By Mark Powell
Living in a home where someone is misusing drugs can be a frightening, cold and lonely place. Julie Merchant understands. The art therapist uses her experience to help little people struggling with big issues.
In 1988, she worked with the Frederick County Health Department (FCHD) to develop and launch Kids Like Us (KLU) a program for high-risk youth. It provides early intervention for youngsters dealing with parental or household substance misuse. KLU works to break the cycle of addiction by identifying youth impacted by familial substance misuse and engage them in school and community best practices.
Kids Like Us expanded from a community based to a school-based program when a local elementary counselor wanted to help the many students impacted by addiction. It works closely with school counselors to implement the program and identify students who may benefit from the program.
KLU is a free service. It begins in 4th grade and continues until 8th grade. Activities are designed with different age groups in mind. Kids are grouped by school and grade, giving them the opportunity to connect with kids similar to themselves. It expanded to more than 90 activities over the years because, as Julie explains, “We don’t get kids together to do worksheets.” KLU is a time for students to express themselves, create social skills, relax, have fun in a non-competitive environment, and reduce isolation. “Kids Like Us helps me take my worries out a lot and I don’t feel alone,” says one KLU participant. “Now I know I’m not the only person in the world that has these problems and issues.”
Not feeling alone. That can make a big difference in the l