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Leadership at Connie Maxwell is taking intentional steps to begin a new era of healing for the children and families in its care. If you read the new strategic plan, A Decade of Dreams, you might have heard mention of the ‘Circle of Healing.’ But what is that exactly?

Vice President for Programs and Services Tim Duncan describes the Circle of Healing as a new holistic approach to care. “What is the experience our children and families have when they go to church, the gym, or even the farm?” Duncan said. “We are looking at all of these interactions to make sure we are not only coordinated but providing the best individualized environment for healing that we can.”

Individualized care is not a new concept for Connie Maxwell. As early as 1916, Dr. A.T. Jamison was passionate about evaluating and developing a personalized approach to care for children in the orphanage during those times.

Since then, however, there have been several new advancements in understanding trauma and how the brain works. As a result, Connie Maxwell’s leadership has a renewed focus on the latest research and exploring new ways for children and families to experience deeper healing than ever before.

Maxwell Farms is a good example of how the Circle of Healing is working. For decades, the farm has provided an environment that has comforted thousands of children with its natural beauty and unforgettable animals. Now, it’s a place where children can experience a new kind of therapy.

In January, two staff members, Equine Director Lauren Jones and Transition to Independent Living & Higher Education Programs Counselor Lauren Tucker, completed an intensive EAGALA training. 

EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth And Learning Association) sessions are facilitated by a licensed counselor and an equine specialist. They typically take place in a horse arena or pasture with 3 or 4 horses present.

Lauren Tucker explains that this type of therapy can be effective with children who are old enough to allow one thing, such as a horse, to stand for another thing, such as anxiety, a parent they are having a hard time with, or even God.

Members of the Executive Leadership Team get a hands-on demonstration of EAGALA at Maxwell Farms

“It is really difficult to put into words exactly how it works and how powerful these sessions can be when participants start seeing things in their lives play out in the arena,” Tucker said. “It really opens their eyes to see things from a new perspective and helps them discover how they can move forward effectively.”

Since becoming certified in January, Tucker and Jones have had the opportunity to work with several children to provide this unique therapy

“It’s wonderful to have this new equine therapy available for our children and families to work through their emotions, relationship building, and traumas they have experienced,” Duncan said.

Another program Connie Maxwell is exploring is the Neurosequential Model (NM), developed by Dr. Bruce D. Perry, a world-renowned psychiatrist currently serving as the Senior Fellow of the Child Trauma Academy in Houston, Texas.

On Monday, March 15, representatives from Connie Maxwell Children’s Ministries consulted with Dr. Bruce D. Perry and Dr. Megan Zappitelli, head of the psychiatry training program at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine.

The Neurosequential Model (NM) is used by hundreds of clinical organizations and thousands of clinicians in over thirty countries. This evidence-based approach to clinical problem solving continues to provide critical data about the impact of experience—good and bad—on the developing child.

Dr. Perry believes this model can be particularly effective in residential settings.

“The advantage of a residential setting is that this approach tries to engage everybody in the child’s life so that they can all be on the same page about understanding the child, and then put together a well-integrated treatment approach,” said Dr. Perry. “The fundamental perspective we have is that therapeutic change is something that happens moment by moment, in real interactions with the people in a person’s life, not just a therapy office.”

Dr. Perry’s model illustrates the importance of relationships and how those can be a catalyst for healing brokenness and trauma. He provided examples of the impact a minister, a coach, a teacher, or a residential staff member who had the ability to be present, patient, and supportive in a child’s life could have.

“So, there’s this moment where there is learning, there is healing, and there is development all happening at the same time,” said Dr. Perry. “The little doses of this that take place throughout the day are provided by people who understand the issues and are willing to be present and patient, and care for the child.”

Connie Maxwell President William D. Nicholson II believes Dr. Perry’s research is confirmation that we are on the right track with the Circle of Healing. “His research shows us the importance of relationships for healing trauma,” Nicholson says. “The Circle of Healing is the framework that is being built to gain a broader understanding of those relationships and how they can play a larger role in healing our children and families. Individualized attention helps strengthen the quality of those relationships.”

Sally Kauffmann, former minister of music and education at Connie Maxwell Baptist Church also understands the critical role relationships can play in healing—particularly staff. In a recent Decade of Dreams video, she spoke about staff saying, “They have been called by God to minister, to serve in this special ministry with children and families. They have been called by God to be agents of change. And so we know that we have the challenges to try and help heal and change the way their life has led them.”

Since March, the Executive Council at Connie Maxwell has continued to have conversations with Dr. Megan Zappitelli to explore this model in more detail and the possibility of integrating a new assessment tool they offer into our current care model.

Nicholson believes that our ministry might soon be in a position where we can understand our children better than we ever have before.

“We are doing a lot of different initiatives, but healing is our central focus over the next ten years,” said Nicholson. “There are too many broken children. We have to find better ways to get inside their lives and ask God to use us and what we have learned to go deeper. We are on a mission along with the gospel to minister and love our children and families into wholeness.”