Struck by the lack of mental health services in the suburban county, she set up a network of low-cost mental health services for children and family in 1979.
“She was a mentor. She changed me. She made me the altruistic person I am today,” Meunier said.
Originally called Central Center for Family Resources, the center was renamed in 2009 to honor Carlson, its founder, who died in 2003.
Today the nonprofit has a $2.3 million annual budget serves and more than 4,000 individuals and families each year. About $868,000 comes from local school contracts, funded through a patchwork of grants and state programs.
It may seem like a lot for cash-strapped schools, but it pays off, Meunier said, citing research from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Office of Justices Programs.
“You can’t measure what you stop. Intervention at an early age keeps the community safer and saves a lot of money,” Meunier said.
“Most of the kids who go through these programs turn out to be productive members of society vs. consumers of public services — welfare, police, legal system, treatment for drugs and alcohol, and public housing. Ninety percent of these kids who go through programs don’t have legal involvement while in the programs. They do better in school, and they have better problem-solving skills.”
Coping with stress and anger and making good choices don’t always come naturally to children, Karen Hamann said. “Sometimes they just need to be directly taught, like reading or math.”
Barmash counseled 200 students in Columbia Heights schools this year. This is her 25th year working with Lee Carlson.
“When I first started, it was all about developing self- esteem and friendship connections,” Barmash said. “Now I feel so much of what we do is anger management and stress reduction.
“Kids are just faced with daily hurdles — homelessness, the economic crisis, parents working all the time or not at all. Kids are in survival mode. It’s hard to focus on academics when they have so many problems in their lives.”
About 75 percent of her work is anger management and aggression replacement training.
“Kids today are so impulsive. They have so much anger, and they don’t know what to do with it. Sometimes kids don’t think there are other options. It’s my job to teach kids other options,” Barmash said. “We try to increase self-control and problem-solving skills.”
After the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, Lee Carlson Center fielded an increase in phone calls, Barmash said. Parents from all four district were worried about their children’s safety, but some were also concerned about their children’s mental health.
Intervening early and teaching coping skills can change a child’s future, Barmash said.
“I have the kids fast-forward their lives and envision a different path for themselves,” she said. “I believe less kids are going into the juvenile justice system because of the work we are doing.”
In group counseling, kids work on stress reduction and breathing. There’s also a big emphasis on communication skills.