EMQ FamiliesFirst Help and Hope for Kids in Crisis

By Age 8, He Knew All the Gang Territories

Hector’s Story


When I was 8, I could tell you all the gangs in my neighborhood, and show you each one’s turf and colors. I hated school, and most days I just skipped it to hang out with the older kids on my block. One time, I set fire to a trash can at school to try to get out of a test. I ended up being arrested and it went on my record.

At home I lived with my mom, two brothers and sister in an apartment where we all slept in the same room. My dad wasn’t around much, but when he was, he beat my mom. Many days we would only have enough food for one meal. Soon I started to get depressed about my life and just wouldn’t listen to anyone. When I would get frustrated, I would get really angry at my mom and my brothers. I hated everything and everyone.

When I first starting going to EMQ FamiliesFirst with my family, I thought it was stupid and boring, and I just wanted to leave. But I kept going because I liked spending time with José who spoke Spanish and knew about where I grew up. He would take me outside and we would just talk about stuff. He listened and helped me and my family come up with a plan.

And they made sure we had enough food and clean clothes, and that I saw a doctor when I needed to. 

Soon I looked forward to sessions with José, who would sometimes even visit us at our house. He helped me deal with all the bad stuff that happened, and showed me how making good choices can help me be happier. I even got my arrest record cleared. My life at home is so much better now, and I know my mom loves and cares for me. I started playing basketball again, which got me a whole new set of friends. School is going better too. I really like biology, and I hope to be able to go to college.

I couldn’t have turned my life around without José and EMQ FamiliesFirst.  

– Hector, age 14

The Impact of Severe Trauma and Neglect

Children like Hector who suffer severe trauma and neglect are at risk for multiple problems in adulthood, including having children of their own with behavioral difficulties. Early treatment offers the best possibility of breaking this cycle. 

Find out how you can provide school supplies in your area, or make a donation that will turn a child’s life around.

Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is May 8 

Childhood Trauma Creates Cycle of Long-term Mental, Behavioral and Physical Health Problems 

Today is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day.  Childhood trauma and behavioral health disorders in children put them at risk for multiple problems in adulthood, including having children of their own with behavioral difficulties. Preventing childhood trauma and early treatment of behavioral health disorders in children offer the possibility of breaking this cycle. Here are some key points:

  • As many as 1 in 5 children in the United States suffers from a mental health disorder.1
  • More than 422,000 children in California live with serious mental health conditions.2
  • One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; three-quarters by age 24.3
  • Early neglect and trauma are strong predictors of various types of difficulties in adulthood, including physical health problems. Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions.4
  • Major behavioral health conditions in a parent – including schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and substance dependence – create a significant risk factor for their children having mental health disorders and other problems.5

Childhood Trauma and Mental Health Disorders

“Trauma” in childhood can mean anything from child abuse or severe neglect, to witnessing violence at home or in the community, to separation from family members and many other types of family crises. Some children experience “complex trauma,” which is exposure to multiple, long-term traumatic events. The youngest children, although unable to verbalize or show it, are often the most affected.

Childhood trauma puts a child at risk for multiple problems in adulthood, including but not limited to

  • Addiction
  • Chronic physical conditions
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Eating disorders
  • Other psychiatric disorders

The earlier the intervention, the better the chances of turning a child’s life around. 

For more information and resources, visit http://emqff.org/childrens-mental-health-awareness-day-may-8/

1    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013
2    Most recent data from Washington, DC: Department of Health and    Human Services, 2000 
3    Kessler, R.C, et al. “Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication,” General Psychiatry, 2005 
4    Colton, C.W. & Manderscheid, R.W. Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy, 2006
5    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012

One Gift. Two Smiles. Double Your Gift this Season.

One of our board members wants to help more children and their families this holiday season and into the New Year. She’s made the extraordinary offer of a matching giving for any donations made – up to $20,000 – through December 31.

In other words, your gift of $100 becomes $200 of holiday food and gifts for two families.

Donations of any size help give a child – perhaps for the first time – a holiday that is warm and joyful, with food on the table. In addition, donations help fund crucial programs that keep families together while they recover from crisis and trauma.

Make the most of your giving this year and donate to EMQ FamiliesFirst. Your donation will double – and kids will know the hope and joy of the holiday season.

Support your Favorite Charities – Give on #GivingTuesday, December 3 

Black Friday discounts…Cyber Monday bargains…what comes next? Giving Tuesday! 

This nationwide movement began last year and is gathering a lot of interest this year. We’re hoping that interest turns into impact as supporters like you kick off the giving season by donating to favorite charities.

Giving Tuesday is a great balance to the last few days of shopping frenzy. And it’s a time to show the value you place on giving back to your community.

Support Giving Tuesday by making a donation and by sharing the message. You can find more on our Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn pages.

Can’t wait? Here’s how you can give today

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill 

Thank You to Our Dedicated Volunteers


From Darrell Evora, President & CEO

It has been said that volunteers don’t just do the work, they make it work. Collectively, they contribute hundreds of hours toward their community’s health through their compassionate work with organizations like ours. Volunteers support our programs and fundraising efforts in countless and priceless ways. 

For example, we’ve estimated that in this past fiscal year ending on June 30, 2013, EMQ FamiliesFirst had approximately 825 volunteers who served over 60,500 hours!


Parents from Larchmont Charter School and Wagon Wheel School held successful Thanksgiving basket food drives to benefit hundreds of Los Angeles children and their families.

Most of the hours were the result of contributions by those who run three stores in Santa Clara County: The Butter Paddle Gift and Gourmet store, the Happy Dragon Thrift Shop, and, celebrating its 20th year, the Unicorn Thrift Shop. Last year’s proceeds from these shops totaled an impressive $750,000 and allowed us to direct resources to children and families in need.

Across the state, many more volunteers support our staff and families in invaluable ways, such as creating a vegetable garden, hosting a holiday party, planning a major fundraising event or gala, painting residential cottages, tutoring after school, or teaching life skills to older teens. 

Our board members and regional board of governors commit their leadership skills to support policy development, fundraising efforts, and outreach to the broader community. 

To say we couldn’t do it without you is an understatement. On behalf of myself, the staff, and, most importantly, the children and their families we serve, we thank you— our volunteers—for your unwavering support and commitment year-round and for your extra effort during the holiday season. You truly “walk the talk” and do whatever it takes to help children and families lead more healthy and productive lives. 

P.S. If you’re in the Bay Area, please shop at our stores! Or learn more about volunteering to help kids in crisis.

Autism Services Launched in Inland Empire

To serve a growing and unmet need in the Inland Empire Region, EMQ FamiliesFirst launched the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) program, accessible to families through private pay and insurance, regional center referrals and local schools. The program opened last week to serve our San Bernardino campus and the community, as well as on-call treatment in Riverside County.  

In 2012, more than 50,000 children ages 3-17 had been diagnosed with ASD in California. In the same year, California passed the Autism Insurance Reform Law requiring that California insurers and health plans cover individuals with autism.  Without insurance coverage for this diagnosis, California families had been forced to pay out of pocket or rely on tax-funded programs for treatment.  In 2014, the Affordable Care Act, which also mandates coverage for autism, will ensure that families have access to affordable insurance options. 

Autism Spectrum Disorder is the fastest growing serious developmental disability in the United States. It affects 1 in every 88 children – in all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups.

“California currently has the highest number of children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, with nearly 30% of those diagnosed placed on a lengthy waitlist for treatment,” said Brian Thomson, executive director, Inland Empire Region. “Following the new California legislation, we are excited to introduce our program and specialized team to San Bernardino and Riverside counties to aid children and families who are in need of immediate treatment.” 

EMQ FamiliesFirst believes that early diagnosis and intervention during the first years of a child’s life can significantly impact long-term prognosis, particularly in the areas of language and social behavior.  The agency uses Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), specifically identified in the California legislation, to treat children and adolescents with ASD. 

EMQ FamiliesFirst works closely with families, primary and specialty care physicians, pediatricians, schools and community agencies to provide and coordinate a continuum of high quality services. 

Billy Engages Peers, Welcomes Hugs

Early Intervention Helps with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Billy was fortunate. His diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) came when he was still a young toddler. His parents had noticed that, unlike other children, he was withdrawn, intensely focused on certain things and his speech was delayed.

Research has shown that early identification and intervention can result in dramatically better outcomes for children with ASD. The sooner the intervention, the sooner symptoms of ASD can be treated and great progress can be made.

“Billy spoke in a very flat tone, he didn’t make eye contact, didn’t show emotion. Interaction with other kids was difficult, and he could not tolerate hugs,” said Connie, Billy’s mom.

The diagnosis answered many of their questions and gave Billy’s family a path for finding help as soon as possible. He was referred to another agency through the Regional Center and received some intensive early-intervention therapy just before he turned two years old.

When Billy aged-out of the early intervention program he was referred to the Autism Spectrum Disorder services provided by EMQ FamiliesFirst.

Using an evidence-based treatment, Pivotal Response Training (PRT), EMQ FamiliesFirst addressed behaviors common in children with ASD, including motivation and responding to multiple clues. Based on Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), PRT has demonstrated positive changes in key behaviors that affect language, play, and social interaction. In addition to building crucial skills, ABA can also help reduce both everyday social problems and serious behavior disorders.

When Billy first met with his behaviorist, Anna, there had been a big change at home – he had a new baby sister – and for a child with ASD, changes to the normal routine can be very upsetting. “He was quiet, not engaging in new things, unhappy and within himself,” said Anna. “He was very focused on his toy trains and easily frustrated when he was asked to do new things.”

“EMQ FamiliesFirst formed a wonderful, caring team that worked with him at home, at his pre-school, and out in public,” said Connie. “They immersed him in typical situations with kids his age.”

Anna quickly learned that reading books and playing with his trains were two of Billy’s favorite things to do. She used this information to make teaching skills more fun for him.

Billy needed a lot of help to manage his anxieties – the loud noises of other kids, among other things. Anna taught him coping skills that he could understand at his age. “We would pretend that he had swallowed a balloon and that he could see it expanding in his stomach. He practiced taking deep breaths to blow up the balloon, and that helped him to calm down when he was feeling anxious,” said Anna.

Transitioning into new situations was a major problem, but once he learned the skills to manage his anxieties, and with repeated exposure, he had time to get comfortable in new situations and continued to make great progress.

“The first therapy Billy received had a very rigid structure. Goals would only be changed on a set schedule – if he mastered something ahead of schedule, he was not encouraged to master the next step until the scheduled time. But, the EMQ FamiliesFirst program allowed the goal to change as soon as Billy mastered something,” continued Connie. “He made much quicker progress that way.”

None of the parents in Billy’s social circle knew of his diagnosis, but all who observed him over the weeks when Anna was working with him noticed his improvements. He was more social and looked happier. He laughs more now, and most importantly, he interacts with other children.

“I really don’t have the words to powerfully describe the difference that EMQ FamiliesFirst made in Billy’s life and our life,” Connie said. “His sentences are becoming conversations, he’s engaging with other kids, and he shows real empathy for other people. They helped my child become more ‘natural,’ and he’s funny now.

“Before, he could not tolerate hugs. Now he’s very affectionate. He even comes and asks for ‘love,’ and we finally get special cuddle time.”

Unflagging Support of Sleep Train Continues


Ever wonder what happens to all those donations collected at all those Sleep Train stores? When you hear those little voices on the radio and the tag line “Not everyone can be a foster parent, but everyone can help a foster child,” do you wonder where all that support and effort really ends up?


Here’s a view of some of the school supplies being shipped over to our Sacramento office to be given directly to children and teens in our programs who otherwise would not have a backpack or basic supplies to start the school year.

What an amazing effort reaching kids in communities throughout California from generous people right in their area who continue to show up and give a dollar, donate a backpack or a pair of shoes. What a fantastic gift Sleep Train continues to give foster kids and other vulnerable children by promoting and organizing a way for people to help out.

Thanks to all who supported the school drive and thanks to Sleep Train!


Pictured: backpacks, school supplies, our Youth Partner, some of the great staff at Sleep Train loading up the truck, and Kayla, with a load of supplies.