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News & Press: FOCUS

Highfields: Changing Lives. Strengthening Communities.

Monday, June 5, 2017  
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In his four months as a student at Highfields, Tyreece experienced a significant shift in the way he viewed the world. He credits the staff and programs at Highfields with helping him change his way of thinking, something he is certain will change his life for the better when he leaves.

“I always used to think negative, said Tyreece. “Now I think about motivating myself not to be on the streets.”

Tyreece is a student in Highfields residential program where male students ages 11-17 from around Michigan are referred through the court system or the Department of Health and Human Services. As a part of their treatment at Highfields students participate in several evidence-based programs including trauma informed care, aggression replacement training, cognitive behavioral therapy and others. Among the growth experiences Tyreece has enjoyed was the chance to be a member of Highfields state championship basketball team, his first experience having a coach, older kids to mentor him and win a championship.

Since 1962, Highfields has helped young people turn their lives around, creating brighter futures not only for the students that come through the program, but also for their families and the communities in which they live.

“Kids are our future,” said Mark Kellogg, an attorney with Fraser Trebilcock and chair of the Highfields Board of Directors. “Highfields is able to assist children at an earlier age before they get into a lot of trouble. Their impact on children and families through early intervention has been phenomenal.”

The residential program is located on Highfields’ main campus, a 140-acre site located near Leslie, Michigan. Students attend school, engage in vocational programs, on campus work opportunities, sports, peer groups and family treatment weekends. Through group and individual counseling students are able to address behavioral challenges often including early childhood trauma.

“Too many children are exposed to trauma at a very early age and they’ve seen things by age 15 or 16 that most of us won’t experience over the course of a lifetime,” said Brian Philson, Highfields CEO and president. “Children come to us having all kinds of trauma - death of a loved one, violence in the home and they are impacted by that.”

Each student’s customized treatment plan is aimed at addressing their needs while at Highfields and more importantly equipping them for successful lives.

“We need to prepare them for a career,” said Philson. “We spend a lot of time not only giving them the basics of a good education, but also working with them in focusing on what’s going to be a vocation when they leave Highfields.”

One of the more popular recent additions to the Highfields program has been a hip hop music studio. The use of arts, in general has been shown to be effective at reaching students who don’t always excel in traditional classroom settings. The music program has been a great way for the young men at Highfields to tell their story. Students typically write an essay about their life in the classrooms and translate that story to a rap song produced in the music studio.

“As they tell their story, it is amazing,” said Philson. “To take it from an essay format and then create lyrics and set it to music is pretty incredible. As they share their story, it’s therapeutic. That’s part of trauma-focused treatment, and as they can unload that emotion, they now have the capacity to learn new things, have new relationships and are more fully engaged to move forward in life.”

Historically, Highfields has been known for its on campus residential program. 

In reality, Highfields community-based family preservation programs serve a much larger population. Highfields offers 17 programs, through its five offices serving 12 counties. Highfields employs 260 professional counselors, and touched 8,300 people in 2016. Unlike the residential program, which serves only a young male population, the community-based services offered by Highfields are extended to all people in need and work with children and families across the entire life spectrum.

Highfields community services include behavioral health services, child welfare programs which focus on the wellness of children and families involved in the child welfare system and mental health programs designed for families with a member suffering a serious emotional disturbance. Highfields board member Kristin Bartley remembers attending her first Highfields fundraising breakfast and hearing a husband and wife tell their experience of working with a Highfields counselor.

“The husband was a big tough looking man and his initial reaction to the Highfields counselor was very defensive,” said Bartley who serves as controller at Two Men and A Truck, International. “As he spoke of the progress they made as a family he broke down into tears and said without Highfields his family wouldn’t be where it is today. I’ve never forgotten that moment – to me, that is everything Highfields is about.”

Highfields also offers eight school-based programs; seven are with elementary/middle schools throughout mid-Michigan. Those programs are specifically designed to teach kids to be successful in school, reduce behavioral problems and provide homework support, particularly in the area of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Highfields partners with the Ingham County Family Center, Peckham, and Ingham Intermediate School District to work with youth coming through the court system.

“We take them on a career path through high school graduation, focusing on vocational training and life beyond high school,” said Philson.

In 2017, Highfields celebrates its 55th anniversary. Highfields has been experiencing significant growth, especially in the past 11 years. The organization’s budget has grown from just under $4 million in 2006 to $9.2 million. Philson would like to see the organization raise funds to upgrade aging structures on the main campus over the next five years. He also would like to be able to invest more in the Highfields staff to provide more opportunities for team members and improve staff retention. Whatever program opportunities may come Highfields way, Philson wants to ensure they are consistent with the Highfields mission to provide opportunities to children, youth and families.

“There is only one Highfields,” said Philson. “We’ve become part of the fabric of the mid-Michigan community and I’m really proud of that.”

For thousands of individuals and families, like Tyreece, Highfields commitment to its mission is certain to mean more changed lives, brighter futures and stronger communities.

Click here to download the June issue of FOCUS.


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