(June 14, 2018) Catherine Read interviews Debbie Alexander, Director of Development for The Phillips Programs. For the past 50 years Phillips has served the needs of individuals with emotional and behavioral problems and their families through education, family support services, community education and advocacy. Phillips is a private non-profit organization that serves the needs of over 500 children and their families in the Washington, DC area across four campuses in Virginia and Maryland. They strive to help children where others could not, by individualizing a plan for each student so they can become independent, young adults.
Alexander shares that children are referred to their program when they are unable to thrive in their school environment. There is no typical profile for a Phillips student, but many have experienced trauma in one form or another. Perhaps they have difficulty communicating or engaging with other students or their teachers, and because of this the student acts out or misbehaves which interferes with the learning cycle. At Phillips, the educators and therapists develop a wholly personalized plan for learning that addresses the obstacles each student faces, and comes up with a plan to overcome the obstacles. With small class sizes of 9 students per classroom, this becomes a realistic goal. Additionally, Phillips runs programs to encourage families to stay together, as the stress of a child with disabilities can often tear families apart. Phillips offers home and community based counseling, behavior consultation and family support.
As the organization has evolved over the past 50 years, Phillips has taken on the role of not only educating their students, but also preparing the students for a world where they can work and become independent. The Career Partners Program was implemented two years ago, and is now thriving. Phillips established a culinary program which includes a commercial kitchen and a vertical garden at their Laurel location, a 3-D design and print program at their Annandale location, and a building trades program at the Fairfax school. The concept is that they are giving their students marketable skills in order to enter the workforce. Alexander specifically highlighted the building trades program, where students just completed their first home that they designed and built all on their own. The home sold for $585,000 and took four years to complete.
As she mentioned earlier in the interview, there is no “typical” student in the Phillips program. Students are generally referred to Phillips by the public school system, if the student struggles to thrive in a mainstream environment. Access to information and resources can be difficult to come by for parents who are looking for help, so the Phillips Program is re-vamping their website to include more information and become more accessible to parents.
The main message that Alexander wants to share is that the Phillips Program gives hope to children and families, while focusing on the children’s abilities and highlighting their strengths. For example, the 3-D printing program, which operates as a partner of the Youthquest Foundation, is a great fit for students with autism. This type of work is ideally suited for people on the autism spectrum because it includes a number of repetitive tasks. The Youthquest representatives noted that the Phillips students produced the most sophisticated and complex work on the 3-D printer that they had seen to date.
The Phillips program is a non-profit and operates on the donations of its generous benefactors. Each April they hold a gala, and in May they organize a 5K run. Alexander encourages those in the community to support this valuable asset in the community. You can donate online to support some of the most vulnerable children in our community and give them a chance to thrive and grow up to be independent members of society.