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Mental Well-Being Starts Young

Contributed by Jillian Szczepaniak-Gillece, Director of Behavioral Health Services, The Children’s Guild

Young people in our country have real mental health issues today, and it was a serious problem before the pandemic, virtual school, and recent world conflicts.

“Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread,” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. “Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide—and rates have increased over the past decade.”


  • In 2019, mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and poor life outcomes in young people, with 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. having a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder.
  • From 2009 to 2019, high school students who reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness increased by 40%, to more than 1 in 3 students.
  • Suicidal behaviors among high school students increased during the last decade, with 19% seriously considering attempting suicide, a 36% increase from 2009 to 2019, and about 16% having made a suicide plan in the prior year, a 44% increase from 2009 to 2019.
  • Between 2007 and 2018, suicide rates among ages 10-24 increased by 57%.

(Source: US Department of Health & Human Services)

It bears repeating—this was before recent events. In fall 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association joined to declare a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health.

But how do you go about meeting the problems and working toward solutions? The Surgeon General’s Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health outlines a series of recommendations and they rely heavily on empowering youth and families, ensuring access to mental health care, supporting education, community and childcare settings, and expanding the early childhood and education workforce.


“We are completely in support of the Surgeon General’s goals, as they align with our priorities, as well,” said The Children’s Guild President and CEO Jenny Livelli.

It’s critical to have services available to meet kids where they are, whether a clinic- or school-based program. The Children’s Guild operates seven schools in Maryland and the District of Columbia that all provide free mental health services to students. An Outpatient Mental Health Clinic serves more than 80 additional public schools across Maryland. Clinicians specialize in working with children and families and are trained in trauma-informed treatment.

“By being right in the school for kids, we are reducing barriers to access,” says Jillian Szczepaniak-Gillece, Children’s Guild Director of Behavioral Health Services. “We want to help each young person and their family learn skills to address interpersonal, social, emotional, and academic challenges. We work with caregivers, families, school staff, and other involved agencies to provide individualized treatment that is strength-based, trauma-informed, and evidence-based.”


One key to improving mental health is making support accessible. So, The Children’s Guild services include psychiatric services, counseling, and school-based behavioral health. More than 1,400 children are positively impacted by their programs and services today.

Mental health conditions can be shaped by many factors. Genes and brain chemistry play a role. So does environment, such as life experiences and neighborhood conditions. Relationships with family and friends are important. There are also many social forces. Young people see messages daily through social media and popular culture that erode their feelings of self-worth. To face these challenges and others, The Children’s Guild offers a continuum of care founded in Transformation Education.


Transformation Education engages every student, fosters achievement, growth, and independence to the greatest extent possible, and gives experiences that meet the needs of every learner and help them thrive.

The 8 Pillars of The Children’s Guild Transformation Education philosophy include:

  1. Value-Infused Culture – blending specific values throughout all aspects of our people, systems, environment, and curriculum.
  2. Focus on Well-Being – mindfulness exercise, positive relationships with adults, and the development of self-regulation strategies.
  3. Enriched Environments & Experiences – using physical environments to stimulate the intellect, excite the senses, and touch the emotions.
  4. Brain Literacy – teaching students how the brain learns.
  5. Behavioral Motivation Continuum – individualized, meaningful learning experiences before, during, and after behavioral incidents to help kids develop self-regulation.
  6. Arts Enhancement – opportunities to experience performing arts, visual arts, and music.
  7. Community Influence – introducing kids to community projects and advocacy so they can contribute their voice.
  8. Ownership Mindset – skills to approach problems, recognize contributions, take responsibility, and implement solutions.


Emerging from April’s School Counseling Month—as well as the past two years of COVID—it’s apparent the national focus on mental health is even more critical. “We need to build the foundation for healthier, more fulfilled, and more resilient youth, and The Children’s Guild is making that happen in the greater metro area around the Nation’s Capital,” said Livelli.

“We touch families and lives in meaningful, often highly impactful ways. That commitment has become even more critical in our complex world.”

The Children’s Guild also seeks partnerships and growth opportunities of all kinds. Should you want to learn more or see the work they do in area schools, please contact them anytime at 410.444.3800.  


April Is Autism Awareness Month And A Time To Celebrate At Baltimore’s Children’s Guild— Transformation Academy

Over the past six months, the Children’s Guild— Transformation Academy has become a thriving environment for dozens of students ages 5-21 whose primary diagnosis is autism, and many who have co-existing diagnoses of sensory processing disorder, a specific learning disability, health impairment or multiple disabilities.  During the month of April, which is officially Autism Awareness Month, The Children’s Guild— Transformation Academy will highlight the integrated approach they take in educating and providing individualized instruction in the areas of academics, behavior, social skills, and life skills to meet the needs of neurodiverse individuals.

“We identified a need in our community and since we opened the Transformation Academy just six months ago, we have been able to provide skills and support to students and their families across a variety of settings including home, workplace, and community,” said Mark Rapaport, Managing Director of Autism Services, The Children’s Guild— Transformation Academy. “We provide programming to foster growth and independence for each student utilizing a collaborative team approach of highly trained professionals, including special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, behavior specialists, transition coordinators, and therapeutic behavior aides.”

For students with a severe autism diagnosis, the Transformation Academy works with local school systems to find a supportive placement.  During the month of April, The Children’s Guild— Transformation Academy is open for tours with faculty for families to talk to the experts to learn about the wraparound services provided and how to advocate for a child with their educational team. For information visit

The Transformation Academy is part of The Children’s Guild, whose mission is to provide individualized transformational experiences to ensure children, families, and communities thrive.  The non-profit organization envisions generations of curious and courageous children, healthy families, and thriving communities. Schools and programs include The Children’s Guild DC Public Charter School, Baltimore Campus, and Prince George’s County Campus; The Monarch Academy public charter and contract schools with campuses’ in Annapolis, Glen Burnie, and Laurel; Monarch Preschool College Park; Outpatient Mental Health Clinic, Treatment Foster Care, TranZed Academy for Working Students (TAWS), and TranZed Apprenticeships.  For more information, visit

The Children’s Guild Welcomes Agnes Kibirige, Chief Information Officer, And Hughes Johnson, Chief Of Staff, To Senior Leadership Team

The Children’s Guild (TCG), a nonprofit organization serving children, families, and child-serving organizations, is proud to welcome Agnes Kibirige as the new Chief Information Officer and Hughes Johnson as the new Chief of Staff to their senior leadership team. In her new role, Agnes Kibirige will drive quality IT services and allow TCG to utilize data in the strategic nature that will become the cornerstone of how the organization operates. As Chief of Staff, Hughes Johnson will create and monitor quality systems and procedures to help TCG be effective and efficient in achieving the organization’s mission and vision.

“It is with great excitement and pleasure, I welcome two new exceptional leaders to the Senior Leadership Team of The Children’s Guild who will both be essential in driving our organization into the future, and an integral part of the new strategic plan and vision set forth by The Children’s Guild Board of Directors emphasizing effective, efficient, and quality operations across all TCG service areas,” says Jenny Livelli, president, and CEO of The Children’s Guild. “Agnes and Hughes were selected based on their expertise in areas that we have identified as critical to developing, enhancing, and delivering the services we provide for the children, families, and communities we serve.”

Hughes Johnson brings experience in training, compliance, and a clear focus on developing and measuring quality systems that will immediately impact the Guild. Hughes’s expertise will positively impact The Children’s Guild operations as Chief of Staff as he focuses on creating and supporting quality operations across the entire organization.

Hughes comes to The Children’s Guild following a 30-year career at Youth Villages, a non-profit organization providing treatment programs for troubled youth in Memphis, Tennessee. He completed a tenure that included several impactful roles. In addition to serving as the Managing Director of Compliance and Performance Improvement, Hughes has held several other positions at Youth Villages, including Assistant Director of PI and Interim Director of Memphis Boys Town, a residential treatment program. Hughes also served as a Recreation Therapy Supervisor, where he planned and

facilitated experiential learning for young people with conduct disorder problems, sex offenders, and mentally challenged children. Hughes holds a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education from The University of Tennessee at Martin and a Master of Science, Recreation Therapy from Memphis State University.

Agnes Kibirige comes to The Children’s Guild with a range of professional experiences that will be vital in shaping the organization’s direction. With over 20 years of experience designing, developing, and delivering IT solutions for fortune 500 clients, Agnes mixes her knowledge of technology with a unique understanding of how it all fits on an individual human level.

Agnes’s prior experience includes a 14-year career at Accenture (a Fortune Global 500 company specializing in information technology services and consulting), culminating in her position as a senior manager. In October 2019, Agnes founded ExperTribe LLC, which allowed her to bring expertise to a broader range of clients, including the world of non-profits. Through this new endeavor, Agnes first became connected to The Children’s Guild and was immediately impressed by the importance of the work taking place in the organization.

In her role as Chief Information Officer, Agnes will be implementing a plan of action that directly connects to and supports the transformation of the Guild information technology team to a strategic department where accessible and shared data will drive the organization’s mission and vision. To achieve the goal of moving to a strategic focus, Agnes and her team will shift to the role of leveraging the expertise needed to address the critical IT needs of the organization. Agnes holds a BS in Engineering from Loughborough University, UK, and an Executive MBA from the University of Maryland.

Affiliates of The Children’s Guild include The Children’s Guild, Inc., Baltimore Campus, The Children’s Guild DC Public Charter School, The Janet and Frank Kelly Autism Center, Monarch Academy public charter and contract schools, The Outpatient Mental Health Center, Treatment Foster Care, The Children’s Guild- Transformation Academy, The Children’s Guild School of Prince George’s County, Monarch Preschool College Park, TranZed Academy for Working Students (TAWS), and TranZed Apprenticeships. For more information, visit

The Honorable Carl O. Snowden And Charles James From The Caucus Of African American Leaders Will Speak At Monarch Academy Glen Burnie About Equity Work

Civil rights activist and politician the Sr and Honorable Carl Snowden will visit Monarch Academy Glen Burnie along with Elder Charles E. James, who is on the Caucus of African American Leaders to address the school’s teachers and discuss needs for equity in education from their perspective. Snowden and James will visit the school on Wednesday, March 9th from 3-4 pm in the café of the Monarch Academy Glen Burnie campus, 6730 Baymeadow Dr, Glen Burnie, MD 21060. 

The Monarch Academy is part of The Children’s Guild, a nonprofit organization serving children, families and child-serving organizations whose mission is helping children and families to thrive. One of the ways they provide these critical services is to bring in experts to help educate their team. The Children’s Guild recognizes that it is important for their staff community to come together and celebrate diversity as well as talk about difficult topics. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are not simply things to check off; they are core to The Children’s Guild’s mission of transforming the lives of those it serves.

“We look forward to welcoming Elder James and the Honorable Carl Snowden to speak with our staff about their work in our district and state. Their focus will be on education and the necessary work of schools to provide equitable educational experiences,” said Kim Jakovics, Principal. “Monarch Academy Glen Burnie believes that learning for children and adults must include the incorporation of experts as they deepen our understanding of complex issues.”

Carl Snowden was raised in Annapolis, Maryland, where he attended Annapolis Elementary School. As a student, Snowden was greatly influenced by The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In 1970, Snowden, along with fourteen other students, was expelled from Annapolis High School after they boycotted classes to protest the school’s lack of African American teachers and African American studies courses. Local benefactors raised funds for him to attend the private Key School. While still a young adult, Snowden organized an African American group called VOTE.

Snowden has campaigned for numerous local candidates, including Janet S. Owens, the first woman elected as county executive in Anne Arundel County, Maryland; and Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen. Snowden, who spearheaded a successful two-year $800 thousand capital fund campaign to create the first Coretta Scott King Memorial Garden and the first Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in the State of Maryland. Snowden was honored with an award at the 23rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards Dinner in Glen Burnie, Maryland in 2011.

Affiliates of The Children’s Guild include The Children’s Guild, Inc., Baltimore Campus, DC Public Charter School, The Janet and Frank Kelly Autism Center, Monarch Academy public charter and contract schools, The Outpatient Mental Health Center, Treatment Foster Care, The Children’s Guild- Transformation Academy, The Children’s Guild School of Prince George’s County, Monarch Preschool College Park, TranZed Academy for Working Students (TAWS), and TranZed Apprenticeships. For more information, visit

Jerry Partlow Appointed To The Board Of Directors For The Children’s Guild Alliance

The Children’s Guild Alliance, a nonprofit organization serving children, families and child-serving organizations, announced the appointment of Jerry B. Partlow, founder and CEO of The Partlow Insurance Agency, Inc., to join the Board of Directors.   In his new role, Partlow will join an outstanding board who are responsible for setting goals, determining policies, hiring senior leadership, and setting budgets for the 67-year-old organization with an $86-million budget.

“We are thrilled to welcome Jerry to our esteemed board with our goal of improving the organization’s operating effectiveness and building organizational capacity.  He brings years of experience in board leadership and a commitment to social service and education, ” says Jenny Livelli, president, and CEO of The Children’s Guild Alliance. “The Children’s Guild is a strong and dynamic organization, and we look forward to Jerry supporting our growth and our mission of putting kids first and transforming the way America cares for and educates its children.”

Partlow has more than 40 years of experience in commercial insurance.  Mr. Partlow is recognized nationally for his innovative designs and development of Association related insurance programs for Non-Profit 501(C)3 organizations across the U.S.

The Partlow Insurance Agency, Inc. has longstanding endorsements from the National Association of Private Special Education Centers (NAPSEC) in Washington, D.C., the Virginia Association of Independent Specialized Educations Facilities (VAISEF), the Association of Schools and Agencies for the Handicapped in New Jersey, the Arizona Association of Private Special Education Providers, and the Illinois Association of Private Special Education Centers.

A recognized expert in malpractice insurance and related services for the medical industry, Mr. Partlow serves on the National Agents Advisory Council for Philadelphia Insurance Company and is a past member of the Commercial Insurance Round Table for Erie Insurance.  He has received numerous state and national awards from various insurance industry associations.

Mr. Partlow has served on numerous Non-Profit Boards of Directors.  He is currently Chairman of the Board for Grafton Integrated Health Network and serves on the Leary Educational Foundation Board of Directors.  He was elected to three four-year terms on the Winchester City Council chairing the finance committee, social service, and education committees.

Mr. Partlow attended West Virginia University on a full football scholarship.  He is an IFR rated pilot, a motorcycle enthusiast and enjoys traveling.   He has three grown children and seven grandchildren and currently resides in Winchester, Virginia.

Affiliates of The Children’s Guild include The Children’s Guild School of Baltimore, DC Public Charter School, The Janet and Frank Kelly Autism Center, Monarch Academy public charter and contract schools, The Outpatient Mental Health Center, Treatment Foster Care, The Children’s Guild- Transformation Academy, The Children’s Guild School of Prince George’s County, Monarch Preschool College Park, TranZed Academy for Working Students (TAWS), and TranZed Apprenticeships.  For more information, visit

The Children’s Guild DC Public Charter School, which uses a whole child teaching approach, to participate this week’s EdFest

Registration Now Open for Virtual Event Taking Place on Saturday, December 11

The Children’s Guild DC Public Charter School (TCG DC), a free DC public charter K-8 school which meets the needs of all types of learners, and guided by a Transformation Education philosophy supporting the whole child, will be participating in the Virtual EdFEST21.  This online event is DC’s annual public school fair, where families can learn about the public school lottery, is taking place on Saturday, December 11 from 10 am – 1 pm.  Families are invited to register for the event, for free, and make plans to visit TCG DC’s virtual booth to learn how the school uses a Transformation Education philosophy to educate the whole child, with a focus on special education.

“All students at TCG DC -The Children’s Guild receive the personal attention and support they need to be successful in school by having access to special education resources and a caring teaching staff to see them through,” explained School Principal Bryan Daniels.  “At The Children’s Guild, we provide a safe and reassuring learning environment that promotes personal accountability, academic achievement, and a true sense of community. We have transportation hubs around the city to get children safely to school each day.”

“TCG DC is great!  I needed a family friendly environment for my son to learn and feel nurtured and this school provides the best education and lifelong memories that has helped him to grow into a young man. Now he’s in honors courses! I couldn’t be prouder of him and the place we will forever call home at TCG DC,” Katrena Nash, DCPCS graduate parent.

To meet with TCG DC school representatives and explore more about their whole child teaching approach and how to get a child enrolled, register for EdFEST (virtual event). Families who need support registering for the event or navigating the lottery process are encouraged to call the My School DC Hotline at (202) 888-6336, Monday – Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

The DC Public Charter School is a program of The Children’s Guild.  Affiliates of The Children’s Guild include The Children’s Guild School of Baltimore, The Children’s Guild School of Prince George’s County, The Janet and Frank Kelly Autism Center, Monarch Academy public charter and contract schools, The Outpatient Mental Health Center, Treatment Foster Care, The Children’s Guild: Transformation Academy, Monarch Preschool College Park, TranZed Academy for Working Students (TAWS), and TranZed Apprenticeships.  For more information, visit