Behind the Yellow Door

Yellow Door

Open the bright yellow door. Walk in. Mesmerized, yes! Your eyes will dart around the room trying to take in all the magic.

In March of 2016 Susanna Winstead, principal of Sycamore School, invited Redding Breakfast Lions Club member Kurt Tollefson to be Principal for a Day. During that visit he was so impressed with what was transpiring that he wanted to become involved with the school.

In the first part of June 2016 three members of the Redding Breakfast Lions Club arrived at the school for a meeting with Susanna Winstead.

She escorted us to a location and announced that a woman would join us, if we didn’t mind. The room was an array of abandoned boxes and furniture. The five of us made our way to the only empty table and took a seat.

We came there to discuss the possible adoption of Sycamore School. What were their goals for the school? What role did they picture for the Lions' participation?

We talked about the children and how Susanna was trying to make a difference with those having issues of trauma in their lives. She gave us an insightful article by Heather T. Forbes, LCSW, “Teaching Trauma in the Classroom”.

When she finished talking Susanna turned to Olivia LaField to continue the conversation.

Olivia soon transported us to her vision of a glorious room where children learn how to self-regulate. She explained how a child’s brain works and what it will take to get them back in the classroom. If they are not in the classroom, they can’t learn.

Olivia overwhelmed us with what she called the “Skills of Independence”:

- Are self-starters, who don’t wait for the teacher to tell them what to do.
- Make wise use of their time.
- Are not easily distracted by their peers.
- Can be trusted to stay on task – even when no one is there to make sure.

She hoped that with the help of the Lions an ordinary room could be transformed into a room filled with love and happiness. It would be called the PALZ room: Peace And Love Zone. We were soon swept up in her dream.

During the summer many of us from the Redding Breakfast Lions Club came each week to that little classroom and put in many hours. By mid-September the room was completed.

As each piece of the puzzle was implemented, we could see the vision taking place. White paint on the upper walls, a cheerful blue for the lower walls, bright yellow trim, touched off with a white baseboard.

Whimsical pictures on the walls, bright-colored furniture and cupboards. Two white glider chairs and three white bean bags placed on a bright yellow rug. Yellow curtains trimmed with blue. A few stuffed animals relaxed in the gliders, an inviting scene to behold.

PALZ room interior

With soft music playing in the background whatever stress you had before entering the room will soon dissipate. Happy and peace abound. The room is calming and love exudes just by being there.

It is a sanctuary for kids dealing with trauma. These children don’t understand how to cope with trauma. What triggers a meltdown is as unpredictable as the weather.

Some might ask, “Does this room make a difference?" The answer is a resounding yes. Kids out of control who once coped by crawling under tables, crying, fighting and fleeing have now learned how to take charge of their emotions. True, setbacks happen, but the days become fewer.

These children learn how to calm themselves and control their behavior. With set goals to achieve they are given the knowledge and the tools to follow their progress. The ability to make it happen becomes a tremendous boost to their self-esteem.

Some may say, "This is wonderful, but why should I care?"

If these troubled elementary children are reached and intervention starts in the formative years, the impact is huge. Sycamore Elementary School has taken the responsibility of good stewardship to all students who enter the campus.

Trauma students passing through any school system grow up to be adults. If the community is lucky, they will fit into society. But if they don’t, where they eventually reside can have negative results on that community.

Sycamore Elementary School’s wonderful empowering programs are life-changing. The families benefit. Children are learning to be more helpful at home just by knowing what a loving family means. If parents can see a change in their kids, the family unit becomes a healthier entity. Happy children have empathy for others and will be an asset for the community, a boomerang effect for everyone.

Caring really matters. With community support we can continue working with Sycamore School and their projects for a better future for the children. Redding Breakfast Lions Club is interested in duplicating this model program to other schools in Shasta County.

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Mary StephensonMary Stephenson was born and raised in Canada. She lived in Washington for awhile and then moved to Hayward, California. In 2015 she moved to Shasta County. The plan was to retire in the country. Mary has found that retirement is not at all about trying to fill the days with mundane hobbies. Soon, she and hubby became members of the Redding Breakfast Lions Club. Together they created a website for the Club and she became the web editor. Mary is a member of AWAI and enjoys writing.

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5 Responses

  1. Randall R Smith says:

    Great story and outcome.  Having a service club with devotion to the community is quite compelling.  Thanks for sharing PALZ.  There can be little doubt that prisons are not working largely because the attempt at fixing the original program came too late.  Only 1% of violent felonies are committed by people older than 50, but what a waste to hold men and a few women for so long.  When the family unit is dysfunctional, schools may offer the only hope.

  2. Beverly Stafford says:

    What sorts of trauma did these students suffer?  Physical?  Mental?  Hats off to the teachers who deal with these youngsters – and to the school and the Lions Club for recognizing the need.

  3. A. Jacoby says:

    I dare say that there are children in every school setting everywhere that have experienced trauma. Frequently it’s difficult for adults to recognize that there is more behind ” . . . oh that’s just little Billy, he ALWYS mis-behaves.” than just misbehaving. Would to heaven the every school in the country could be blessed with such educators and such a room. Hats off to the Lyon’s Club for their community involvement.

  4. K. Beck says:

    Great program! Thanks to all who contribute! A “Shock & Awe” war vet once told me that there are very few people who do NOT have PTSD in this country. That idea gave me a totally different view of the population as a whole. Many of us have our own support systems, others do not. Unfortunately, it seems the school system is tasked with becoming the support system that should be provided by family members.

  5. Larry B. Morris says:

    Unbelievable, Thank God for your program… My name is Larry B. Morris. My wife (Christie) and I have worked directly with troubled youth and adults for twenty plus years. We have worked with and observed programs that work extremely well, go away because of “funding” concerns. It seems as if reasoning and common sense has almost completely dissolved in our new “Bottom Line” society.  After thirty years of simply arresting everyone for almost everything, we now find ourselves in a place where releasing hundreds of thousands of people out of our prisons onto our streets, with little to no hope of employment or even housing  (Due to background checks and the such) that things will get better. Once again complete lack of common sense.

    That brings us to Olivia Lafield.  I met Olivia after reading her book. I knew I had to meet the person who put together such an incredible amount of knowledge having to do with helping people before they get to the places I have worked for so long.  After working in, and/or visiting many classrooms in Shasta Co. and watching teachers in almost a constant struggle with the few or more kids in their classrooms, which seem unwilling to care, learn, or just behave enough to get along, I walked onto her classroom.

    The kids there were completely polite, respectful and motivated. They seemed almost impossibly involved in what was happening in the classroom. Olivia’s methods seemed to be based on the most simple, but yet too rarely seen interactions in our current claimant.  She seemed to empower the kids with the knowledge that they had control of their own thoughts and actions. Her methods taught the kids that caring about each other was truly the honorable way to be. Some, I am sure would question a few of her methods which could be view as uncomfortable. However anyone who has spent any length of time working with troubled people, know that sometimes”uncomfortable” has to be a part of growth.

    I truly believe that with her ideas and methods we can honestly move from building prisons in areas where the youth are falling behind, to a place of truly investing in them, as well as all troubled people. She can teach us to use our hearts of compassion and understanding.

    Thank you for shinning a light on this subject. I am positive that any program, as well as community with enough guts and forethought to look outside the box we have found ourselves in for so long, would find that Olivia’s programs which truly empower the youth, would grow with incredible leaps and bounds.

    Thank you again…



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