By Kim Roque, Member Engagement Director
Though I've only been at Lutheran Services in America for four months, I've discovered that visiting our members is its own reward: each meeting reminds me that each social ministry organization is unique by dint of its unique history and rich heritage, and that each is an inspiration.
While attending the recent Lutheran Financial Managers Association (LFMA) conference in Philadelphia, I was able to slip away to visit Silver Springs-Martin Luther School, a member of the LSA network. As many Lutheran social ministry organizations were, Silver Springs-Martin Luther School was founded in 1859 as an orphanage in downtown Philadelphia, but has adapted to meet the changing needs of the community. Over the years, the school has evolved to provide a continuum of child services. Now located in tranquil Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, the school is housed on the peaceful sprawling acreage of an old dairy farm.
The school promotes trauma recovery and family reunification in a nurturing and healing environment with a quality educational program and residential treatment. Through trauma-informed approaches, children are helped to heal and manage the overwhelming feelings and memories of traumatic things that have happened to them. The children's program offers comprehensive services including residential treatment for children ages 6-14, special education for grades K through 8, and community based services.
Upon arrival, I met first with Dr. Kristen Gay, the school's president and CEO. Kristen and I talked about the school's history, its services, and her journey to serving as its leader. Fittingly, Kristen is a children's psychologist by training, and found her passion early in her career when she started working at Martin Luther School. (Equally fittingly, her father was also the president of a Lutheran social ministry organization, so she well understands the legacy of service in the Lutheran faith!) I was most touched by by Dr. Gay's emphasis on the school as a place to educate, but most importantly, to heal and to nurture. The school focuses on providing a quality education and comprehensive trauma-informed emotional support to help children move through the healing process, involving and reunifying families wherever possible.
I next toured the campus with Lynn Unipan, Silver Springs-Martin Luther School's Development Director. The campus is comprised of converted farm buildings and newer construction, designed to allow them to serve more children. We toured several academic buildings where kids were studying or having lunch, and then went to the playground and barn area, where kids were running around having a wonderful time. As a new mom and a long-time children's advocate, I am horrified to think about the trauma many of these children have endured, but was struck by how happy they looked, and what a relief it must be to play and be a kid again. My favorite was a little boy of about eight who was really excited about feeding the two resident goats. It was clear that he was slightly apprehensive as to whether he'd get his hand nipped, but was determined that he'd be brave and give the goats their grass. That exemplifies, I think, what Martin Luther School does so well: it helps provide kids with the emotional support that they need to address their fears and learn to manage their emotions, so they're better prepared for transition. In the words of one staff member, "My biggest reward is watching our children leave us with positive feelings and open hearts."
My biggest reward is realizing that the LSA network is comprised of three hundred members as amazing as the Martin Luther School, all serving those most in need – and that opens my heart. In 1 John 3:17-18, it is written, "How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action."