The Children’s Center: Healing Detroit Families

Julie Bitely

| 3 min read

Image of kid pretending to be a superhero
Many of the kids and families who show up at Detroit-based The Children’s Center are in crisis. They might be dealing with mental or behavioral health issues or are survivors of trauma, neglect and abuse. Some are grappling with an autism diagnosis or developmental disabilities of some sort. Further compounding their reasons for needing services at the center is an underlying current of poverty and violence, which makes it difficult to thrive no matter how valiant the effort. The Children’s Center provides an oasis for these families and children, empowering and supporting them in a variety of ways. “This is a home away from home,” explained one mom who hadn’t realized how deeply her daughter was struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. “From here, my kids have learned so much.” Watch her powerful testimonial here.

‘Heal Children. Heal Detroit’

“The sooner we can intervene and lift that child and that family up and help them solve the problem at hand … the better the outcomes,” said Tammy Zonker, chief philanthropy officer, The Children’s Center. “Our work is all about empowering these families and children to shape their future.” In addition to providing a warm and welcoming space for children and families to receive clinical mental health and behavioral services, The Children’s Center helps kids and families with adoption and foster care services, including helping older children in the foster care system prepare for life as an adult. Wraparound services are also available including a boutique filled with gently used clothing, a food pantry and resource area. Early childhood programming and tutoring take place at the center and a yearly holiday shop lets parents choose gifts for their children. A monthly group birthday party is a fun way for center staff and volunteers to let every young client know they matter, and their birthday deserves to be counted and acknowledged. “Before you can begin to address a family’s mental health challenges, you have to help them meet their basic needs,” the center’s website explains. With all the center does to help families, when asked to boil down the mission and the work happening within its walls, Zonker put it succinctly. “Heal children. Heal Detroit.”

A Village of Volunteers

To offer the types of services that go beyond clinical counseling, The Children’s Center relies on the generosity of volunteers from the neighborhood, churches and businesses. “We could not deliver those enrichment services and have that warm, respectful, loving environment we have without the volunteers,” Zonker said.
Blue Cross volunteers at The Children's Center
Blue Cross volunteers pose for a picture at The Children’s Center.
In fact, the center draws in nearly 2,000 volunteers annually. In 2018 they committed more than 13,000 hours to the center, which equates to more than $300,000 in volunteer labor. Of those, 137 were Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan volunteers. To recognize their efforts, BCBSM was recently awarded the Lisa V. Ford Heart and Soul Corporate Friend award by The Children’s Center. “It’s definitely a village of Blue Cross people volunteering their time to support the mission,” said John Dunn, senior vice president and chief actuary at BCBSM and a 15-year member of The Children’s Center board. Popular volunteer efforts include the center’s summer camp, tutoring efforts, back-to-school bazaar and holiday shop. Zonker said BCBSM stood out as a nominee for the award due to the sheer number of volunteers and their willingness to step up. “(Blue Cross) people show up, they’re ready to roll up their sleeves and there’s no task that’s too small or unglamorous,” Zonker said. Want to help? Check out the center’s volunteer opportunities and learn more by taking this virtual tour led by Zonker. Interested in more stories like this? Check these out:
Photo credit: Rich Vintage
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association