Agency that guides families through crisis keeps growing


ADEL O'ROURKE, executive director for the past 20 years of Robert A. Pascal Youth and Family Services, dreams of a time when the work that she and her fellow therapists perform will no longer be necessary. But, she says, "It doesn't seem as though that's going to happen."

Since the agency opened its doors in 1968 in the former Harundale Mall, staff members have worked with more than 45,000 low-income and disadvantaged children, adolescents and members of their families. In their 4-year-old offices in Severna Park's Park Plaza, the agency's therapists see clients as young as 4 years old and as old as 19, as well as some adults. Clients may have problems at home or in school, including substance abuse and physical and sexual abuse. Therapists offer HIV prevention and education, suicide intervention and prevention, crisis intervention, and guidance with a myriad of other issues.

Each of the agency's eight therapists has a caseload of as many as 25 clients at any one time, says O'Rourke.

In addition to working with individual clients, therapists run groups for mothers, substance abusers and those needing to learn anger management. Most of the referrals come from the county school system, the Department of Juvenile Justice and social services, says O'Rourke.

"We have a sliding scale and never turn away anybody for inability to pay," she says.

The center has a waiting list of more than 60, mostly because of the lessening of the stigma attached to seeking professional help and because parents today are better educated about problems their children face, says O'Rourke.

"We try to get people in and out as quickly as possible," she says, "but the insurance process is like a maze." Most health insurance plans cover the agency's services under mental health care coverage.

The private, nonprofit agency receives funding from the state and the county; the rest comes from donations, grants and client fees. As for the sliding scale, because the majority of clients are low-income, "it slides all the way to zero," says O'Rourke.

One of the agency's proudest accomplishments was the opening in 1997 of the county's first shelter for runaway and homeless youths. Located in Pasadena, it was originally called Shelter from the Storm. Now, it's known as Safe Haven.

With a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in social work from the University of Maryland, O'Rourke might consider adding "resourcefulness" to her resume.

When Harundale Mall was closing in 1998 and the agency was readying for the move to Park Plaza, the enterprising psychologist asked her landlords if she could be "the mall's last shopper."

Because the mall was being torn down and its contents disposed of, she ended up with loads of building and decorating supplies. She had light fixtures, bathroom fixtures, interior and exterior doors, floor tiles and even moldings.

"I got everything, including the kitchen sink," she says. With the floor plans for her new 5,000-square-foot office space tucked under her arm, O'Rourke went to see Ralph Bennett, an instructor at the University of Maryland School of Architecture and a partner at the architectural firm of Bennett, Frank and McCarthy in Silver Spring.

The results of the cooperative effort are stunning. Along with the recycled sink, the kitchen in the Park Plaza office sports a stylish wall of recycled glass brick. The offices that greet clients are inviting, comfortable and strikingly handsome with attractive furnishings and a staff of compassionate professionals.

The agency is run by a staff of 13, including interns from Loyola College, the Johns Hopkins University and Argosy University, a school of psychology in Virginia. All staff therapists hold at least a master's degree. The center could use more therapists, O'Rourke says.

For information about the agency, call 410-975-0068.

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