06 Jun Reaching for the STARS

Every parent wants their child to be happy, healthy, and prepared for adulthood. That same goal is true for every child at the Youth Opportunity Center. Each day YOC staff work together with children to see and achieve their full potential. We want each child to be exposed to countless opportunities to be the best individual, child, and student they can be.

Establishing goals and evaluating benchmarks are key steps for achieving success and this is especially true for the children in the STARS (Skills Training for Adolescents in Residential Services) program. One unique characteristic of the STARS program is the collection and evaluation of skills and behavior data by its staff. Staff target identified areas of need and implement intervention strategies to help children develop new skills and minimize or replace problem behaviors, which is referred to as using applied behavior analysis techniques. Utilizing this data helps staff to objectively evaluate progress and the youth’s personal achievements. The program has witnessed children achieve and exceed their goals, making small but consistent progress.

The YOC’s STARS program opened two years ago to meet the growing need to treat males with developmental and intellectual disabilities across Indiana. Today, the program is home to ten males between the ages of 10 and 18 who need intensive behavioral interventions to help prepare them to live productively in the future.

Laura Yacko (L) and Lyndall Gabbert (R)

“I appreciate the small changes I see from the kids each day,” stated Laura Yacko, Qualified Developmental Disabilities Professional and Psychological Services Doctoral Resident. “The little things, the small changes, are what enable our residents to be successful in life, at home, and in the community. Day-by-day we see small incremental changes that for some people may seem trivial, but for our kids they are life-changing. We have kids who are volunteering in the community, and kids who have transitioned to public school off-campus; many have achieved more than expected. It takes consistency, perseverance, and patience…but we get there with our kids.”

Lyndall Gabbert, cottage manager, loves working in the STARS program. “I have 15-years of experience working with children; however, the STARS program feels like home. The young men I get the opportunity to work with can be impulsive and explosive, but they don’t know how to properly express their feelings. Residents with developmental and intellectual disabilities struggle to express themselves, but their intent is not malicious. It is our role to teach them how to be kind to others, help them develop friendships and develop the necessary skills so they can have normalcy in their lives. I know that we are making a difference with these young men and preparing them for the next step in their future.

Small changes and growth happen every day in the STARS program. We are helping children, step-by-step, to achieve their goals that many thought might not be possible.

This story is an excerpt, as it appears in the 2016 – 2017 Annual Report. To view the full report click here.