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Healing Trauma & Addiction

St. Vincent’sVilla

Throughout Amiyah’s young life, the only constant has been loss. She has shuttled between the great-grandmother she calls Grumzie and her sometimes-homeless mother. Though her mother’s life is more stable now, Amiyah’s behavioral and emotional challenges require that she live with Grumzie while her siblings live with her mother.

Separation from her mother and siblings is one of many losses in Amiyah’s young life. Her beloved grandfather died when she was little. She no longer has contact with her father. Then there was Max, the family Great Pyrenees, who “would jump on top of me in bed because he was scared of thunder. But one day he went out to lie down in the sun and never came back up.”

Amiyah is in her second stay at St. Vincent’s Villa and Villa Maria School. Because she is so young, it is the only place where she can receive residential treatment. Her response to emotional stress is often to run away, an action the staff calls “bolting.” She spends time with Carmen inside almost every day, but if she doesn’t bolt, she can choose to spend her time with Carmen outdoors.

“I’m getting better, mostly because of Carmen,” Amiyah said. “She’s my family, my bodyguard, my peer helper. I love Carmen. She’s the best thing I’ve ever had in my life!”

Between interventions with children in crisis and her regular rounds, Carmen rests in the office of administrator Ezra Buchdahl. Then Amiyah arrives. Carmen knows Amiyah is a love sponge, and soon the two are rolling on the floor, sharing kisses. Amiyah laughs, and jumps up to show off Carmen’s many talents. Amiyah holds up a dog treat she baked with the help of her mentor, and spells S-I-T. Carmen sits. Amiyah laughs again—“Carmen can spell!”

For Ezra, being Carmen’s primary handler has deepened his connection to the children in St. Vincent’s care and helped him better to understand the traumas that shape their lives. “Moving to a trauma-informed care model has helped us to see that sometimes the kids who act out the most are most in need,” he explained. “What Carmen offers is unconditional love. Carmen loves Amiyah regardless of her behavior. She works with many children here, but it’s a very special relationship these two share.”