EAST ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) - A new program called Wraparound Wellness Center is helping families and youth through trauma in East St Louis.
Director Dr. Tiffany Gholson, said the program started in January after receiving an $800,000 grant from the State of Illinois to help with trauma recovery services for youth. The wellness center offers everything from mental health, financial, and legal support for free.
Three suspects have been charged in connection with the shooting death of Metro East football player Jaylon McKenzie.
“I think that’s game changer for making sure our youth are getting the services that they need," said Gholson.
As part of the wellness center, there's a nine-person 'support on scene' team or SOS. East St. Louis police or Illinois State Police use an app to activate the SOS team.
“We work from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. everyday," said Dr. Regina Parnell, who trains the SOS team.
The SOS team is made up of East. St. Louis School District staff including social workers and behavioral specialists. They respond to crime scenes in East St. Louis where someone 21 or younger is involved, whether they're the victim, suspect, or a witness, and offer mental and emotional support. The team has already responded to multiple scenes since starting in January.
“The mother of my kids was murdered," said Claudious Spencer, who is receiving assistance from the Wraparound Wellness Center.
Spencer's kids witnessed the killing. The crime happened on the Missouri side of the river, but his kids are part of the East St. Louis School District.
“Actually helping me, you know, get legal representation, a place to stay, work," said Spencer. “I really don’t have no support system behind me like I should. I have family, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not like it should be, so having them behind me is most definitely appreciated.”
The hope is this program will also help violence in East St. Louis decrease.
“When children endure pain and trauma, it impacts them for the rest of their lives, so if we can catch them while they’re young, we can provide them with hope and enhance their lives for their future," said Parnell.
Right now, the grant only allows for staff members to be in the East St. Louis School District. Eventually, Gholson and Parnell hope to open up the SOS team to community members.