Youth & Family Services and Choices Program Making a Difference

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The Youth & Family Services Program at Southeast Mental Health Services, a division of Southeast Health Group, is making a difference for area families.  Parents who are concerned about the behavior or emotional health of their children can request office or school-based counseling appointments through the Youth and Family Services team.  SEMHS makes specialists available to work with the Early Childhood, Elementary, Middle and High School age groups at every school and pre-school in the six-county area.  Offices are also located in La Junta, Lamar, Ordway, Rocky Ford, Las Animas, Springfield and Eads.  Individual and family therapy sessions, as well as skills-based training groups, can help teachers and families understand the special needs of children with emotional and behavioral difficulties.  Early intervention and consistent treatment in both the home and school environments leads to the best outcomes.


The Rapp family moved to Colorado from Oregon three years ago, after being displaced from Texas by Hurricane Ike.  According to the mother, Cassie Rapp, the family was a “hot mess” and she did not know what to do to restore peace and order in their family life.  Cassie and her three children, Miah (5), Aidan (8) and Tristan (10), were all struggling.

“Miah was three at the time, and had reverted back to a state of not talking.  She would scream and tantrum, and that was her only way of communicating,” said Cassie.  “The boys were fighting constantly.  I couldn’t even take them to Walmart without wanting to leave them there.  They were so unruly; they would just start throwing things off the shelves at each other.”

Cassie an Miah Rapp

Cassie was also struggling with depression herself.  “I feel like a totally different person now,” she said.  “I used to be nervous, ashamed, and felt bad about myself all the time.”  Now Cassie says she feels strong, confident, and speaks up for herself.  “Counseling taught me how to control the depression rather than letting it control me.”

“I’m open about getting therapy and if it can help another family, I’m glad to share our story,” said Cassie.  “The people me and my kids have been involved with here at SEMHS have been amazing and have contributed to my growth.  I have a strong bond with my counselor, Cicely, and she gives me good homework that really makes me think.  Each of my kids like and respect the people they work with and can’t wait to see them.  They have all had a big impact on the change we have made.  We are a totally different family now.”

For the past two years, every member of the Rapp family has been involved in the Youth and Family Services Program at Southeast Mental Health Services.  All family members see their own individual therapist, in addition to family counseling.  During school breaks, the children attend a series of skills training programs called Summer Jam, Winter Jam and Spring Break Jam.

“Our favorite thing about coming to Summer Jam is the cooking,” the children all agreed.   “It was fun to learn to make spaghetti and meatballs,” said Tristan.  “I like all the food!” said Miah.  Cassie said the kids are very proud of their art projects.  “They look forward to going to Summer Jam to meet new people, get play dates, and look forward to seeing them again during the next session.  The boys like to do the physical games and activities with the male counselor, Brandon.”

Director of Youth and Family Services, Laura DiPrince said, “In collaboration with our child psychiatrist, Dr. Rick Hebert, we recently created after school Wellness Groups focusing on health, nutrition, exercise and the overall wellness of children.  A healthy body and a healthy mind go together.”

Cassie said the family has made most of its progress through learning the meaning of good communication and consequences.  Miah now verbalizes at school and is a regular old “chatty Kathy”.  Each of the children has learned his or her own unique coping skills.  For example, when Miah starts to get angry, Cassie reminds her to do her jumping jacks or sing the song, “Move it, move it!” to blow off steam.  Each of the children has his or her own quiet place in the home.  During Summer Jam, the kids each made their own “mindfulness jars” that they can shake like a snow globe and watch settle to relax.

The older boys have privileges revoked for rough-housing, and there is a system of good deeds in place where they can earn their privileges back.  “We try to keep our minds off of the negatives and focused on the positives,” said Cassie.  The family has a safe word which anyone can use when things get out of control.  When someone says the safe word, they take a family timeout and then come back for a family meeting to discuss what happened so they can learn from it.

“The kids are really excited right now about working toward a big family outing,” said Cassie.  “If all the kids bring home good report cards this quarter, we’ve planned to go to Texas Roadhouse for a special celebration.  Something like that is really motivating for the kids.”

Cassie has made significant progress herself.  She earned her GED in March 2011 and now is finishing pre-requisites for the OJC nursing program; something she never thought was possible.  “I had avoided the GED tests for 10 years because I thought I was stupid.  I never gave myself credit before for being smart enough to accomplish something like this,” said Cassie.  Now she is an A-B student.  “I shocked myself.”

The kids can’t decide which board game they like more—Zenga, Trouble or Operation.  “The kids are involved in cub scouts, and we spend lots of family time together,” said Cassie. “We’re like any other family now.”  Cassie said she plans to keep the kids in counseling and attending the skills training groups for as long as they continue to benefit.

Choices is another skill building program offered by Southeast Mental Health Services for adults living with severe or persistent mental illnesses, like Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder or Schizophrenia.  Groups are held in Lamar Monday through Thursday. The program offers a wide variety of life skills training classes, such as stress management, positive thinking, art, cooking and exercise.  Groups are led by Choices Program Coordinator, Maria Gutierrez.

Becky Hicks


Becky Hicks was born in Rocky Ford, raised in Las Animas and makes her home in La Junta.  “I’ve been treated on and off for depression for years,” said Becky.  “Going to Choices helps me keep busy so the depression doesn’t bother me so much anymore.  I look forward to going out and being busy, making new friends.  If I stayed home all the time, I’d be right back to sleeping too much, eating too much, and not interacting with anybody.”

In addition to depression, Becky deals with pain and discomfort from arthritis, scoliosis, and knee problems.  “I am also deaf in one ear and partially deaf in the other ear,” said Becky.  “I used to let that bother me, but I realized you just can’t let it bother you or it will bring you down.  I’d rather get out and enjoy life.”

Becky is an inspiration to everyone who attends the Choices skill building program at Southeast Mental Health Services.  Choices holds groups in Lamar Monday through Thursday.  They average four or five people in a group, but they have had as many as nine.  Classes are held at 3500 First Street South in Lamar.

“We’re going to learn more about social networking.  Some people don’t know how to get on the computer, but if you learn, you can interact with friends and relatives on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.  I found relatives from all over the country.  Now I can keep up with some of the nieces and nephews I used to babysit!” said Becky.

Becky says she enjoys Choices because it allows her to interact with healthy people on a daily basis, learn new skills, and volunteer teaching new skills to others.  “I took three semesters of commercial arts at Pikes Peak Community College, and I’ve been drawing and painting since I was real small.  I also studied oil painting under Lenore Bair in La Junta, and I am a member of Colorado Arts of Recovery.”

“I would love to go back to college, but I have health concerns and need to wait until my knee heals.  I attend the Exercise Group on Thursday mornings where we do stretching and walking, and I am working to strengthen my knee so I can get back to college.  We also have Eating Right Group, where we talk about portion size and healthy foods.  I learned that you don’t just have to eat fruits and vegetables to lose weight, you can eat small amounts of other foods that taste good,” said Becky.

“The Relationship groups focus on how to get along with people and interact with others in a healthy way.  Sometimes we go thrift shopping together, or at Christmas time we went to Pueblo Mall together as a group.  Every other month, we go on a big trip somewhere, like a Sky Sox game, but you have to earn it by coming to at least two groups a week.”

“Going to Choices has made me feel more positive about myself; I’m more open to people, and I’ve lost weight,” said Becky.  “Before, I would fly off the handle, but now when something upsets me I know how to deal with it.”

Becky also credits her cats in helping her recovery from depression.  “I have two cats—a flame-tipped Siamese and a Tortoise shell.  They offer a lot of companionship, love, and they give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning and do stuff.  I’ve always had a kitty in my life.”

When asked what she would tell other people about the program, Becky said, “Coming to Choices might be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself!  It’s a lot of fun!!”


Residents of southeastern Colorado are very fortunate in that there is no waiting list for mental health services.  Same day appointments can be requested on an emergency basis in both the La Junta and Lamar office locations, and non-emergent appointments are scheduled within seven days.  SEMHS accepts Medicaid, Medicare and private insurances, and no one is refused services based on their ability to pay.

Southeast Mental Health Services also offers crisis assistance 24/7/365 by calling the hotline at 1-800-511-5446.  Our professional counselors provide screenings at local doctor’s offices, schools, jails, police stations and other safe public settings.  If you have concerns about a friend, co-worker, neighbor or family member, do not hesitate to call and talk with one of our professional staff members.


Mental Health First Aid, an interactive 12-hour course that presents an overview of mental illness and substance use disorders in the U.S., is sweeping the nation.  The class introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, builds understanding of their impact, and overviews common treatments. Those who take the 12-hour course to certify as Mental Health First Aiders learn a 5-step action plan encompassing the skills, resources and knowledge to help an individual in crisis connect with appropriate professional, peer, social, and self-help care.  “Similar to CPR, lives can be saved if more Americans know the warning signs of mental health problems in adolescents and understand the importance of early intervention,” said Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council.

Sign up for a Mental Health First Aid Class today.  Mental Health First Aid courses have benefitted a variety of audiences and key professions, including primary care professionals, employers and business leaders, faith communities, school personnel and educators, state police and corrections officers, nursing home staff, mental health authorities, state policymakers, volunteers, young people, families and the general public. To access MHFA classes in southeast Colorado, please call Laura DiPrince at (719) 384-5446.

Southeast Mental Health Services is a 501c3 nonprofit health center operating under the umbrella of Southeast Health Group.  Since 1957, SEMHS has provided comprehensive outpatient mental health services to the citizens and communities of Baca, Bent, Crowley, Kiowa, Otero & Prowers Counties in southeastern Colorado.  For more information, go to or call 719-384-5446. 


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