Interview with Lisa Lester, former Ryther therapeutic foster parent

family editedHow did you learn about Ryther?

I actually started working in the Cottages in 2001.  I worked in Cottage D until 2004. I enjoyed my work there even though it was probably the hardest job I’ve ever done.  But it was also my favorite job – honestly.  The kids were great.  They had baggage and they had tough times and they acted out.  But they didn’t always act out.  They were just normal kids that you could do fun stuff with and hang out, so the majority of the time it was really enjoyable.

 Why did you decide to open your home to a Ryther child?

Just working there I saw the need for that, and I thought we could fill it.  I thought it would be doing respite care when we began.  And so we got licensed through Ryther.  I knew the TFC person who ran the program at the time, and she would always say, ‘Hey, we have this kid, we have this kid.’  And then finally Dasia came along and she’s like, ‘We have this kid, really.  You’ve got to come see her.  You know, I really think she’d be a great fit for your family.’  So we said, ‘OK, well . . . we’ll go.’  And it ended up she was! So she was right.

 How did you get to meet Dasia?

It was more observing than an introduction.  We went to the Cottage and we watched her play. We didn’t get to meet her at that point.  We could tell just what a cool kid she was. It wasn’t too long after that we decided that that we could do this, and so we did!

What is she like?

She is incredibly artistic.  She’s very resilient and very resourceful.  She’s really smart.  She’s incredibly athletic.  She has so many strengths.

How did Ryther help?

Ryther was incredibly helpful.  Our caseworker was great.  Our case aide was great.  Anytime I had a question I could call and they would help me.  They were there at least once a week, and then we’d have case aide time.  If you’re going to do foster care you should do it through an agency like Ryther.  That’s what I tell friends who are interested because there’s so much support there and it was so valuable.  They were so valuable.

 What were some of the biggest issues early on?

Dasia was an eight-year-old coming into our home, having had nine prior placements. That was probably the most difficult part for us – the attachment issues that we had to deal with.  You’ve got to give them time to build trust. Being able to have her go through therapy was pivotal for her being successful in our home.  And for us to have the support we had from Ryther was instrumental, because there were days when it was stressful.  They were always there to listen and to help.

 What was Dasia like when she first came to your home?

I would say she was pretty socially awkward. She had never lived anywhere for more than a year. She didn’t have an opportunity to make friends or learn how to be a friend so we decided to get her into sports. She met some kids and that worked out really well. Now she’s got tons of friends on her softball team.

What do you think Dasia would say about what she’s gained?

She’s gained a sister and she’s gained a home that can give her stability and can nurture her. We are excited it worked out so well.  You don’t know what’s going to happen really, but certainly with the help of Ryther, and Dasia being as resilient as she is and as strong as she is, it’s worked out really well.

Why should someone consider taking a Ryther child into their home? Here is what Dasia had to say:

“If you put forth an effort to help them, I feel like they can do really well in life. But the longer you wait, the harder it gets because they’re older and they try to make their own decisions but they haven’t been taught how to make those decisions.

I came to this home when I was eight and I learned a lot and I’m really successful in school, and in sports, and I’m able to make a lot of friends. And so I feel like if other kids got that opportunity then they could do as well as I am doing.”



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A letter to Santa

Dear Santa, the source of magical hope, kindness and joy in our lives regardless of our age:
Please help all the children at Ryther to find peace, solace, and comfort
Please erase the nightmares, anxiety and fear from their lives forever
Please help us provide the children with a childhood they deserve; ones with happiness, small
crises, moments of accomplishments and triumph to balance the small defeats.
Please help the children acquire and keep the capacity to love and be loved.
Please give the children the gift of curiosity and joy of learning.
Finally, Santa, help the children to hope and believe in themselves. Help them know that if they keep trying things can be different and better for them.
Your friend, Lee Grogg

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The Night Before Christmas

The children at Ryther are anxiously awaiting tomorrow morning this afternoon. For some, it takes a lot of extra effort to contain the many feelings and emotions during a time when there is so much excitement in the air. For others, it takes a mix of concentration and distraction to avoid focusing on the fact that they are not having a Norman Rockwell holiday. I hope everyone will think of the children at Ryther and wish extra hard for them to have peace, comfort, and even joy. Please also send thoughts of love and tenderness their way. We can use all the help we can get in that department.

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Our job is to heal mentally ill, not hurt them.

The plight of seriously mentally ill people has been much in the news lately. Unfortunately most of the coverage has been sensationalized in way that spawns more fear and prejudice than information.  Typically the discussion alludes to floridly psychotic people (usually not senior citizens) who become violently assaultive. This creates the impression that people with psychoses are, as a rule, dangerous. Anyone who works in the field who promotes this notion is irresponsible.

You might ask how is this discussion relevant to Ryther as we deal with children? First, the term child covers a wide range of ages. For Ryther it has come to mean kids from two years old to 24. To be sure only a fraction of these children are over 18.  That being said, it is not uncommon for people who develop schizophrenia to experience their first psychotic break in the years from 18 to their mid-twenties and there are those adolescents who experience drug induced psychotic episodes. Ryther does in fact serve these kids.

After forty years in the mental health field, with about 30 of those years heavily involved with seriously and persistently mentally ill people (schizophrenics) I can tell you from first-hand experience that the vast majority of these people are more afraid of you than you can imagine.  Visual and auditory hallucinations, as well as many delusional systems are terrifying and horrible beyond comprehension. Using force indiscriminately to subdue such people is itself dangerous to all concerned. Whether they’re 15 or 24 people afflicted with psychoses need help and are not dangerous. Our job is to heal them and keep everyone safe; not to make things worse.

- Lee E. Grogg

Executive Director/CEO

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Art Therapy Provides a New Beginning

IMG_9789 editNative to tropical Asia and Australia, a lotus plant’s seed rests beneath the water of ponds in the dark, deep taking years to germinate until the conditions are just right. Once that time comes, the seed stretches its stalk and travels multiple feet through the water to rest upon the surface. It then blooms a beautiful pink and white flower.

The lotus is revered culturally across Asia for its symbolism of the human experience: a simple seed, stained and muddy, tests time and the elements to rise above its harsh beginnings and transforms into a pure and strong flower, seemingly born anew. Chelsea Gallegos, a Ryther Case Manager, used this symbolism as the basis for an art therapy group with three young girls in Ryther’s Sub-Acute Residential Treatment program.

IMG_9772 editThese children more often than not come from very difficult circumstances – many having faced sexual and physical abuse, neglect, trauma and multiple foster homes. Like the young lotus seeds, they have endured hostile environments before Ryther.

Chelsea conducted this art therapy group to help the girls understand that while they have faced traumatic situations which have had a profound impact, those experiences don’t have to define them and they can rise above and celebrate the positives in themselves.

After the girls learned about the lotus flower and replicated its beauty in the pictures, they did self portraits on their own. The portraits didn’t have to actually look like them as long as they captured and emphasized what they really like about themselves.IMG_9780 edit

Next, each girl chose a happy memory to paint on canvas – one of the goals of the group was to help them focus on positive things about their lives since so much therapy at Ryther can be about making sense of the “not so good” memories.

The art therapy group culminated with the selection of a quote and the creation of a mural. The girls chose “It is often among the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars” as their inspiration for the mural, which they worked together on to design and paint. It can be seen in one of Ryther’s meeting rooms.

IMG_9786 editCongratulations to these young artists for their hard work and determination! Through Chelsea’s art therapy group they’ve increased their self-esteem and learned that their turbulent pasts cannot stop them from blossoming to their full potential. Staff were invited to the art show to appreciate the work and talk to the artists.

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“Everyone Should Have a Special Person in Their Life”

146For 12-year-old Sharalyn, her Best Buddy Colleen was that special person. Colleen began as a Best Buddy in 2006 and has had three buddies at Ryther since first meeting Sharalyn in Cottage A. Plus, she is a dedicated League member. Colleen has been the source of consistency, advice and encouragement for Sharalyn over the past 9 years. In fact, the two made a pact to always be in each other’s lives. Now, at age 21, Sharalyn invited Colleen to attend her GED graduation in the mid west, where Sharalyn now calls home. Colleen remarked, “She was in and out of school and in several foster placements before and after Ryther. She is now talking about going to college – I am so proud of her!”

When asked about Colleen, Sharalyn said, “She has helped me more than I could ever thank her for. When she said she was coming to my graduation in Michigan I cried because I never ever thought I would have a best friend like her. Thank you Ryther for bringing Colleen into my life!!!”

If you want to learn about Best Buddy opportunities at Ryther visit our volunteer page.

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Why I Ride for Ryther: John’s Story

johnJohn Gonzales is the Cottage C Supervisor and team captain of Ride for Ryther. This is his second year riding in the Seattle to Portland Classic to raise funds and awareness for Ryther.

A couple of weekends ago I was going on a training ride for the upcoming Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, a one day 202 mile bike ride that I will be dedicating to benefit Ryther. I was heading out to Mercer Island for a training ride when on my way I unexpectedly hit a pothole and was thrown from my bike. At first I was rattled and confused. I gathered myself as quickly as I could and rode a short ways to safety. I took a couple of deep breaths and asked myself,

“Do I keep riding?”

The answer was easy, “of course!”

Why was the answer so easy? It was because I knew what I was riding for: Ryther, an organization that has served families and children for more than 125 years in the Pacific Northwest.

Serving Children

Ryther provides a variety of services that are all focused on providing children and families the opportunity for a healthier tomorrow. In the Sub-Acute Residential Treatment Program, where I work, children are provided with a highly therapeutic environment that is instrumental in helping them regain their lost childhood. In this environment, children are able to achieve therapeutic goals, reach developmental milestones, and gain valuable ground in their academics. Not only are most of the children afforded these opportunities, but, for some, Ryther represents their first safe home. These children show tremendous resiliency, which combined with the efforts of the Ryther staff, leads to remarkable growth.

Dedicated Staff

It is the dedicated work the residential counselors do that provides these opportunities for children to heal and grow. The breadth and depth of their training and experience allows them to work with each child on an individual level, regardless of his or her trauma history. Their tireless efforts are seen in countless ways; whether it’s the first time children are able to comfortably express their feelings, go to bed without fear because they know they are safe, or maybe even learn how to ride a bike without training wheels. While the work that the children do is extraordinary, even more extraordinary are the staff alongside them guiding them every step of the way.

Placing Children First

Ryther has made every sacrifice possible to keep children first and to continue to serve the neediest children in the northwest. Every day I am reminded of the thousands of children we have been able to give a childhood. I am reminded of a young man, who in our care, discovered his own passion for bikes. He had lost everything including his family and was understandably angry. He would threaten staff, want to hurt himself, and often wanted to give up, but the Ryther community never gave up on him. The staff and the agency figured out ways to channel his passions and teach him to redirect his anger. A staff member donated a bike and tools. Pretty soon he was waking up early to ride laps, spending his allowance on the newest and coolest bike bell, and even volunteering to help repair other children’s bikes. By the time this boy left, he had his smile back. He was proud of the person he had become, and the staff was happy to say goodbye to him and count him as one of the many children who had regained their childhood.

This is why I keep riding. I have never been more inspired by a group of hard working individuals, children and staff. Dedicating this ride is what I can do to say thank you for all I have gained in my 8 years at Ryther.

Oh, and the training ride went well. After I collected myself I was able to move on and finish my ride feeling strong and prepared. Fortunately, I got away with my health and am able to keep riding for Ryther.

Click here to make your contribution to Ride for Ryther. If you know John, you can specify his name in the dedication section.

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Why I Ride for Ryther: Clay’s Story

ClayClay Thompson has worked at Ryther for four years in the Development office helping with volunteers, events and marketing. This year he is cycling 202 miles in the Seattle to Portland Classic July 13-14 to raise funds and awareness for Ryther.

The first time that I cried driving home from work was December 2009. It was during the holidays which is a very stressful time for me in general as I solicit, collect and distribute gifts and clothes from our wonderful donors to over 100 kids, teens and families. But the stress that I go through during the holidays pales in comparison to the anxiety, loneliness and confusion that the children at Ryther feel. Many don’t have families to speak of. Others are unsure if their parent will even visit – or if Santa Claus will be able to find them.

On this particular evening, we had just celebrated the kid’s holiday party, complete with the Dickens Carolers, a magic show, a hula hooper and, of course, Santa. It’s one of the very few times out of the year that all 36 kids get together in one room with all of their staff – if you ever want to see chaos, come to this party! During the evening, the kids were asked as a group: “What do you want for the holidays?” A simple question. Many kids shot their hands up. Toys were a common answer, of course. Someone wanted a horse. One boy said that he wished he could go home to his mom. A little girl asked for a family for Christmas. A million Pokémon cards. To see his siblings. To be adopted.

The adults in the room of course were quiet as the kids gave their answers, nodding our heads in agreement, whether the answer was a truck or a new set of parents. Overall the night was a total success – the kids were showered with fun events, new quilts, yummy homemade cookies and pictures with Santa. They of course didn’t think twice about their answers – wanting a family is just as common as wanting an mp3 player for the kids at Ryther. But I don’t think I felt it until that night. Until then, I don’t think I understood what it was that these kids have gone through.1048604_737842595538_535186589_o

I feel very fortunate to have come to know so many kids at Ryther – becoming a behind the scenes witness to the laughter that they bring, to the puzzling moments, to the really difficult stuff they process, and to the miracles that we see, whether it’s an empathetic word, a relationship forming or a foster family found.

I Ride for Ryther so that more come to know them. In some small way, my bike ride will grant them a “Christmas in July” so that others learn these kids do exist and they do need help. As do the staff who laugh and teach and cry and succeed with them a little bit every day.

Click here to make your contribution to Ride for Ryther. If you know Clay, you can specify his name in the dedication section.


Why I Ride for Ryther: Siri’s Story

On July 13-14, a team of seven Ryther supporters, including six staff members, will be cycling 202 miles from Seattle to Portland to raise awareness and funds for Ryther.  Siri Gillespie is one of these riders. Read on to see what inspired Siri to ride:

R4RAs I begin my back-to-back 50+ mile training bike rides this week, my battle wounds will be the only reminder I need that I must keep going.  I have a large bruise and scrapes on the back of my leg, puncture wounds on my hands, and an open sore on my ankle.  This was not due to one of the many minor crashes I’ve had upon my bicycle, but the result of a Razor scooter accident I was involved in while supervising children at Ryther’s Cottage C.

This summer Cottage C has introduced an exercise program to encourage healthy habits in our clients.  Prior to earning the privilege of playing video games and watching movies for activity time, the children of Cottage C must complete at least 20 minutes of exercise.  Yesterday we held a cottage-wide kickball game.  Today, the kids I was supervising chose to ride Razor scooters.

Being the athletic, well-trained cyclist I consider myself to now be, I couldn’t have been more excited!  The children led me on a wild follow-the-leader game that ended with me careening down a pebbled sidewalk in the rain on one of the Cottage scooters.  In my attempt to slow down on a hill, I inevitably fishtailed on wet cement and crashed.  One girl I was supervising, an anxious and impulsive pre-teen, rushed to my side with a look of concern on her face.  The other girl, a quiet, yet precocious 9-year-old looked on in silent horror awaiting my reaction.

I looked around, looked at my bloodied hands, and hoped the pain I was feeling didn’t show on my face.  The pre-teen exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, Siri, are you OK?!”  ”Yes, I’m fine,” I replied, “Thank you.”  The pre-teen put her hand on my shoulder as I winced as I stood up.  ”Oh my gosh, you’re bleeding!”  In that moment, I recognized something I’d never truly seen in that young woman.  It was empathy.  ”I’m ok.  Ouch, let’s walk inside,” I said as I limped toward the cottage.  That pre-teen checked on me twice more that morning to assure I was alright.

My wounds were superficial, but the impact of the experience was not.  The young woman, who spends much of her time consumed by the residual effects of extreme trauma and internalized low self-worth, typically has little time to outwardly express concern for others.  In this case, and for the first time I’ve witnessed, her concern for someone else and the relationship she’d built with me seemed to supersede her perpetual inner turmoil.  It is for that young lady I will ride for.  It is that young girl; that split moment when she was able to create a space between herself and her trauma to make room for a trusting relationship she’d built; it is her I will ride for.

Click here to make a contribution to Ride for Ryther.  


Not your typical Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

An Interview with Ryther’s Co-Occurring (Substance Use & Mental Health) Program Director, Deanna Seather-Brady, MSW CDP

Karen's goodbyeWhat is Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP)? “IOP” is basically the middle ground between inpatient and outpatient substance abuse treatment. It’s for teens who are transitioning or stepping down from a more restrictive substance abuse treatment program such as inpatient treatment or when there is a need to bump up from a less intensive program.

How do you know if IOP is appropriate? Once a teen has been assessed at Ryther using the American Society of Addiction Medicine or ASAM, the course of treatment is identified. ASAM looks at six criteria: the risks associated with withdrawal; biomedical conditions and complications; emotional, behavioral or cognitive issues; the client’s willingness to change; continued use despite consequences; and, the recovery environment. IOP is recommended when a teen’s substance use has crossed the line from experimentation or abuse to chemical dependency. At this point it’s physiological – the brain has changed. We often see issues such as cravings, preoccupation with getting high, higher tolerance, more drug seeking, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, continued use despite consequences, exacerbating medical or psychological issues, or behavioral and peer group changes. These teens also tend to do more poorly in school and sometimes even start getting in trouble with the law. In addition to the verbal assessment, the parents are asked to provide information about their teen’s strengths and difficulties, and we get information from sources such as court, family, teachers or other therapists/ psychologists. Urinalysis is also done at the time of assessment.

Is Ryther’s Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program different? What I am excited about is that we are making the leap to co-occurring treatment. On Ryther’s campus we have psychiatric and psychological services, dual-certified mental health and addiction therapists, experiential therapists and therapists trained in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skills. The data shows that over 80% of teens who abuse substances also have mental health issues so we treat both simultaneously. A part of the initial assessment dimensions includes mental health challenges, and such issues would be flagged. In these cases, if a client needs a psychiatric or psychological evaluation, an internal referral would be made.

What does the program entail? We use evidence-based practices such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) skills as well as experiential therapies and science-based psycho-education. DBT skills include mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness. Among teen boys in our inpatient program, this is what they say was most helpful. DBT skills help answer recovery questions like, “What do I do instead of use drugs when I get stressed out? How do I communicate effectively with other people?” Mindfulness is essential to being able to use the other DBT skills and will be practiced in creative/ fun ways at every group session. With DBT, there are three states of mind: emotional mind, logical mind and wise mind. DBT teaches how to take the best of the emotional and logical minds and find that wise mind for effective decision making. This is about how to be present in the moment and not get bogged down either in the future or the past.

Additionally, participants will at some point in their IOP experience be asked to mentor someone entering the program and will be required to co-lead various modules and the experiential components of those modules.

What should clients expect? There are three sessions per week. Monday and Wednesday evenings for group sessions (each 2.5 hours) and a third day is for individual therapy. Group sessions include experiential activities during the last hour. The activity relates to the DBT skill that is worked on during the first part of the session. The activities are fun and active as well as developmentally appropriate based on adolescent brain development. We have a low ropes course, a climbing wall and a portable ropes course so we can do activities inside or outside. Random urinalysis will be done at Ryther.

IMG_9002How long is the program? In order to graduate from IOP the client must participate in the entire 12 week program. If a client misses a session it can be made up. Clients can join anytime. Among other things each participant’s individual therapist will help support DBT skills group and review the Mindfulness module if missed to get him or her up to speed in order to step right into the group.

What about family involvement? We offer a twice monthly parent group. Plus, once or twice a month a parent might join the individual therapy session. We keep parents in the loop about what we’re working on and provide psycho-education. We will also offer family therapy.

If you would like more information, please call us at 206.517.0234. Currently for this program we only accept private pay or insurance.

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