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RPCV John Zachritz is an Episcopal priest who counsels youth and families
RPCV John Zachritz is an Episcopal priest who counsels youth and families
'Therapy in Christ'
Father Zachritz offers help to youth, families
By Charlene Scott
Dodge City Daily Globe
Caption:Father John Zachritz is an Episcopal priest from Cimarron who counsels youth and families in the Foster Care Reintegration and Family Preservation programs of St. Francis Academy in southwest Kansas. photo: local Charlene Scott/Daily Globe
CIMARRON -- Father John Zachritz is an Episcopal priest from Cimarron who offers "Therapy in Christ" to youth and families in crisis in western Kansas at St. Francis Academy through its office in Garden City.
Zachritz follows in the footsteps of another Episcopal priest, Father Robert H. Mize Jr., who in 1945 established a boys' home in Kansas to help wayward youth.
The boys' home evolved into St. Francis Academy, the largest child care welfare organization in the Episcopal Church in the United States, operating in four states.
A resident of Cimarron and a priest for 26 years, Zachritz is the area chaplain for Children and Family Services, the arm of the academy that counsels foster children and the families that care for them.
Zachritz serves mainly as a support for the staff, both in Foster Care Reintegration and Family Preservation. He works primarily in southwest Kansas -- Liberal, Garden City, Dodge City and Great Bend -- but also in Salina, Ellsworth, Atchison, Colby, Hays, Wellington, Hutchinson, Newton, Pratt and Wichita.
"Our office covers all of western Kansas, and we work with about 1,600 kids," Zachritz said. "I do some recruiting of foster parents and talk to churches and organizations like the Lions Club."
Zachritz's driving aim in life, however, is to guide children from birth up to the ages of 18 or 19 to a better life.
"St. Francis is not a school," Zachritz explained. "These kids have gone to the 'school of hard knocks.' A few have been in trouble with the law, and most have been adjudicated to us by the courts due to neglect and abuse.
"Perhaps, through no fault of their own, their parents were unable to care for them. Or the youngsters may have been abused and neglected, or they may be the children of a single mother who is in jail."
A former member of the Peace Corps, the priest joined St. Francis Academy in 2000 and began his work for the not-for-profit organization in Espanola, N.M.
"St. Francis had contracts with the state of New Mexico for family preservation, and various services were offered," he recalled. "One of those services was a community mental health center for teens and their families.
"New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the nation. We finally had to close the facility there. I came to Kansas in March of 2003."
Zachritz worked as a chaplain at Ellsworth in the first boys' residential program. St. Francis had worked in Ellsworth since 1945 in a building once operated as a "poor farm" by the county. The prison was built in Ellsworth about 15 years ago.
"We are the contractor for Region IV with the state for 53 westernmost counties," Zachritz said. "We are the rural Kansas provider for foster care services."
The academy's purpose is to be "an instrument of healing for children, youth and families in spirit, mind and body, so they live responsibly and productively with purpose and hope," the mission statement reads.
"Our strong objective is to get the kids back to their families if at all possible," Zachritz said. "If not to the parents, it is preferable to place them with another member of the family. That's called 'kinship placement.' We make use of the resources of the extended family. That's our real goal."
The age of 18 normally is the cutoff age for youth services, but the academy has a program of independent living for children older than 18 who are not going to be reintegrated to their families. Eighteen-year-olds can choose to stay in the program until they are 21.
"The state and St. Francis prefer kinship placement, but foster care actually is the least restrictive option after that," Zachritz explained.
"We provide the MAPP training that is required by the state for anybody doing foster care. It's a 10-week course that looks at all aspects of providing child care as a foster parent. The training is free, and we do an evaluation of the foster parent's home."
Zachritz is well experienced to work with foster parents, as he and his wife Helenmarie have two adopted children, a boy and a girl, one of them biracial. They also have two other daughters.
"Our foster parents can be single fathers or single mothers, older or younger," he said. "We have foster parents in Liberal with 35 years of experience, but our typical foster parents are in their thirties with two children of their own.
"A lot of people are opening their homes to more kids, which is really wonderful," he added. "It's quite a ministry. St. Francis pays foster parents a stipend on a per diem basis and provides children's dental and health care through a medical card."
Rural families are not exempt from the problems that plague the youth of large urban areas, the priest pointed out.
"With the drought and poor conditions for family farms, rural families perhaps are in more trouble," he said. "Western Kansas is a fertile field for the work we do. Sixteen hundred kids is a bunch of kids."
Zachritz and the St. Francis staff do some intensive counseling with children and parents whose coping skills may be lacking. The counseling is called "Therapy in Christ" because it teaches unconditional love, forgiveness, honesty and starting and ending each day with God.
"Our real job is to prepare the kid how to survive in a dysfunctional family," he said. "More and more, the emphasis in Kansas is trying to keep the child in the family, if the family is stable. Even if a child is taken from its family or goes into foster care, that child eventually will go back to its family.
"Another way I'd say this is that 'you can take the child out of the family, but you can't take the family out of the child.' Even though the child is our targeted client, we work with the whole family. That's increasingly so, with family-centered practice being promoted by SRS."
If it is perceived that it is not working for the child who has been returned to the home, the court may decide that it needs to take the child out of the home, Zachritz explained.
"Then if foster care does not work, we have a residential program with three facilities for boys in the Salina area and one for girls in Atchison. Frankly, we need another one for girls."
Zachritz makes himself "present to the staff" of St. Francis, as well as to families and children. He attends staff meetings in Liberal and Garden City and in Dodge City.
The Dodge City office is located in the old city hall on First Avenue, north of St. Cornelius Episcopal Church. St. Francis' local recruiter in Dodge City is Julie Zeck at 225-1442.
"I train the staff in grief recovery," Zachritz explained. "Many times a child is suffering from grief, but the expression of grief is perceived as negative. Everyone encounters loss of some sort, and the appropriate response to loss is grief. The entire enterprise of foster care is saturated with loss and grief. Grief is felt by everyone, even staff members.
"I make sure the organization understands the process of grief recovery, as opposed to just surviving from an awful loss situation," he added. "You can bring grief to completion -- instead of dragging it around with you -- and really go on with your life."
The state of Kansas is in "much better shape" in dealing with the problems of its families and youth than other states, Zachritz asserted.
"Like all other states, Kansas is in a bad money situation, but the state is very forward-looking in terms of its laws regarding families and children," he said.
A graduate of the University of Tulsa in language arts, Zachritz served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic in the late '60s. He then attended the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.
He taught Spanish in Ohio and at a Quaker school in New Hampshire, and served as vicar of St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Sand Springs, Okla., for 12 years. He worked for the Episcopal Diocese of Rio Grande in southern New Mexico for five years.
"We aren't trying to make little Episcopalians out of these kids at St. Francis Academy," he said, smiling. "Our work is about family preservation. The first line of battle is family preservation."
|By stacey placido (reverse.18.104.22.168.static.ldmi.com - 22.214.171.124) on Sunday, April 22, 2007 - 11:03 pm: Edit Post|
I would like to know if you can help me in locating a foster family that had taken care of me back in approx. January of 1985? I was a runaway from Detroit and was placed with a family in Liberal, Kansas. This family gave me great inspiration and I would love to thank them for all the wonderful things they did for me. I was a very young, confused child with know direction at this time and now I am a college graduate and an Registered Nurse with a family of my own. It has been several years since this took place and I have forgotten what their last name is, this of which has been a great barrier for me. If possible please give me a direction to go with in order to find this family so I can say thank you.
Thank you for your time,
firstname.lastname@example.org or 586-783-0021