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The STRONG Milwaukee Center expands youth mental-health access in Riverwest

Christian Family Solutions

Mario and Cathy Costantini opened a furniture factory in the Riverwest neighborhood in the mid 1980s. At the time, everyone they knew gave them advice to avoid the area -- they were warned about violence in the neighborhood and how it could affect their ability to sell the factory later. They built the factory but saw there were two gangs driving people out of the neighborhood. So they got the idea to create the Holton Youth + Family Center (HYFC) to provide a space for young people.

“We called the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club everybody said, ‘Yeah, we understand there's no there are no services there, but we just can't do it,’” Mario recalls. “So we thought, ‘Well, we'll start our own.’”

For more than 30 years the HYFC in Riverwest gave youth in the area a safe environment for recreation. Now the building will be named the STRONG Milwaukee Center as Christian Family Solutions, which runs the STRONG Child and Adolescent Day Treatment Program, signed a five-year lease to operate the space. The building will now provide mental health services, like counseling for youth.

STRONG stands for “Successfully Treating and Reaching Our Next Generation.”

“We're coming in more so from a treatment side of things,” says Mark Klug, CEO of Christian Family Solutions.

Black plaque on brick background announcing the Strong Milwaukee Center | Photo credit: Christian Family Solutions

Mark says the change in building management allows the STRONG Center to expand its programs.

“This building itself has now helped us expand from approximately 20 kids to hopefully 40 to 60 kids,” says Mark. “With the space we have our own gymnasium and a much greater location.”

Perhaps a bigger location can allow parents and children like Tamika Johnson and her children access to mental health programs.

Tamika is a parent who has a child in the STRONG Center’s program. She says after her and her kids faced a domestic violence situation they lost their home.

“I can say this, that I have the strongest kids ever,” says Tamika. “They kept smiling but I knew that it really affected them because then their behavior started changing. They started to be more angry. It was a very tough trauma for us. I knew I had to get me and my kids some help.”

STRONG Milwaukee Center staff | Photo credit: Christian Family Solutions

Tamika has a daughter that has graduated from the STRONG program. Tamika says her daughter loves the program and wants to come back in some capacity to be around the center.

Dr. Ashley Schoof is the clinical director of the STRONG Center’s treatment program. She says that it can be challenging for parents to find behavioral resources specific to their children's needs.

“Sometimes the first step is just realizing that yeah, it's different in your home,” says Dr. Schoof. “It could be something pretty simple, but if you leave it untreated or leave it without asking someone about what that is, it may or may not get worse but oftentimes would get worse.”

The STRONG Center’s treatment program offers “evidence-based treatment for some of those anger issues and just behavioral and emotional dysregulation,” Dr. Schoof says. 

The STRONG Center treatment programs in conjunction with the space the Christian Family Solutions is leasing from the Holton Youth + Family Center will allow a greater number of parents and children access to the STRONG Center’s programs.

“We're so excited to be in this building and partnering with the Holton Youth + Family Center,” says Dr. Schoof. “By being in this building we're where the kids are in the community. We're giving them greater access to care so that families can experience similar results to what Tamika’s family has experienced.”