Former Residential Client Remembers Time Here Fondly

Frank Horton has done a lot since he left SaintA’s Residential program almost four years ago.

After going to a foster home, the 19-year-old graduated from Richland Center High School in 2013. Then he went into WisCorps, a nonprofit organization that gives young people experience in conservation efforts on public land. He attended the University of Wisconsin–Richland Center for a semester but ran out of the money needed to return. He spent last year’s Christmas break in Arizona with the parents of a friend and got to visit ancient Indian sites.

He’s now holding down two jobs in Madison, where he lives with Elise Brown, the aunt of an acquaintance, and her husband. He’s looking forward to studying culinary arts there, then perhaps after he earns enough money as a chef, he’ll go back to school to study archeology, which has always fascinated him. His love for poetry continues, and he says he’s created about 150 pieces in recent months.

But despite all that forward movement, Frank often looks back to the year he spent at SaintA.

Frank Horton and Chris Kangas
Frank Horton, left, with Chris Kangas.

“He’s always talking about it, so I sent an e-mail to see what people would say about a visit,” Elise said.

Frank’s SaintA therapist, Chris Kangas, replied that he and others would love to see Frank again and invited them to a recent outdoor picnic for staff.

Frank came to SaintA at age 15 and left when he was 16. Chris remembers that he was the only Residential youth at the time allowed to go outside unsupervised. He usually ran, about a half hour every day.

Frank “looks just like a gazelle when he runs,” Chris said with a chuckle, adding that the running was good for Frank’s self-regulation in addition to being great exercise and something the teen simply enjoyed a lot.

Frank remembers times when he would bring out a kite and just lie in the grass flying it. He refers to Chris’ office, with its low lighting, colorful posters and soothing scents, as a place of peace for him.

“This is where my haven was, this room.”

What did Frank learn from the staff, the activities, his time at SaintA? Self-control through meditation he quickly answers. He still does it two hours a night.

“Also a lot of adapting to situations I put myself in and then have to get out of. Putting it into Kangas terms, I learned how to bend like a papyrus reed, not stand still like an obelisk” Frank said with a laugh.

He also learned, “patience, patience and more patience, the ability to center myself,” Frank said.

“He always has a lot of positive things to say about the coping skills he learned here,” Elise said.

When Mike O’Leary, division director of Residential Treatment, greeted him, Frank immediately told Mike that he owed him a ping-pong match, because they were tied when he left SaintA.

“It’s fairly rare that residents come back,” Mike said later, and it’s always nice to see them and know that they’re doing well. The fact that he remembered ping-pong and that we were tied 4-4, well, this is a kid that developed relationships.”

When asked what Frank thought his life might have been like without SaintA, he quickly answered: “Honestly I probably would have landed in jail because of things I reacted badly to.”

Chris said he was really happy to see the young man he had spent so many hours counseling, and especially to learn he’s on the right path.

“Well, we’ll never forget you!”

One Response to Former Residential Client Remembers Time Here Fondly

  1. Avatar Tim Aukofer (March `77-July `79 says:

    I think it would be a good idea to have some sort of Alumnus Program for guys who were there in the `50’s `60’s and `70’s before IDEA and a lot of other `modern’ laws, programs and opportunities were available in the Midwest.

    I’m an author now and work in a program taking care of morbidly obese boys, trying to instill in them the same ability for a guy to separate his self-esteem from his waistline as Mike Szalewski, Diamond Cephus, Richard Kennedy and Marc Emmerich did for us in our day.

    Other “celebrities of note” include Bob Alexander, Sharon McLean-Brown, Ruth Tozer-Johnson MaryPat Thompson-Gennario, Sandra Hintze-Wolff and Alice Pfeffer-Emmerich all of which had their own lessons to impart.

    Overseeing everything, the partnership between Sister Theresa and Alfred L Kasprowicz yielded a great sense of security for a great many boys.

    If ha boy was having difficulty with the staff, he could go directly to Mr. K’s office and rest assured that – whether anything was actually done about the issue or not – his plight had at least been understood and validated.

    Often this would result in one or more types of communication lesson since there was a lot of boys there who had other problems besides just emotional or psychiatric issues.

    Aspergers and other forms of autism were beginning to be seen en-masse by the late 60’s and early 70’s, so by the time I got there – even though there wouldn’t be a name for the diagnosis for years to come – we at least were able to be validated on our own terms vs the “cookie cutter” treatment used for the psychiatric patients.

    Conversely, Sister Theresa knew more about what was going on in a boy’s heart as well as his head than the boy himself – and was often more than able to translate what a boy was feeling into words – and then – in a very-new-for-the-time format – partner WITH the boy in question to develop ways of A) expressing himself succinctly as well as being able to deal with the issue on his own terms.

    Often – on considerable occasions – this would incorporate Sister’s instruction that we be able to communicate with our mouths, fight injustices with our pens and love with all our heart instead of the slightly or grossly skewered version with which some of us came to St. Aemilians (e.g. fight injustices with our fists, bury the feelings by stuffing food into our mouths and turn our hearts black with rage.

    Mr K. stood in for many a boy’s father or grandfather and was similarly able to bypass a boy’s reluctance and able to verbalize a boy’s concern if he were having problems with it – so that if something unsafe was going on – a boy never felt as if he were “snitching” on somebody or something – because he would tell YOU what was going on and you just affirmed as much as you needed to.

    His two daughters Heidi and Diane were instrumental too, as was Diana Sherman the librarian who – before becoming a social worker in her own right – also developed the same talent of being able to get a boy to rise above the immediate.

    I just hope the new generation of staff is as great and innovative as ours was in the days before IDEA and other legislation became a reality.

    Sister died of cancer in the 80’s, but her legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of thousands of little munchkins she protected as if she were Glinda while teaching the boys how do do the same for the younger ones.

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