Category: Uncategorized

Employee Spotlight – Alice Barrientez

Connection Through Culture

November is Native American Heritage Month and at ACH, we value the diversity of our staff. Having a group of unique individuals is crucial for the youth in our care to learn from and relate to.

Alice Barrientez, a supervisor in ACH’s Residential Treatment Program, utilizes her Pueblo and Apache heritage in caring for children who come from traumatic childhoods in foster care. She also shares her traditions with the youth and offers many teaching moments inspired by her culture.

Helping Youth Comes Naturally

The Robert and Jane Ferguson Residential Treatment Center (RTC) is designed to help foster youth with significant behavioral or mental health challenges. At the RTC and throughout ACH, staff utilize Trust-Based Relational Intervention® to meet the complex needs of children who have experienced adversity, early harm, toxic stress, and/or trauma. This method of therapeutic intervention was developed by TCU’s Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development.

Alice says that many of the practices of TBRI® are second nature to her thanks to her Pueblo upbringing. She was taught how to calm herself down and regulate her emotions, skills we teach to our youth.

“You have to spend days, weeks, or months before you can get the child to be comfortable with you.”
- Alice Barrientez,
ACH Supervisor

Alice also believes that being raised around horses, although not the same, gives her the same mindset for the youth in the RTC, many of whom exhibit extreme behaviors.

“You have to be very careful when you approach a horse and take very small steps. You never want to come behind it,” Alice said. “When you see a child and you know they don’t trust you, you don’t go up to them and hug them, especially our kids in the RTC. You have to spend days, weeks, or months before you can get the child to be comfortable with you.”

Alice also shares her culture with the youth in the RTC through cooking traditional Native American foods and assembling a teepee at the start of Native American Heritage Month. Alice explained the significance of each part of the teepee.

“The rope that ties’ around the tripod represents family members involved in the upbringing of a child. The tripod is the foundation,” said Alice. “The poles that lean on the tripod for extra support are your elders, counselors, medicine man, leaders of the community. The covering is the shield protecting all of the above to succeed in life as a group of people.”

The significance of the teepee can be reflected in work of the RTC. The RTC are the poles that come together in the center, and the staff are the cover that all comes together to shield the children.

Helping Youth Comes Naturally

Gardening is a large part of Alice’s culture, and this is something she was able to share recently with Cody, a 14-year-old boy in the RTC. One day Alice noticed Cody was feeling anxious and went outside with him to help calm him down. He saw the planter boxes outside of the facility and asked if he could plant some seeds. Alice gave him seeds for Summer Squash, and it wasn’t long before flowers started to sprout.

Alice explained to Cody that, just like humans, plants need to be treated well and cared for.

At first, Cody didn’t understand, but Alice compared the plants to him. She asked him, “What would happen to you if I left you alone and didn’t talk to you?” Cody replied, “I’d be sad and lonely.”

“How does it feel when I give you a hug or a knuckle bump?” asked Alice. “It makes me happy,” Cody replied.

Alice explained that the way our staff gives the youth support, care, and praise, while also guiding them when they make a mistake, is exactly what a plant needs.

“He was able to associate his growth with the growth of the plant,” said Alice.             

Cody continued to take care of his squash and had two of the four seeds turn into squash. He was able to prepare dinner with the other youth in the program using his squash—an accomplishment he was very proud of. Alice is also proud of the fact that the other youth respect the garden, which reflects a sense of community and growth.

Encouraging Growth

Alice has a strong connection to the youth in the RTC because she also experienced trauma during her childhood. Those experiences help her understand the youth and the reasons behind their behaviors.

“They have a feeling of misplacement, and they feel lost,” said Alice. “They have had too many adults let them down.”

Her experiences have allowed her to better understand the youth and help them in times of stress or anxiety.

“I just do what comes natural to me,” said Alice.

You can learn more about the RTC and take a virtual tour at ACHservices.org/RTC.

You can also help us bring hope to those who need it most this holiday season—just visit ACHservices.org/Christmas.

Going Beyond the Classroom

Being a teacher requires patience, kindness, and an open mind. When educating children with severe behavioral or emotional needs, providing safety, love, and hope through caring relationships is equally important.

Marcy Collins is the Academic Coordinator for ACH’s Wedgwood Campus, where she has been providing educational support to the children in our care for the past year.

This campus is home to several crisis intervention programs including Summit, Turning Point, and Behavioral Care. Wedgwood also houses the Morris Program, which helps 14–17-year-olds who are unable to live with their families develop the life skills needed to transition to independent living.

Providing Normalcy During Uncertain Times

Unlike many other therapeutic treatment facilities, the children in Summit and Turning Point attend school during their stay. These programs provide crisis intervention to avoid hospitalizations, in a safe home-like setting.

“When the kids enter our programs, their whole world has just been turned upside down, and they are having to deal with heavy emotional and behavioral issues,” said Marcy. “Having school during their stay establishes a structure and gives them a place to practice the coping skills they’re learning.”

The children in our care attend school through Odysseyware, an online curriculum that assigns students work and provides lessons. For the youth in Morris, some attend school virtually or in-person at schools in our neighborhood or are working towards achieving a GED. Collins works with each of them to ensure they are on track to graduating while accommodating their specific needs.

Leading with Love

Oftentimes, the children in our programs are coming from hard places, experiencing trauma that has made an impact on their behavioral and mental health. Because of that, Marcy must be prepared to handle these various behaviors in her classroom.  

“I make it a point that for every kid that comes into our care, I become familiar with their history,” said Marcy. “I learn about these kids before I even meet them, because I want to know what they are working with.”

This preparation helps Marcy learn what their triggers are and how she can avoid them, as well as the best techniques for helping them calm down in stressful situations. Just like with any child, there are times when they don’t want to do schoolwork and will outright refuse or break down.

“That is an opportunity to work with that kid and prepare them for life out of the treatment program,” said Marcy. “We can show them how to work through those frustrating times.”

Relationships Get Results

Because of her unique classroom of students, Marcy must go beyond the traditional role of a teacher. Maintaining the bond of a teacher and student is equally significant as that between a caregiver and a child.

“I am there not just to be a schoolteacher, but to be there for the kids,” said Marcy. “I make them feel comfortable, feel safe, and feel as if school is not their enemy.”

Daniel Pectol, ACH Director of Residential Services, praises Marcy for her ability to develop relationships with the children and utilize them during stressful situations when a child is frustrated or upset.

“You have to connect before you correct and she can get a child back on track,” said Daniel. “She is personal with them and she will sit down with them and make sure they have what they need.”

Always on Board

For Marcy, class is not over when the school day ends. She also provides training for the employees working on the Wedgwood campus. The love and care she gives children also extend to staff, according to Turning Point Supervisor McKenzie Slawson.

“She will help guide you in the right direction and answer any questions you have without judgment,” said McKenzie. “Marcy is a very important person here on our campus.”

During the pandemic, Daniel beamed at Marcy’s efforts in and out of the classroom. She covered for employees who fell sick with COVID-19 and stepped up in taking care of positive children as well. With all the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic, Marcy made sure the kids were taken care of.

“Marcy is committed to making things better for kids,” said Daniel.

For Marcy, juggling a classroom filled with different-aged kids, all with unique challenges can be tough, but she said the reward is so much greater.

“I love getting to see the confidence they develop while here at ACH,” said Marcy.

If you would like to support Marcy and our programs at our Wedgwood campus, ACH offers many ways to get involved. To get started, visit https://old.achservices.org/give-now/.