other items to help them manage stress away from camp. Counselors emphasize what empathy is so the kids learn how to be there to help others when they are struggling, too. 

In previous years, campers learned how to face difficult situations such as bullying, divorce, deployment of a parent, grief/trauma and even homework from the videos of Trevor Romain, best-selling children’s author. This year, we were thrilled to host Trevor in-person for a workshop for kids and parents! Everyone had a fantastic time and stayed safe!

Eleanor Beldon Komet, PhD
April 6, 1936 – February 17, 2021

A Life Given in Love

Those who knew Dr. Eleanor Beldon Komet professionally knew her as a passionate psychologist who genuinely loved her work and cared deeply for her clients. Some may not know how a volunteer opportunity at the Ecumenical Center nearly 45 years ago played such a pivotal role in her journey.

In the mid-1970s, Eleanor was a busy stay-at-home mom who volunteered countless hours for a wide range of community organizations, including the PTAs of her four children. It was at one of those PTA meetings that she met and became fast friends with The Center’s Rev. Dr. Don Anderson and his wife. Eleanor’s energetic spirit and Dr. Anderson’s persuasive style soon had her volunteering part time at The Center, planning and managing community programming. She was awed by The Center counseling staff’s inspirational, meaningful work. In time, she decided she wanted to do more to make a difference. 

That set Eleanor on the course of pursuing her Master’s degree in Psychology at Trinity University, and soon assuming a new position at The Center as a Licensed Professional Counselor. Over the next decade, her focus was on providing a safe, warm, non-judgmental space for people to find healing and hope. She would often say that everyone could benefit from counseling at some point – or points – in their lives.

Eleanor’s thirst for learning and growing was never ending. As soon as her children were all off to college or on their own, she returned to her studies, leaving The Center to dedicate the next 7 years of her life to pursuing her PhD in Psychology. She was an inspiration to her children – beginning the next phase of her mental health career as Dr. Komet – at the age of 58. 

For the next 20 years, Eleanor ran a private practice – groups and adolescents were where she felt she did some of her best work. Throughout her career she was highly respected by her colleagues and dedicated to her work in mental health, presenting continuing education workshops and serving in regional and national leadership roles with organizations such as the American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA). 

Eleanor Beldon Komet was generous in her spirit toward people – a gift she was able to share with so many among us. The Center is blessed to have been among those she touched during her lifetime. 

The Center was honored to host internationally recognized author, speaker and trainer Becky Haas at our educational ethics workshop on September 2, 2021. A record-breaking 375 people registered across multiple organizations for the online event! 

Starting in 2015, Becky has established successful Trauma Informed Care (TIC) models in healthcare, education and law enforcement systems across the country. She has also pioneered development of TIC training for services to homeless individuals, domestic violence programs, and at-risk youth programs. Her presentation at our workshop focused on the Ethical Practice of Trauma Informed Multidisciplinary Teams.

A uniform understanding of trauma and consistent language across community agencies is essential because many trauma survivors are involved in a wide spectrum of services. Becky spoke about collectively and individually becoming champions of resilience to increase the effectiveness of our trauma services. Our community is now closer to providing environments conducive to healing and reduction of re-traumatization across disciplines. 

Learning objectives included:

  • What is trauma and how to identify it
  • Tips for working with trauma survivors
  • Universal prevalence of trauma
  • Creating trauma informed multidisciplinary teams as a best practice

Becky got us excited about enhancing our own TIC models in new ways with her knowledge, enthusiasm and optimism. The workshop was a great success!

A goalpost we’ve had our sights on ever since The Center became the Trauma Informed Care (TIC) certifying body in Bexar County has been awarding our first Level 1 certification. We are pleased and proud to announce that Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. (MHM) received that honor on August 25 as part of our pilot program. 

MHM is a faith-based, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing medical, dental, and health-related human services to people who may not be able to afford health insurance. President & CEO of MHM of South Texas Jaime Wesolowski said, “By earning this certification, we are enhancing the relationships we build with the patients and clients we see in our own clinics and ultimately improving their health outcomes, as well as supporting the efforts and well-being of our own team members through a more trauma-informed workplace.”

Reducing trauma and recognizing the influence of childhood trauma on adult violence and health status have been identified by the CDC as crucial strategies for improving the nation’s health. TIC practices can improve client, patient, and employee relationship and help organizations avoid retraumatizing of those who have experienced trauma in the past. Any organization or business, not just those in the health care industry, can become TIC-certified.

We encourage you to spread the word of how a TIC certification could benefit a nonprofit, school or business you’re involved in. Once the two other organizations going through our pilot program complete the certification, we will begin certifying the 35 organizations on our waiting list.

The Center will continue to develop certifying standards that ensure the highest level of adherence to trauma informed approaches in all interactions with the community. We are grateful to MHM for stepping up to pilot our TIC program and congratulate them on this major accomplishment!

As young students navigate issues like anxiety, bullying, family problems, depression and substance abuse, it’s all too common for them to feel like they’re facing these battles alone. The familiarity of a school environment, where youths spend more time than anywhere else, is the perfect place for adolescents to access counseling and support. Unfortunately, most school districts are understaffed to meet the behavioral and mental health needs of their grade, middle and high schools. 

The Ecumenical Center has been serving Independent School Districts in Bexar, Wilson and Nueces counties since 2016. We started by providing crisis response counseling teams that would go on campus and stay on campus to talk to students, family and faculty members. That has evolved into a school program where we embed a counselor on each campus on a weekly basis to offer counseling beyond crisis care. 

This year, as we grew our community partnerships and expanded our focus on behavioral health in youth through The Center for Young Minds, we decided it was time to make the school program official. We have named it Youth Are Not Alone. Among the many services we are offering the districts at no cost to them or to the students and families are:

  • Mental health first aid
  • Safety in school education 
  • Parenting classes
  • Grief counseling 
  • Bullying and anti-bullying consultation 
  • Psychological testing

Our school-embedded model isn’t the only thing that makes Youth Are Not Alone unique and effective. The Center’s background as a Trauma-Informed Certifying Agency means we are trained in creating an environment of physical and emotional safety and fostering trust that promotes healing in youth. We apply the same principles when counseling family and faculty members, who carry their own trauma, to break the cycle of trauma.

Youth Are Not Alone also plugs districts into the vast resources of The Center’s internal programs, like the Health and Harmony Wellness Program, including options for art, poetic medicine and rhythm making therapy. And because we’re taking the time to listen to youths by forming roundtable discussions and youth councils, students are helping us shape the solution with how they want to be approached. 
Our goal is that Youth Are Not Alone would provide focused support to every student in South Texas. We hope you’ll join us in spreading the word to school districts and encouraging them to leave no doubt in their students’ minds that they do not face their adversities alone.

While the Center is always looking for South Texas communities that need our help, we are well aware of the underserved needs right here in San Antonio. We are proud to announce the opening of our new office location on Main Street, where we will provide counseling five days a week.

As our 23rd remote location, the Main Street office comes at a crucial time. Even with vaccines on the way, the damage of COVID-19 on mental, emotional and spiritual health has been done. The ripple effects will reach far, which is why The Center must do the same. All our remote locations, from McAllen to Boerne, underscore our commitment to taking our healing work out to the community. We will continue to grow and find new ways to reach new communities and underserved people.

Too often, those who would benefit most from counseling aren’t close to right resources. The Center makes it as convenient as possible for people to turn to our professional counselors, but we need your help to spread word about this new location. Many still don’t know how near our counseling centers are or what diverse services we provide. Your advocacy and support are the engines of our growth and impact.

Thank you for helping make this new location possible!

The Ecumenical Center has provided trauma-specific services since our founding in 1967. We have always recognized the prevalence of trauma and its deep impact on brain development and overall health. But it wasn’t until 2018, when we joined the South Texas Trauma Informed Care Consortium, that we realized the power of taking a trauma informed approach from an individual level to an organizational certification. More and more nonprofits and healing professions are recognizing this and multiplying the potential for enhanced healing and improved outcomes in our communities.

Through a competitive process, The Consortium selected The Ecumenical Center as the trauma informed certifying entity in 2019. Early the next year, we launched The Center for Trauma Informed Certification and dived into the immense research required. As the first entity to provide trauma informed certification for organizations in Texas, and one of very few nationally, we blazed a new trail.

We started by consulting national experts, conducting online surveys, soliciting input from focus groups, and studying evidence-based models. We made sure to incorporate the unique local culture and strengths of Bexar County by engaging with more than 160 organizations and 12 community sectors to develop the certification. We have now written all the domains, standards, definitions and procedures for Level one certification, with Levels two and three in progress. The certification is rigorous and meaningful while being accessible and flexible. We’re proud to report that this certification is officially open to the community.

After an organization submits an interest form, we collaborate to implement a trauma informed care model that works best for them. The candidate group can complete requirements at their own pace. After we review submitted documentation and perform a site review, The Center certifies that organization as trauma informed. Then the important work of maintaining a trauma informed environment for clients, staff and visitors begins.

We want to help as many organizations as possible make their clients feel safe, confident and valued. In the future, we plan to reach organizations beyond Bexar County and in other states. The support and demand we’ve already seen are promising! To learn more about becoming a trauma informed organization, visit ecrh.org/trauma-informed-organizations or contact trauma-informed@ecrh.org.

Behavioral health is becoming The Center’s new focus as we continue to certify organizations as trauma-informed and launch The Center for Young Minds in 2021. Both of these projects are filling a great need in our community. This year, we plan to help over 30 organizations develop a culture of interacting with clients that fosters trust and is respectful of trauma in a person’s past. We are also spearheading The Center for Young Minds – a huge community collaboration devoted to reaching every child with behavioral health concerns as early as possible.

Positive behavioral health starts with good mental health. Both have tremendous implications on our well-being and success. Organizations that understand how trauma affects behavior are at an advantage when interacting with clients. A community positions itself for a brighter future when it recognizes the importance of treating behavioral health problems in adolescence before symptoms worsen and consequences multiply with age. Individuals can practice positive behavioral health techniques and support initiatives with these goals. Put together, we can turn the curve of statistics like one in five children under the age of 18 will experience a mental health need. This is the goal of The Center for Young Minds together with our 600 participating organizations.

The Center’s Behavioral Health Masterclass Series aims to equip our communities with the knowledge they need to address behavioral and mental health concerns. We already kicked off the series on February 4 when we presented our research study on young behavioral health and led a roundtable discussion. Mark your calendars for the rest of the series dates below. We’d love to have you join us!

April 8 – 3:00-4:30pm – Trauma-Informed Care Certification

June 10 – 3:00-4:30pm – Suicide – A Path Toward Hope and Prevention

August 12 – 3:00-4:30pm – Children and Young Mental Health

October 7 – 3:00-4:30pm – Art, Music and Therapeutic Writing Advances

December 9 – 3:00-4:30pm – Coping with Grief during the Holiday Season

No one could have guessed that COVID-19 would upend life as knew it in March 2020. But we at The Center did realize that the distancing and isolation orders would result in record levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness. We knew we had to adapt if we wanted to make a difference for people facing new social, emotional, economic and livelihood challenges. So from the very outset of the pandemic, we found safe ways to reach the most at-risk populations, even if it was just to give them someone to talk to.

We began by launching Wellness Conversations. These were free 15-to-30-minute telephone conversations with a Licensed Professional Counselor to discuss any issues affecting a person’s wellbeing. Our counselors provided personalized suggestions, shared resources, and arranged for a deeper level of help if needed. We are proud to report that The Center provided over 7,000 Wellness Conversations to our communities!

At the same time, we expanded Tele-Counseling, which provided ongoing counseling services from the comfort of a person’s home. Our professional counselors remotely shared their expertise in every type of counseling just as effectively as they would in person.

We had to get creative to communicate that help was available, especially to seniors susceptible to loneliness and to parents of young children under new stresses without school. So we partnered with Meals On Wheels, school districts and senior centers to distribute resources to seniors and parents.

Knowing the sudden loss of loved ones so many were experiencing, we continued offering grief support via bereavement counseling and support groups. These became critical outlets of exploration and healing. We are still helping many people process their grief, connect with others and move toward healing.

Next, we sought to provide relief to our courageous healthcare workers on the frontlines of COVID-19. Through our Music Wellness program, The Center brought the therapeutic power of live, relaxing music to over 1,500 hospital staff and patients. We also provided more than 6,000 free counseling sessions to healthcare workers, helping them cope with any issues they faced. The reductions in burnout, fatigue and stress were tremendous. As one nurse told us, “I had an incredible time at my debriefing session. I cried my eyes out and I needed that. When we were in the height of a day’s stress, we knew someone cared about us, too.”

Read through these initiatives again and think about the tens of thousands of lives we touched when they most needed a caring voice. Think about the ripple effect these programs are having by improving the mental health of so many. Remember that you are our partner in these achievements, so thank you! The pandemic is not over and we remain vigilant, adaptive and ready to serve. Many more exciting programs and initiatives are on The Center’s horizon in 2021. We hope you’ll help us promote and celebrate every one of them.