Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 12
 
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
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Helping Thousands While on a Shoe String: Corner House Is Community Haven for Children

Ellen Gilbert

“We’re the best deal in town for the taxpayer,” observed Corner House Executive Director Gary De Blasio recently. With its own foundation providing the lion’s share of its funds (over 30 percent), the non-profit, which served over 5,000 people last year, gets just a little over 12 percent of its support from the two Princetons. Although approximately 16 percent is budgeted, Mr. De Blasio explained, the return of Corner House fees to the municipalities ultimately results in the lower percentage. The agency’s service to families of municipal employees should also be factored into the equation.

Corner House programs can be roughly divided into three areas: clinical, leadership, and prevention and outreach. Services include substance abuse assessment; family support network (“FSN,” which includes parent education and home visits); psychiatric evaluations; medication monitoring; case management; and drug screening. On any given evening groups may be found discussing motivation building; substance abuse refusal skills; goal setting; relapse prevention; depression management; or “adolescent development and functional families.” Three bilingual therapists — male and female — are available to help Latinos. All Corner House services are offered on a sliding scale basis and no one is ever turned away because they cannot pay for treatment.

“Leadership — Prevention — Treatment” are Corner House’s guiding principles these days. The original wooden sign from the agency’s first home, just down the block, is still hanging in its current Valley Road Building offices. However, “The old look was dated,” according to Mr. De Blasio, and “things have changed” since Corner House was founded in 1972, as drug use began to rise exponentially. The new logo was created gratis, after consulting with “all the stakeholders,” by a board member who also happens to be a graphic artist.

“We equalize the playing field by supporting at-risk kids,” said Mr. De Blasio. A modest man, he is happy to talk about Corner House’s accomplishments, but is quick to note that in any discussion, “the focus should be on Corner House and its programs, kids and staff. I believe strongly they are what makes us special.”

Treatment rooms for individual, family, and group out-patient therapy are discreetly situated along the Corner House’s cheerful corridor, which leads to a well-stocked resource room offering DVDs and literature for borrowing or viewing there. Ties with other local institutions are strong, but, Mr. De Blasio noted, “we try carefully not to overlap.”

With the disposition of the Valley Road Building still unclear, “we don’t know where we’ll be in two years,” said Mr. De Blasio. As a “critical service for the community,” Corner House has “responded to every challenge they’ve thrown at us,” he observed. The Princeton Youth Project, for example, was created out of concern for the influence of gangs on at-risk kids. Police report that the number of gang-related incidents in the area has significantly decreased since the program’s inception.

“Corner House has really been there to serve kids in all the local schools (including the private ones), as well as all the universities in the area,” said Mr. De Blasio. “It makes me very proud to think that kids know they can walk in here and get help, and that most of them stay connected even afterward. Our kids always check back with us to let us know how well they’re doing.”

Director of Clinical Operations David A. Errickson echoed Mr. De Blasio’s sentiments as he described the facility’s “overall environment of helping.” He noted that technological changes have made it easier to access information like treatment protocols.

The guiding principle behind Corner House’s clinical program, Mr. Errickson said, is “evidence-based treatment,” which asks, “does this really work?” He and his staff, including psychiatric nurse practitioner Lynn Pebole Shell, stay on top of SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) findings, implementing best practices like “co-occurring treatment,” which addresses both substance abuse and mental health issues presented by clients.

Both Mr. Errickson and Mr. De Blasio are emphatic in their disinterestedness in “stamped-out programs” that address groups en masse. “There are different ways to engage people,” observed Mr. Errickson, and Corner House’s treatment programs are “client-focused. It’s rare and hard to do. People often don’t come in very goal-oriented. We meet the client where they are and use ‘stages of change’ to encourage them to take action.”

Unlike facilities that are beholden to insurance regulations, there is no fixed length of treatment at Corner House. “We stick with it for however long it takes to help someone,” said Mr. De Blasio. “It’s a tough racket. It means the community has to support our organization.”

For more information about Corner House, visit www.cornerhousenj.org, or call (609) 924-8018.

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