Impact Spotlight: The Lourie Center

Our children are arguably the most vulnerable of society, and by virtue of this position they deserve our greatest level of support and protection. They lack an income, a completed education, and an established social network, yet contain extraordinary potential to achieve. However, when children lack quality support from the adults in their lives or when circumstances place them in unfortunate situations, their vulnerabilities increase tremendously.

Pomona Society is committed to poverty alleviation through the empowerment of women and families. Because of this, we believe in supporting children and families through a multi-generational approach. In our conversation this week, we continue our discussion on vulnerabilities that affect the lives of children and families in D.C.

In Rockville, Maryland, less than twenty miles outside of Washington, D.C., lies an unassuming building where transformative work is occurring on an hourly basis. Parents from across the DMV (Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia) battle Beltway traffic to bring their child(ren) to any of the programs at the Lourie Center for Children’s Social & Emotional Wellness. They log miles on their car because the Center isn’t just a special school, but a reset for students who have faced remarkable challenges at early ages. Since 1983, the Center has continuously invested in children who will one day become the leaders of our city, but today need extra support to be their best selves.

The Center’s mission is to improve the social and emotional health of young children and their families through prevention, early intervention, education, research, and training. In practicality, this means that children who have experienced a traumatic event or faced developmental setbacks are welcomed into programs specifically designed to catapult them into successful futures.

The Lourie Center’s work falls within a burgeoning field - pediatric child psychiatry and infant mental health. Based upon the science that the mental and emotional health of the 0-5 year olds is highly affected by their circumstances and home lives, the Center sought to overturn prevailing medical stereotypes about children.

 

Prior to the work of Dr. Reginald S. Lourie, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, and Dr. Stanley Greenspan, common knowledge assumed that traumatic family and home events did not affect on the minds of the extremely young. In other words, a four-month-old infant exposed to the beating of his mother would suffer no detrimental long-term effects. Medical research from the 1980s proved this incorrect. Instead, such events do have lasting effects on children’s mental and emotional development, but they can be undone and/or rectified through intentional learning and treatment.

 

The Center was the first of its kind in the United States. At the time, the academic field was only five years old, but already the Center’s trio of founders were itching to move the research from large universities and medical centers and into the hands of the children who could benefit from it. The guiding idea was to create a place where those without previous access to care could tap into the best talent and resources. So that’s what they did.

Today, the Lourie Center serves over five thousand children and families, with the numbers increasing annually. Its flagship programs are the Early Head Start Program, the Therapeutic Nursery Program, the Lourie Center School, and Parent-Child Clinical Services. Each program addresses a unique aspect of a child’s development, and each is full of success stories from parents and children across the DMV. In fact, the Center is so well esteemed that parents could wait for over a year to get their children into clinic services or the school.

Washington, D.C. is the best possible city for the Lourie Center due to both the needs of the community and the city’s ability to draw ambitious professionals. As the first institute of its kind, the Center’s work reverberates throughout the nation. To date, the Center has trained over fifteen hundred professionals desiring to implement its methods in one- to two-day seminars. Its Clinical Training Program for advanced degree social work and psychology students is continuously in demand, turning out new leaders in the field. In fact, the current Executive Director Dr. James “Jimmy” Venza originally came to Rockville for the Clinical Training Program and never left, basing his entire career around the Center’s groundbreaking work.

One of the problems that the Center has run up against is how to expedite its strategies beyond the DMV.  Having made a deep impact upon the locality, the Lourie Center wants to move the methodology outward so that it touches and transforms the lives of as many children as possible. Though the Center will continue to be a haven for research and continuous learning, the current format of training professionals is not optimal as it relies too heavily on in-person learning. Nor is replicating the Lourie Center a sustainable approach - it would cost between $10-$20 million for each additional Center. The better solution, and the one that the Lourie Center wants to activate, is finding a way to export their methodologies & strategies through the movement of knowledge. Enter Project Echo -  an innovative way to meet local healthcare needs that relies on video conferencing and other technologies to train medical professionals. The Lourie Center expects to take advantage of this national model over the next few years in hopes of exponentially increasing the numbers of professionals trained.

The partnership between the Lourie Center and Washington, D.C. is mutual. Just as the city benefits from the Center’s far reach, the Center draws upon the federal government for advocacy within the field. The future of early childhood mental health depends upon the support and financing that the federal government is willing to provide. Thankfully, in recent years, Washington has passed legislation that increases investment in the mental and emotional health of very young children. The 21st Century Cures Act of 2016 is the first federal legislation to recognize the mental health of infants and toddlers, establishing a $20 million grant program to identify early intervention in children who are at risk of mental disorders. Similarly, the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in March 2018 adds or increases federal funding for the Child Care Development Block Grants program, Early Head Start & Head Start programs, and the Preschool Development Grants program.

No legislation, however, can be passed without the active involvement of citizens. Pomona Society members have an opportunity to advance early childhood mental and and emotional health through advocacy - particularly at the state level where the most significant changes are taking place. Even at the federal level, where the issue is only beginning to pick up steam, the 21st Century Cures Act only came about because of individuals who believed in early childhood mental and emotional health spoke out and/or donated financially to the cause.
The Pomona Society members are looking forward to hosting Dr. Venza at our next event on Wednesday, June 13 at 6:30pm. For further information, contact info@pomonasociety.com or visit www.pomonasociety.com.  


 

Alan Ezagui is the Development Director for the Lourie Center for Children's Social & Emotional Wellness (Lourie Center). He leads the Lourie Center’s fundraising activities including major gifts, foundation grants, corporate donations, estate gifts, prospect and donor engagement initiatives, Board development, and direct mail.
A
lan joined the Lourie Center in 2017 bringing 25 years of experience advocating for social causes for children. Prior to joining the Lourie Center, Alan served as the Deputy Director of Development of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). At AACAP Alan raised more than $7 million to benefit AACAP initiatives (current and pledged gifts), as well as secured the largest individual gift in AACAP history. Alan has also held fundraising leadership roles at Active Minds, Inc. from 2010 to 2011 and Adventist HealthCare Behavioral Health & Wellness Services Foundation (formerly Potomac Ridge Behavioral Health) from 2003 to 2009.

Alan earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina, and his master’s degree in healthcare administration from The George Washington University.

 
 
 

Dr. James Venza serves as executive director of The Lourie Center for Children's Social & Emotional Wellness. Dr. Venza provides strategic direction for the Lourie Center's core programs: The Parent-Child Clinical Services Program; Lourie Center School; Therapeutic Nursery Program; and Early Head Start Program.

Dr. Venza joined the Lourie Center in 2003 to complete his postdoctoral training in the Therapeutic Nursery and Parent-Child Clinical Services programs. In 2004, Dr. Venza became director of the Therapeutic Nursery Program (TNP), a mental health and early childhood education program that provides integrated educational and therapeutic support for preschool children exhibiting emotional and behavioral disturbances. Dr. Venza has extensive experience and training with children, adolescents and families from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic populations, often dealing with trauma, abuse, crisis management and a wide range of mental health issues. Dr. Venza has presented at local and national conferences on topics such as attachment theory, child placement consultation, social-emotional development of children and families and therapeutic interventions for social, emotional, and behavioral disturbances in children.

Dr. Venza earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology and history from the University of Notre Dame, and a doctorate degree in clinical psychology from Long Island University's Brooklyn campus.

 
Abigail Skeans