Army of Angels

by Albertina Kerr Centers Foundation
Army of Angels

The statistics are alarming. Suicide has been the leading cause of death for Oregon's young people since 1981. And, Oregon's youth currently hold the top spot for depression, according to Mental Health America's recent release of its annual State of Mental Health in America 2020, which ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on several mental health and access measures.

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for a system as complicated as youth mental health. Oregon's community leaders and agencies have further identified a large gap in services for children and teens experiencing a mental health crisis who also have an intellectual and/or developmental disability (IDD). Currently, these kids are inappropriately placed in settings that do not adequately meet their needs. 

Many of these young people receive care in emergency rooms (ERs), which are designed for physical health emergencies. ERs are not equipped to provide the mental health services and support that children, teens, and their families need to address immediate or long-term mental health care. And, there are almost no viable options in our current system to meet the specialized needs of those who also have IDD.

Kerr is committed to finding solutions so children, teens, and their families can survive and thrive. Just like physical health, taking care of mental health struggles early can help prevent more serious problems from developing in the future.

As an Oregon nonprofit known for providing services for those with IDD, as well as services for youth experiencing mental health challenges, Kerr is expanding its mental health programs for children and teens.

Last year, Kerr helped nearly 700 children with mental health challenges and 500 children and adults with an IDD.

This year, Kerr will increase its outpatient mental health caseload by 42 percent.

And, in 2020, Kerr will expand its current crisis psychiatric facility by adding six beds that will provide specialized care and stabilization for children and teens experiencing a mental health crisis, and who also have an IDD.

It's time to take a stand for Oregon's children and teens. Let's move Oregon from last place to first.

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"Our son has Autism Spectrum Disorder," Tina said. "Albertina Kerr has made it possible for us to be a family."

A little over a year ago, Tina's son Spencer began living at one of Kerr's twenty 24-hour residential group homes for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities, offering support and life-skills training for children and teens ages 7-18. Our homes offer a stable, safe, and nurturing environment. Children are comforted knowing they have a place to call home and can enjoy the privacy of their own bedroom. We focus on life-skill development, education, behavior management, and appropriate socialization. The staff work as team with family members, psychiatrists, therapists, and behavior support specialists to develop each child’s individual support plan and help them achieve their fullest potential.

"Having Kerr in our lives has allowed us to be parents and love our child," Tina said. "They've given us the knowledge that Spencer's safe when his emotions get the better of him, and that he is going to be okay. You can tell the staff at his home genuinely like their jobs. They make it possible for Isiah to have a good life - he's happy."

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Project SEARCH graduates with Kerr staff
Project SEARCH graduates with Kerr staff

Albertina Kerr's Employment Services for young adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) are experiencing considerable growth and advancement!

We are currently developing two new Project SEARCH sites in Marion County, one with the City of Salem. This will bring our total number of Project SEARCH sites to five. Kerr launched Oregon's first Project SEARCH program in 2014. In doing so, we opened new pathways to employment for young adults with IDD. The nine-month program partners with a host business to offer internship job-training opportunities, with the goal of participants gaining employment in settings integrated with their neurotypical peers.

Another exicting project we are embarking upon is our 1% Initiative. This initiative seeks medium and large company partners to commit to staffing 1% of their organizations with people who experience an IDD. Our current Employment Services corporate partners have already seen the benefits of hiring employees with IDD, which include low turnover rates for sometimes hard to fill positions and significant impacts for staff morale and organizational culture. The current retention rate for our Employment Services clients is 94%. The ultimate goal of our 1% Initative is to dramatically increase meaningful employment opportunities for adults with IDD who our current Employment Services partners already know are a highly productive pool of talent and a great source of organizational unity and pride.

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Earlier this fall, several youth who receive round-the-clock care and support in one of Kerr's 53 group homes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities got to experience the great outdoors at Hagg Lake.

With the guidance of volunteers who love to fish, the youth experienced a day of fishing and appreciating the outdoors. One Kerr Program Manager, raved, "The fishing was an incredible experience from start to finish. The kids had such a great time learning a new skill and developing a love for fishing. I loved watching their faces when they reeled in a fish – it was truly priceless!"

One volunteer noted, "This experience gives kids a sense of accomplishment while having a victorious day!" 

Albertina Kerr's group homes offer safety, care, and support to youth and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Suportive services in the homes promote self-sufficiency, skill development, and increased choice. Last year, 231 children and adults received caring support in a Kerr group home.

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The move to the new location in process.
The move to the new location in process.

Albertina Kerr’s two arts-based community inclusion services, Art from the Heart and Port City programs, have shared many programmatic similarities but operated out of separate sites until our recent move to combine the two programs into The Portland Art and Learning Studios. Because both site leases ended June 30, 2018, we had the opportunity to take our services to the next level by consolidating the programs at a single site that also includes space to house employment services. 

Our vision for the new consolidated program has more than doubled our space to facilitate art making, creative expression, community inclusion activities, and professional development. Programming is built around personal goals, helping each individual to engage with community through arts-based programming, activities in the community, volunteer opportunities, and training for employment in integrated settings.

The Studios will serve 180 artists and enable our Employment Services staff to support 80 adults developing job skills, seeking employment, and maintaining independent success.

The Studios are now open on the edge of the Alberta Arts District, on NE MLK, Jr. Boulevard in Portland. The building will soon house a gallery, several studios supporting various mediums and office space for staff. We’ll be sharing updates on the progress of our transformation leading up to a Grand Opening Celebration. Stay tuned!

Artist participants help organize the new space.
Artist participants help organize the new space.
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Organization Information

Albertina Kerr Centers Foundation

Location: Portland, OR - USA
Albertina Kerr Centers Foundation
Development Staff
Project Leader:
Development Staff
Portland , Oregon United States

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