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How Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties is empowering kids to build resiliency

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Today’s children and teens are going through a lot. They’re navigating the complexities that come with growing up while trying to figure out who they are in a social-first, post-pandemic world.

It is no surprise that young people are stressed. Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s 2023 Youth Right Now survey, which surveys more than 100,000 kids and teens annually, found that 70% of youth report that they can’t stop worrying when something goes wrong in their life. Back in 2021, the same year that the U.S. Surgeon General declared youth mental health a national crisis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 4 in 10 teens experienced persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness.

At Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties, we understand that children and teens can be successful if they have access to caring professionals and comprehensive health programs. As we recognize May as Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re thrilled to launch our new Behavioral Health Program, supporting and empowering kids and their families to improve their overall quality of life.

Danae Koeper MSW, LCSW

Our Director of Behavioral Health Services Danae Koeper was instrumental in designing this innovative program. Danae holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from The University of Colorado in Boulder, her Master’s in Social Work from the University of South Florida and her License in Clinical Social Work. She’s cared for people from all walks of life for decades, including patients and families who need supportive grief and counseling at home, in hospitals, at nursing homes and in assisted living settings. Danae has also directed large group practices, including contracted work for the Department of Defense, Social Service Nurturing Program in Boulder and more. A member of the National Association for Social Workers and the American Psychological Society, Danae advocates for patients and families throughout Manatee and Sarasota Counties by serving on numerous committees and boards.

We sat down with Danae to learn more about the Behavioral Health Program. 

BGCSDC: What is the purpose of the Behavioral Health Program?

DK: We want our Club members and their families to know that the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties is here to help them improve their overall quality of life. Through this unique program, Clubs have access to a Master of Social Work on staff to help provide in-the-moment support that helps kids and teens understand and manage their emotions. Plus, our dedicated team of Social Workers are actively involved with all aspects of our members’ Club experience. They’re there to provide guidance during challenging times, helping children and teens adjust without missing a beat.

BGCSDC: Why do we need a program like this? And why now?

DK: Families and kids are under a great amount of pressure. And so many are still dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic from academic regression to financial uncertainty. Promoting healthy emotional and mental minds is critical to our Club members’ overall wellbeing and path to success after high school graduation.  

BGCSDC: How will Club members be referred to the program?

DK: All members have access to a Master Social Worker who will be floating around the Club if they need a few minutes to decompress or talk through a particular issue that may be bothersome to them. If a further challenge is identified and a child or family member wants further interventions such as an individual connection, the Club member can self-refer or the parent/guardian can seek additional services with our team. Club kids are also referred to the program by Club Directors and school counselors.

Referred children will undergo an assessment by our team of professionals, and if a need for ongoing connection is made, the Club member may receive individual support with our Master of Social Work. We’ll also refer our Club members to our many wonderful community partners if the situation requires.

We also provide group connections if certified referrals see an ongoing theme with multiple Club members to further explore and discuss topics of concern.

BGCSDC: What kind of credentials do the professionals on the Behavioral Health Program team hold?

DK: We’ve got quite an impressive roster of Social Workers at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties including a Master of Social Work with a Bachelor’s degree in a related field. For them to earn that title required six years of schooling!

BGCSDC: What is your hope for this program?

DK: Through the Behavioral Health Program, my hope is that our Club members and families feel that they are safe to reach out whenever they need support. Emotional and mental support is available! We’ll always aim to serve our members and their families in a respectful, caring manner and ensure they feel heard, understood and not alone. This program can play a role in reducing the stigma of mental health in our society and create an atmosphere that prioritizes mental wellness. The best is yet to come.

For more information about our Behavioral Health Program, call 941-366-3911.

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