Nothing gold can stay forever.
Although UT REACH has impacted the lives of numerous children in the Knoxville area, its efforts are now threatened by a lack of funding.
The UT Relationship Enhancement and Child Harmony Project is a program designed to provide individualized therapy for young children displaying troublesome behavior. These children typically experience high stress levels at home. Typically, this anxiety is attributed to a household affected by violence, alcohol or adult mental illness.
Using a method of therapy known as child-centered play therapy, the UT REACH Project provides children with a safe place to heal and grow.
"The therapeutic goal is that the child tap into inner resources and find his own 'voice,' to find his own way to self-express and grow," said Nancy Cochran, the project's treatment coordinator.
In 2006, professors Jeff Cochran and Nancy Cochran came to the University of Tennessee with the idea for the UT REACH Project in tow. Advocates of child-centered play therapy, the couple wanted to find a way of teaching these therapeutic skills to university students while also helping Knoxville's youth.
The UT REACH Project is the product of these aspirations, providing counseling at two schools in the region.
Children in the program attend counseling twice a week for an average of six months. However, in some cases, children improve more rapidly and therapy ends sooner.
During counseling, patients are given the freedom to explore a variety of activities in a relaxed environment. Musical instruments, art utensils, dolls, action figures and more are available to the children.
"The child gravitates toward the toys or self-generated activities that are unique to his own needs for healing and working through issues at the core of his distress," Nancy Cochran said. "He is free to express fully all his feelings, anger, sadness, joy and release these within safe limits ... without fear of judgment or reprimand."
Through the program, the Cochrans believe college students are developing invaluable skills for a future career involving counseling.
"From their skills in counseling children, interns reach much greater understandings of the possibilities of counseling for adults or adolescents," Jeff Cochran said. "Most importantly, they develop themselves as therapeutic tools for their clients."
Tiffany Brooks, a doctoral student in counselor education and supervision, said her internship with UT REACH was a crucial element in her education.
Brooks said she feels more confident in her abilities as a counselor after her involvement with the project.
"It is so gratifying to watch a child that does not understand his/her feelings, much less how to express those, finally reach a point where they can identify his or her feelings and take that next step of beginning to think about how to tell someone about those feelings," Brooks said.
In Jeff Cochran's opinion, UT REACH is demonstrating considerable success.
So far, the project has served more than 60 children, leading to a 40 percent decrease in school absences, a 50 percent decrease in disciplinary referrals and a 60 percent decrease in suspensions.
However, despite promising results, the project is in danger of collapsing due to a decrease in public and private funding. In order to continue serving children and providing internship opportunities to UT students, UT REACH must rely on donations.
Even so, the Cochrans remain optimistic.
"With a little help from many, we can change the world," Jeff Cochran said.