31 Jan The Clubhouse
As an Access Institute therapist, Mary Mykhaylova knows how important it is for children to feel safe. If they feel safe, they start to express themselves. If they start to express themselves, she can learn what’s going on in their lives. Then, the healing can begin.
So when Mary started providing therapy to kids at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in September as part of Access Institute’s school program expansion, she knew she had to find the right space on campus.
Mary could have shared an office with a school staff member, but the room didn’t feel quite right for the environment she wanted to create. There was a large closet that she considered transforming into a play room, but decided that wouldn’t do either. Then she spotted a tool shed on the playground. It was empty, dark, and cold. But Mary saw potential — with some curtains, warm lighting, and the right toys, it could work.
Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, like most public schools, had limited financial ability to help, but the principal managed to provide a bookshelf, carpet, electrical wiring, and a space heater for the shed. Then Mary tapped into community resources, driving all over the city to gather the materials she needed. She collected a doll house, board games, puppets…things that would facilitate building a relationship with a therapist. She put up curtains and bought a tiny desk and chairs. She made it inviting. She made it fun. And she named it The Clubhouse.
Why is it important to create this environment? The idea of coming to therapy can be daunting for kids. Some of them have very negative associations around meeting with adults, because they often already have had to meet with adults from various government agencies regarding their life circumstances. So it was important for Mary to create a welcoming environment. “They need to know that when they enter this room, they’re going to able to play and talk about whatever they want without judgment,” Mary said.
She also feels it’s important to maintain consistency with the children – she meets with each child the same time each week, when it won’t interfere with the child’s academic needs or favorite extracurricular activities.
Mary’s fellowship at the school eventually will come to an end, but The Clubhouse will remain. “I’m really glad I was able to make a contribution to Milk that will stay long after I leave,” she said. “That’s very special to me.”