Talitha Koum Institute (TKI) was founded by CrossTies Ecumenical Church in response to a clear call to help the children of the Kate Ross neighborhood of South Waco – to rise up. While our children now live in many Waco neighborhoods, we look first to South Waco for children residing close to the Nurture Center, located at the corner of 13th Street and Clay Avenue.
In 1999, with funding from Waco’s Cooper Foundation, the membership of CrossTies Ecumenical Church purchased the former Gonzales Boys & Girls Club facility and grounds. TKI began holding weekly parenting classes, taught by Dr. Carole Hanks, (DRPh, RN, FNP-C) and, then, associate professor of nursing at Baylor University. Dr. Hanks was principle researcher in the David Olds Nurse Family Partner study. Her knowledge was invaluable. Dr. Hanks continued in the role of TKI parent educator until the summer of 2004. Weekly parenting classes continue to meet each Tuesday evening at Talitha Koum.
Having acquired remodeling funds through the Waco Foundation, TKI opened its Nurture Center in January 2003 as a mental health therapeutic nursery for extreme at-risk infants and children living in deep, multi-generational urban poverty. The program began by serving 12 infants and toddlers, Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and until 5:30 p.m. for children whose parents were in school or working. The intensive care program combined play therapy, all-day nurture, and the proven HighScope™ cognitive curriculum for infants from eight-weeks-old through Kindergarten (when needed), alongside weekly parenting classes.
Ms. Donna Losak, the former Director of the LaVega ISD Family Resource Center and the former Childcare Resource Specialist for the Waco Smart Start Association, was secured as the Nurture Center’s Director. Dr. Keith Warren who was the Executive Director of the Klaras Center for Families agreed to serve as the Clinical Director for the Nurture Center. Dr. Helen Benedict (Ph.D., Yale), then Professor and Director of Clinical Training, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, supervised play therapy for Talitha Koum children age three and older. Dr. Benedict has lectured extensively around the world on play therapy as well as on interventions with attachment and trauma problems in young children. Dr. Benedict assumed the role of the Clinical Director of TKI’s Nurture Center in 2004.
Always, we have been gifted with caring and dedicated teachers who hail from a number of universities, all with Bachelor’s degrees or Masters. We are quick to explain that Talitha Koum is not childcare in the traditional sense. The level of intense intervention requires each teacher to undergo extensive training both in the classroom and as we meet together in Supervision each Friday afternoon with our clinical directors. Yet a teacher may arrive with a degree in Theater or International Studies and become just as equipped as those who have graduated from programs in Child and Family Studies or Psychology or Social Work. “God looks on the heart.” And the heart is where we find loving, patient, and devoted teachers who commit to the children in their care with continuous hope.
As the years have progressed, our Nurture Center has increased enrollment to 30 children in five classrooms, each having a child to teacher ratio of 3 to 1, ensuring the therapeutic nature of our program. A bus was purchased with funding from Cooper Foundation so that children received the full hours of therapeutic care being offered.
Early 2009, Talitha Koum inaugurated its Mentoring Program by which individuals mentor TKI school-aged children until they go to college or secure productive employment. This mentoring begins when a child enters public school or a mentor selects a child even earlier during the child’s Pre-K year at the Nurture Center.
In June of 2009, Dr. Benedict and Ms. Losak traveled to Kansas to meet with Dr. Richard L. Gaskill (Ed.D.), a Fellow of Houston’s Child Trauma Academy. Observing Dr. Gaskill’s therapeutic program, Benedict and Losak learned about NMT (Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics) developed by Dr. Bruce Perry (M.D., Ph.D.), founder of the Child Trauma Academy. In May of 2010, TKI partnered with Baylor University to bring Dr. Gaskill to Waco. Dr. Gaskill toured the Nurture Center, met with our governing body and delivered a full day’s training at Baylor University to an audience of psychology students, local psychologists, social workers, early childhood teachers, and occupational therapists.
Armed with information and counsel from Dr. Gaskill, Talitha Koum’s leadership began working to create a method that can be used in a group care setting with young children. TKI’s director and clinical director collaborated with Ms. Carol Salvesen, an Occupational Therapist and one of Talitha Koum’s founders, to develop what Dr. Gaskill referred to as a “Neurologically Sensitive, Developmentally Appropriate” approach to working with young children.
This groundbreaking work eventually led to TKI hosting a day-long symposium titled, “The Biggest Bang: Guiding Explosive Early Brain Growth,” which was attended by nearly 300 people from local school districts, with the majority coming from Waco Independent School District. The symposium was made possible through a grant from Waco Foundation.
In 2010, TKI initiated a study that was funded by the Still Water Foundation of Austin. Dr. Benedict served as the principle investigator along with doctoral students from Baylor University’s Clinical Psychology Department. One of the major findings of the study is that “the school aged Talitha Koum children showed better aggression and anger control than the control group as well as overall better scores on the Behavioral Symptoms Index.” This goes directly to TKI’s intense repetitive work in teaching conflict resolution and securing each child in the ability to self-regulate, a brain development initiative. As compared to the control group, the school-aged children from TKI’s launch also had:
- higher TAKS scores
- better grades
- fewer absences
- fewer behavior referrals