Center focuses on families

Published 9:44 pm Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It was in December of 2007 that staff members at the Up Center in downtown Suffolk saw their first client.

Now a year older and a year wiser, the center is gearing up for more programs to benefit the Suffolk community.

“We are here to stay,” said Mary Brantley, clinical services supervisor for the Up Center. “What we are trying to do is help people become healthy in their daily lives. We knew when we came in this was our mission.”

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The Suffolk center is one of four Up Center locations throughout Hampton Roads. Formerly known as the Child & Family Services of Eastern Virginia, the Up Center has been around for more than 125 years.

When it began, the agency was providing financial assistance, and working to reduce poverty and homelessness.

Today, the agency’s programs still aim to help the community’s most vulnerable individuals, but does so through a wide variety of programs, ranging from parent education and youth mentoring to veterans’ counseling and play therapy for children.

“What are the needs? What are the kids’ needs? What are the families’ needs?” Brantley asked. “That’s what we’re here to help.”

The Suffolk location specifically was made possible because of a grant from the Obici Healthcare Foundation to bring those services to the city of Suffolk.

“We do know what people go through,” Brantley said. “We’re here to get people healthy again. Healthier people make a healthier community, which is good for all of us. A stronger community one person at a time.”

The Suffolk center serves as a provider for all of Suffolk, along with Isle of Wight, Smithfield and Franklin. Specializing in intensive in-home services for children and adolescents, as well as outpatient clinical counseling, the center (located at 109 Clay St.) sees approximately 200 clients a month.

Using its experience in the past year to help it fit the city’s needs, the center has a number of growing programs, including a free counseling service for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, anger management sessions and “Seeking Safety,” a coping and education program aimed at helping victims of trauma learn how to deal with the stress of their experiences appropriately.

“When you’re exposed to a trauma like that, you don’t know how to be healthy,” Brantley said. “We help people learn how to be safe first, rather than doing self-harm. Then, we deal with the trauma.”

With the first year of operation completed, Brantley said, she and the center’s five full-time and two part-time clinicians are focusing on more programs that could better serve Suffolk’s needs.

The most pressing is developing a class for young fathers.

“We have so many young men today that are fathers,” Brantley said. “Some of them are no longer in the relationship with the woman, but they still have a child. Essentially, we want to help the young men be good fathers.”

She said that they are hoping to create a program by the end of the month tailored to the needs of young fathers, and would include men in the community as guest speakers to talk about how to handle the pressures of fatherhood.

For more information about the Up Center and all the services provided, call 965-8660 or visit