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Youth Council honors ‘Flame Keepers’ at SMC

Cass County Youth Council honored four “Flame Keepers” at its 10th annual Child Abuse Prevention Month luncheon before an audience of 153 April 18 at Southwestern Michigan College. “If we can get kids into a positive environment early, it’s so much better,” President Dr. David Mathews said in his welcome, noting Tri-County Head Start has a center on SMC’s Dowagiac campus. Early Childhood Education program director Ranee Conley attended, as did instructor Dr. Mary Young-Marcks with social work students.

The Youth Council’s Flame Keeper Award recognizes a person or organization whose work significantly impacts Cass County children and families.

Flame Keepers are community members, business leaders and other prominent Cass County figures known for their commitment to bringing a healthy future to all children, advocating on their behalf and contributing to fanning the flame of keeping the community dedicated to preventing child abuse and neglect. Chief Judge Susan Dobrich won in 2017, followed by McLoughlin Family Foundation in 2018.

The team of 2019 recipients includes Dr. James Henry, speaker at the first luncheon; Connie Black-Pond; Dr. Mark Sloane, who started as a pediatrician in Dowagiac; and Dr. Margaret Richardson of Dowagiac. 

Dr. Henry, Black-Pond and Dr. Sloane were three of the five founding members of the Children’s Trauma Assessment Center, or CTAC, which is part of the Western Michigan University Unified Clinics.  

CTAC opened its doors in February 2000. Dr. Richardson joined in 2004 as an intern, then transitioned to working at CTAC.  

It is estimated CTAC has provided comprehensive neurodevelopmental trauma assessments for more than 3,300 children who have experienced trauma or adverse childhood experiences. Approximately 1,000 of these children have been from Cass County.  

Assessments completed at CTAC allowed adults trying to help Cass County children impacted by trauma gain a better understanding of how children’s traumatic experiences impact their development, behavioral functioning and social emotional health.  

Because of this critical information, adults in these children’s lives were able to recognize the underlying causes of challenging behaviors from the children they were helping and respond in supportive ways.

Dr. Henry, Black-Pond, Dr. Sloane and Dr. Richardson have given numerous presentations to community groups, provided input and consultation on cases, assisted with the Family Treatment Court program, assisted with parent coaching and multiple other Cass County programs over the years.  

They have assisted in Cass County becoming a trauma-informed community with adults who are able to spot and understand the impact of childhood trauma to assist children earlier so child abuse and neglect can be stopped, future abuse and/or neglect prevented and children can receive services they need.

“We hope that by recognizing these Flame Keepers the recipients will learn how much their support is appreciated and inspire others to follow in their footsteps so that the light that is being shined on the need for dedication to the prevention of child abuse and neglect will never burn out,” fifth-year Youth Council President Sarah Mathews, Deputy Friend of the Court, said. “Truly, the overall positive impact that Dr. Henry, Connie Black-Pond, Dr. Sloane and Dr. Richardson have had on the children and families of Cass County by insuring that children received appropriate services after experiencing trauma is not something that can be measured. However, it is something that will always be remembered and something for which the Cass County Youth Council as well as the Cass County community will forever be grateful. You’re honorary Cass County citizens because you’re in our community and in our hearts and we are in your debt forever.”