Kate Trudell is always on a mission. The former executive director of the Community Coalition Against Human Trafficking is now the CEO of the Harmony Family Center, an interesting arc for a former graphic designer. But she doesn’t see her trajectory from the art world to a therapy focused non-profit as that much of a stretch because “art is cathartic and therapeutic” and intrinsic to the variety of approaches used with Harmony’s clients. “I gravitate in life to this role of helper and caregiver. I wanted to be in a role that was making the world around me a better place, addressing injustices and abuses.”
While Harmony began as an adoption support organization working in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, it has expanded into addressing childhood trauma for adults and children, and particularly those who’ve traversed the foster care system.
“No matter the circumstances, being separated from your birth family is a traumatic experience. When children move from one foster home to another, they live disrupted lives. The goal is to find that forever home,” Trudell explained. “We provide the tools to address behaviors rooted in those traumas, so foster and adoptive parents are better equipped to help the child learn and process their behavior in a safe environment.”
The COVID-19 pandemic presented special challenges for staff connecting with clients. The majority of operations moved to online contact, and staff developed web-based resources for clients to access on their own. While prioritizing staff and client safety, Trudell said they are putting protocols in place to start in-home visits again.
“These kids and families need us. The online tools have been great, but it’s not quite the same as in person. There will probably be some front porch therapy. We just have to be safe, creative and flexible.”
Unfortunately, Trudell anticipates a potential wave of kids coming into the foster system as COVID-19 constraints are relaxed because “safer at home isn’t necessarily safer for everyone. There are many teenagers needing adoptive homes all over the state. We can’t let home studies sit idle with kids in desperate need of foster placement.”
Ten years ago, Harmony was gifted the Camp Montvale property in Blount County by Sam and Ann Furrow. Trudell said the nearly 400-acre property has been an “invaluable” addition to the Harmony mission. With Montvale, Harmony is able to conduct various summer camps for adoptive and foster children and their families. They also have independent living camps for young adults aging out of the foster care system. The property helps provide adventure therapy, such as a climbing tower, in a controlled environment.
In normal times, the property is available for rent when not in use for church camps, weddings, parties, etc. Trudell said the loss of that income is considerable with cancelations this year, but has provided the time for improvement projects. There are nine horses, from miniature to thoroughbred, and two goats living at Montvale as part of their Animal Assisted Therapy Team, which also includes therapy dogs. Anyone interested can contact Harmony about volunteer opportunities with the horses.
Harmony’s services are free to families adopting or fostering through the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. They are available on a sliding scale based on income to those who have adopted privately or internationally.
Beth Kinnane is a freelance writer and thoroughbred bloodstock agent.