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"It Takes a Village:" Helping Cleveland’s Troubled Children Find Success in School and Life

07.05.2017

Most kids go to school during the day but for those with severe emotional and behavioral problems, school is not an option. Their schools have rejected them, saying they’re too disruptive and difficult to handle. In some cases their family – if they even have one – is also at a loss for what to do. So where do they go?

On any given day, you’ll find about 400 of these children at one of seven Day Treatment Centers run by Positive Education Program, or PEP. With a $40 million annual budget, PEP is the largest Cleveland nonprofit social service agency dedicated to helping children with severe emotional disturbances.

Bob DeAngelis, a KeyBank executive vice president, had mixed emotions the first time he visited a PEP Day Treatment Center.

“You see the challenges first-hand,” said DeAngelis. “The mirror is held up. You think of things you don’t appreciate – that you take for granted. I had a supportive home and family life. I was able to go to school, get an education and go on to be successful, and here in front of you is a child trying to learn but not able to engage.”

DeAngelis was so moved by what he saw on that first visit that he knew he had to help, and for more than a decade now, he has served on PEP’s volunteer board. He remains especially impressed by what he calls PEP’s unheralded staff, which generally includes two to three specially trained teachers and aides in each classroom, as well as psychiatrists on hand to intervene and administer medical treatment as needed.

PEP Day Treatment Centers provide a specialized educational and mental health environment for school-aged children who have an emotional disturbance, autism, and/or other complex developmental disabilities that interfere with their daily living. The centers provide a therapeutic environment where children are expected to exhibit healthy behaviors.

PEP also helps parents and other adults in the children’s lives learn how to better manage their behaviors; connects families and students with community resources; and consults with school systems on best practices for working with at-risk and special needs children. With each of these prongs to their mission working together, PEP hopes to reach its goal of having children be served successfully in their public school.

DeAngelis wants parents of troubled children to know that PEP is available and effective. The success of students at PEP shows that the earlier children and their families find the help they need, the better off they are. This helps not only the child, but the whole community.

“I can’t think of a group that’s more aligned with Key’s core mission of helping communities thrive. It’s difficult to think of a community thriving if its youth are not prepared to thrive,” says DeAngelis.

KeyBank charitable giving to PEP has continued over the years and will do so going forward.

“It takes a village, it really does,” he added. “There are members of our community that have problems and we are ostriches with our heads in the sand if we aren’t aware of the support that is needed and being provided.”

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