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Making a difference in life of at-risk kids
Soroprtimists help fund schools access to counseling
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About five years ago, high schools in Manteca Unified School District had up to seven counselors on campus. Today, there are only two attending to the counseling needs of hundreds of students at every school site, the result of severe budget cuts stemming from the effects of the Great Recession and a crumbling national economy.

As bad as the situation was in recent years, things could have been much worse. Thanks to the infusion of tens of thousands of dollars from the Manteca Soroptimist International, Valley Community Counseling has been able to continue providing its services to students who are experiencing difficulties stemming from home and personal problems, including bullying, which are affecting their studies and their ability to graduate.

Since the club took up counseling services to at-risk students as its signature project in 1989 when Betty Ingell was Manteca Unified’s Health Services Director, the service organization has given $303,000 as of August this year. The money comes from proceeds raised from various fund-raising events such as the club’s recent Holiday Affair.

The money donated to the district goes to the Teen Crisis Counseling project, Ingell said. It’s the school district that enters into a contract with Valley Community Counseling which then provides counselors to the different high school campuses.

There had been suicides “which was the worst experience we’ve had,” Ingell said. That, she said, “just really emphasized the incredible need for some professional mental health people to meet those kids’ needs,” which is why the club earmarked the money they donated to the district for the at-risk students.

In the last four years, Valley Community Counseling owner David Love said they had worked with 24 suicide cases in San Joaquin County alone. One such incident happened in Tracy a year ago and they are still working with the family today, he said. Two suicide cases happened at Ripon High, and their team is still involved in those, he said.

Their counselors do not deal with bullying cases per se, but it’s a part of what they do. Unfortunately, part of the tragedy is the lack of funds to provide adequate counseling services on campus, he said.

“Counselors spend one day a week on every campus in Manteca Unified. Some campuses get more time,” Love said. The principal or vice principal refer the students with problems to the counselors. These are students who are experiencing “something happening at home, or are having problems with boyfriends, girlfriends, or some emotional problems” like depression, or may be having conflict with other students where someone is being inappropriate in their behavior with somebody else, he explaine.

Counseling services that are involved with bullying are “integrated with the services that we do,” Love pointed out.

“I’d say, each of our counselors will see a couple of cases a month,” usually one that involves “accusation of bullying,” in which case they have to determine, “is it bullying or the stuff that we all went through when we were in high school?” noted Love.

Nonetheless, “We always have a number of cases (with) serious bullying where you need to work with the (school) administration,” he said.

“I teach a course on anti-bullying. I teach half a day or a whole day on bullying. In my courses, when kids get aggressive, we want to see them because we want to make an assessment about what’s going on. The concern is over safety. I’m talking about extreme bullying” which sometimes results in suicide or with the “kids not willing to come back to school,” Love said.

Once in a while, a group of kids start bullying someone, with most of that happening online on the Internet, he added.

“We had some serious cases where people are the target of online bullying and become depressed and suicidal,” Love said.

Ingell, who is president of the Manteca Soroptimist and has since retired from the school district but is still actively involved in the club, said they will continue supporting the Teen Crisis Counseling project of the school district. The numbers that they receive from Valley Community Counseling every year strengthens their resolve to do just that. Last year alone, there were more than 2,000 student counseling interventions provided in the district by a professional counselor with 14,720 individual and group counseling services provided throughout the school district.

“That’s a big number,” Ingell said.