Healthcare Foundation

Spotlight: YWCA Sonoma County’s A Special Place

We’re pleased to spotlight our newest grantee, the YWCA Sonoma County’s A Special Place Therapeutic Preschool, the only one of its kind in Sonoma County (and one of only a handful in California) providing counseling to children ages 3 to 5 who have witnessed or are living with violence in the home.

These children receive all the traditional early literacy and numeracy preparation they need to get ready for kindergarten as well as trauma-informed care to make sure they are socially and emotionally ready for school.

Most of these students' families are living in poverty. Some families are living in the YWCA’s safe house and others are living in their cars or sleeping on couches in someone else’s home. Many parents have been told their children could not continue to attend other preschool or childcare programs because the teachers were not equipped to manage their behavior.

Madeleine Keegan O'Connell, CEO of YWCA Sonoma County, says the program is able to help students with behavioral challenges that other preschools are not because their staff has undergone specialized trauma-informed and domestic violence training.

"Success to us means that we have given that child the tools to make better decisions for themselves," she says. "They’re so little, so if we can just give them the confidence that they can solve problems without resorting to negative behavior, that there is a peaceful outcome that they are responsible for, then that's our success."

O’Connell says the preschool, combined with the security of the safe house and other services offered by the YWCA, can be transformational for families. She gives the example of "Wendy" and her children as a success story: when they first arrived at the YWCA safe house, her four-year-old son had speech delays and wasn’t speaking much after witnessing violence at home. But at A Special Place Preschool, he began making friends, smiling and talking—and flourished in the new environment, Wendy says. "He’s a completely different kid."

Through the preschool, staff members get to know the families and are able to connect them with other services they might need. (Many of the families involved in the preschool are living in or have lived in the YWCA’s safe house or have a parent attending a support group.) "We do our best to enroll people in all of our programs," says O’Connell.

With strict safety and health protocols, the preschool has recently reopened. We’re honored to support the education and recovery of these young students who have already faced such adversity in their lives. If you’d like to help us fund more of these kinds of vital early childhood development programs, please click on the donate button below.

Joel Lewis

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