MAKING A DIFFERENCE, ONE CHILD AT A TIME
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, TX—Rebecca Smith was beaming with happiness Thursday night at the sold-out “Love Heals Youth” Gala in Conroe. The wildly successful funds and awareness-raising event was nearly 20 years in the making but is now planned as an annual event that will bless a large number of children with free mental healthcare. The children, ages 12 and older, and either living with a foster family or in a group home. The funds will also provide free additional training for many staff members at the facilities housing those children.
Gala Chair Dina Hafley expressed their gratitude. “Montgomery County has really come together for us,” Hafley said, “We couldn’t be happier with the turnout!”
Love Heals Youth is a unique and innovative program that has evolved and improved as Smith and the other volunteers continue to identify new ways to show struggling teens there are people who see their value, care about their futures, and want to help them have a better path going forward than the one that placed them in the foster care or congregates living system.
Smith is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Supervisor, trained as a Parent Facilitator / Parent Coordinator and Mediator who facilitates workshops and training programs related to “high conflict divorce and custody modification”. Smith is the founder of Love Heals Youth, which is a 501-C3 nonprofit and is CEO of her private practice, Counseling Center of Montgomery County. Years of counseling struggling families have given Smith insight and a desire to help as many children as possible.
“When I started my private practice almost 20 years ago, I started with kids in foster care and I very quickly learned there was a much bigger need,” Smith said.
Incredibly, Smith was funding the program from her own pocket beginning in 2008, and only became a nonprofit in 2020. Since then, more people have heard about the nonprofit and contributed their time, money or services to the organization’s worthwhile effort. Last year, Montgomery County Commissioners Charlie Riley and Robert Walker began supporting the cause, Smith said, which has even caught the attention and support of high-profile Texans such as Veteran / Congressman Morgan Luttrell!
Love Heals Youth is helping to change the way traumatized children feel about themselves and the world around them. According to iFoster, a nationwide group and information resource for those involved in foster care, on any given day, around 438,000 US children are living in foster care, and approximately 25,000 age out of the system annually. Smith and the other Love Heals Youth volunteers are determined to ensure foster children in Montgomery County receive the counseling and encouragement they need to succeed and thrive. Last year, Love Heals Youth provided over 1,500 hours of mental healthcare to kids in need in Montgomery County, free of charge. The current operation costs $$4,000 to $$6,000 per month, without any paid staff.
“One hundred percent of what’s donated goes straight to the kids and making sure they have therapeutic services,” Smith said, “And, of course, the other projects that we do, such as the Welcome Home Bags.”
Many forms of outreach are involved. Some are small gestures, but they are undoubtedly hugely impactful to children accustomed to neglect or abuse. Smith considered the potential psychological impact of being handed a garbage bag to use as luggage, when in many cases they are already feeling discarded. One of the many small but impactful gifts the nonprofit provides to children entering the foster care system is a “Welcome Home” bag, which is a duffel bag complete with full-size personal hygiene products, instead of the tiny sample-sized items often provided to those in need.
Each time the organization receives notification a new child has entered a facility, they provide a pocket-sized rock with the word “love” engraved on it, to carry as a reminder they are loved.
Memories are important to everyone, but Smith says youths in foster care have a “profound history of unhealthy memories”, which is why her organization’s goal is to help create happy memories from which the children will draw strength and hope when life is difficult.
The nonprofit also sponsors the “Be Your Own Author” program, providing free journals to foster kids. The journals are used in therapy, and the kids are encouraged to rewrite their story with a happy ending and to not allow the trauma of their past to define them.
For more information, visit Love Heals Youth – Foster Care, Counseling, Nonprofit