When Tonya Edwards first began working 18 years ago as a Lompoc-based therapist for CALM, an agency that supports children and families that have experienced trauma, her office was attached to four wheels.
“I worked out of my car,” said Edwards, who was the first staff member hired in Lompoc by the nonprofit, which began offering services in 2000. “That’s how I did all of this — out of my car.”
On Thursday, Edwards and others within the organization were all smiles as they showed off their new nonvehicular digs and described how far they had come since their humble beginnings.
Dozens of community members filtered through the CALM offices at 110 South C St. in downtown Lompoc on Thursday evening during an open house that was designed to highlight the new space, which was converted into a CALM facility about a year ago, as well as introduce, or reintroduce, the agency to the local community.
“We wanted to have this to celebrate,” CALM CEO Alana Walczak said of the open house. “I think it’s really great for our staff to have a space that’s as professional as the work we’re doing and to really show to the community that we have a safe and comforting place for families to come if they need help.”
CALM, which also maintains offices in Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, started with the formal name Child Abuse Listening Mediation, though it was commonly known by the acronym CALM. Walczak said the organization is moving away from that original name and is branding itself now as simply CALM.
“We think we do a whole lot more than listen, and we don’t really do mediation and we’ve moved away just from child abuse to really thinking more about different kinds of trauma,” she said.
She noted that the acronym was a perfect fit as a name, “because if a child is calm and a family is calm, they’re probably happy, too.”
Thursday’s open house included guided tours of the various rooms at the facility — many of them filled with toys, games and other tools designed to appeal to young clients — as clinicians explained the different programs and ways in which they assist children and families.
Some of the rooms offered safe spaces for children to discuss traumatic events with therapists, while others included spaces for children and their parents. One of the types of therapies offered at the branch involves having a parent talk directly with his or her child while wearing an earpiece so that a therapist can coach the parent on what to say to help foster healthy communication.
“We know that a lot of families, they only really know how to parent based on the parenting they received,” Walczak said. “So, if they didn’t have a strong family that they grew up in, they’re not necessarily knowing how to interact with their children now. So we try to really lean in to education and support.”
She said that relationship between a child and his or her parent or caregiver was especially critical.
“We know that if a child has a healthy connection to a parent or a caregiver, it sets them up to have a positive life for the rest of their life,” she said. “Our tag line, actually, is ‘Protecting the most important relationship in the world,’ because that connection between a caregiver and a child is really the foundation for success for that child for the rest of their life.”
The attendees at the open house included several members of local law enforcement, representatives of other support agencies and community members who just had an interest in what the organization was all about.
Walczak and others at the center stressed that the local need was high for the services offered by CALM, which receives referrals from law enforcement, child welfare services, teachers and directly from families, she said.
Walczak shared statistics that showed that only about 10 percent of cases of child abuse are reported, and only about 25 percent of kids who experience abuse are identified by support agencies.
In light of those numbers, she said it was also important for CALM to do outreach and make itself known.
“We feel it’s really important that we go into the community so that we’re educating (and) so that more folks can get help if they need it,” she said, noting that outreach is performed at schools, among other places.
Edwards, who counsels clients ranging from newborn to young adult, said she was proud to share some of the “fulfilling” work that she and her coworkers are performing.
“The agency is just amazing,” she said. “I love the work that we do, and that we’re able to kind of empower parents to be able to do the job that they need to do, and being able to see kids heal.”
For more on CALM, visit calm4kids.org.
Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.