Youth services get their own space

It isn’t that it hasn’t had any space, but now Child and Family Services, a part of South Peninsula Behavioral Health Services, has a space of its own.

“We’ve transformed the old PRIDE building into a new facility to serve the youth in our community,” said Dave Branding, SPBHS’s chief executive officer. “It’s an opportunity to improve our services by improving access to the care for youth in our community and having a designated space designed specifically for them.”

Located at 1002 Lakeside Drive, the once-private residence was purchased by SPBHS in 2004, remodeled and put to use for SPBHS’s PRIDE program, serving the southern peninsula’s population that experiences developmental disabilities. The purchase of the Parkside Plaza on Ben Walters Lane and PRIDE’s relocation there left the Lakeside Drive’s building available for a new use in keeping with the nine-member board’s goals. 

“The board has really focused a lot of planning around improving access to care through facilities,” said Branding. “Their work and planning is really what makes all this possible.”

Margarete Wisner, who has been with SPBHS nine years and director of Child and Family Services for five years, said a grant from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority funded some upgrades to the building, such as new flooring, new paint and new furnishings. 

“We’re keeping it pretty low key so it’s not over-crowded,” said Wisner of ensuring there is plenty of indoor room for activities. 

A large open area, once a living and dining space, is perfect for group gatherings and skill training. The building also offers two rooms for therapeutic groups and quiet activities, such as playing board games, yoga or completing homework; two bathrooms; a laundry area where youngsters can learn how to do laundry; and a complete kitchen where lessons be given in preparing healthy, inexpensive meals.

“And it has a yard and a greenhouse,” said Wisner, looking ahead to a place where a garden can be developed, picnics held and outdoor games, such as badminton, played.

Child and Family Services works with about 130 youth between the ages of four and 21, tailoring programs to fit the needs of the individuals.

There are 20-25 direct service providers that are hourly; full-time staff includes two direct service providers, five clinicians and five case managers. 

Through STEPS, Students and Teachers Engaged with Parents and Specialists, services are offered within local schools to ensure students’ success by working with the students, families and school personnel, assisting with the behavioral needs of youngsters.

“Behavioral health services aren’t really apparent,” said Branding. “So many of our services happen out in the community that it’s tough to get a handle on the
volume of them.”

The new location will allow for those services to increase.

“The goal is for us to expand our program to early childhood,” said Wisner. “We would like to do more parenting classes and also bring families together and teach them healthy communication skills. That’s something we haven’t done because we haven’t had the space.”

With remodeling complete, the building has been serving its new purpose for the past several weeks. Wisner expected use would increase during the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s spring break, March 10-14.

“It’s nice to have a safe, kid-friendly environment and I think we did a good job of making it really inviting,” said Wisner. “The children (and family) department has been waiting 20 years to have their own spot. People are very excited.”

A First Friday and open house event is scheduled for 4-6 p.m., April 4.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at