Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rock the House by Gina Cocomello

For almost two weeks now we have been dealing with the effects of the snow. First we had to get ready for it by doing grocery shopping, rearranging our work and school schedules and possibly buying a new snow shovel. Then there was the fun part where the snow was pretty and we all had a few days off and the shoveling was still not too hard.

Now I’m ready for the snow to be gone so let’s fast forward to June and some warm weather. Alternative House is preparing now for our 14th Annual Rock the House 8K Race that will be held at the Fairfax County Government Center grounds as part of the Celebrate Fairfax Festival. So it isn’t too early to start thinking about doing some stretching exercises so when the snow melts you can get ready for the warm weather and our 8K Race.

Ah! So you aren’t a runner, me either. Alternative House is also looking for volunteers to help at our race. We need course marshals to cheer the runners on along the race route. We also need sponsors who would like to support our event. Last year we had almost 400 runners and over 50 volunteers. Our sponsors, runners and volunteers made last years race one of our biggest fundraisers ever.

If you would like information on sponsorship or volunteering contact me at If you would like to register to run visit in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Third times a charm

By Kristin Sorenson, LPC, The Alternative House
Program Therapist for the Homeless Youth Initiative and
the Annandale Targeted Youth Program HYI

I recently completed my first week as Alternative House’s youth and family therapist for their Homeless Youth Initiative and Annandale Targeted Youth Program. Like most first weeks at a new job, it was spent getting to know the program, the staff and the teens I would be working with. This first week was unique however, as I had the advantage of working for Alternative House in the past, and it felt a bit like coming home.

I started my career with Alternative House, as a residential counselor at the teen crisis shelter. I was freshly out of college, and the shelter provided me with my first full time job in the counseling field. I was able to gain experience, hone my counseling skills, and get to know the teens, volunteers, and community members that make Alternative House such a unique place. After working at the shelter for a little over a year, I left the area to pursue my graduate degree in Mental Health Counseling.

After completing graduate school, I returned to Northern Virginia and to Alternative House. I worked as a counselor and therapist at the teen shelter, providing individual and family therapy to the teens and their families. Over time, I transitioned into the role of Program Coordinator at the teen shelter, and was able to continue to provide therapy to the teens and families as well. My time at the shelter provided me with the experience and supervision to work toward my professional counseling license.

About a year ago, I left the teen shelter and Alternative House, to work in a long term, residential facility, for children and teens with severe mental health issues. While it was an incredible learning experience and challenged me as a therapist, I felt that something was missing. What I missed so much was the connection to the community that I always had as an employee of Alternative House. I have always found the shelter, Outreach programs, and the Assisting Young Mother’s program to be environments that are totally unique from any other facility or work experience I have had in the past. The staff are incredibly talented and invested in what they do and they handle crisis like no other. They juggle so much at one time, and they make it look effortless. I always felt fortunate to be around others that were as invested as I was.

When I learned a position was open as the therapist for the new Homeless Youth Initiative Program and Outreach’s Targeted Youth Program, I made the decision to once again return to Alternative House. I am excited to get to know some of the other Alternative House programs and to work closely with county agencies, schools, and local businesses and facilities. I am of course excited to continue working with the youth of Fairfax County and the wonderful volunteers and donors that help make these programs possible.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Nonviolent Crisis Training

By Meghan Huebner
Director, Residential Services

I recently spent a week training to become a certified trainer for Nonviolent Crisis Intervention. After years of being trained in Nonviolent Crisis Intervention as required for our residential programs, I finally had the opportunity to see things from a different perspective. In addition, I was able to attend the training with staff from hospitals and schools, giving me the chance to interact with professionals from across the youth and mental health spectrum.
Training for Nonviolent Crisis Intervention involves two days of training in verbal and physical de-escalation techniques, one day of "trainer training", and a day of teaching, exams, and physical competencies. At Alternative House, we face many crisis situations in our daily work.
Part of Nonviolent Crisis Intervention training involves diffusing a situation so that no one comes to physical harm. If a youth is pacing quickly back and forth at the teen center while everyone else is doing their homework, or if a resident at the teen shelter is refusing to do their chores, staff is prepared to handle the situation using carefully selected words and body language. During my training, I leaned the reasons behind why these interventions are effective, as well as how negative reactions by staff can escalate a situation.
Although Alternative House uses no physical interventions, I had to learn them all to become a certified trainer. One by one, my fellow trainees and I pretended to punch, kick, and pull one another's hair. We then used the appropriate intervention for each "attack" under the watchful eye of our instructor. After a week, we all certainly felt much closer to one another!
Now that my training is complete, I am certified to train new Alternative House staff and provide refreshers for current staff. We provide Nonviolent Crisis Intervention training with the goal of de-escalating crisis situations before they become out of control, and with the safety of all clients, families, and staff in mind. I look forward to providing staff with new skills and tools to use, and to continuing to advance my training through Nonviolent Crisis Intervention.