Counseling programs help those in need, on and off campus
In the rural Virginia community of Bremo Bluff where S. Stuart Flanagan grew up, his parents named their family home “Wayside.”
“The idea was — as my mom would say — to live by the side of the road and be a friend of man,” he says. “That’s your job as a human being, to help people.”
Flanagan, a professor emeritus who taught mathematics education at William & Mary for almost three decades, is putting that principle into practice through a new $2 million gift to the School of Education. The funds will support graduate students working in the New Horizons Family Counseling Center, which assists families of students in Williamsburg and surrounding area public schools who are facing difficult times, and the New Leaf Clinic, which provides counseling to William & Mary students and other community members struggling with the effects of substance abuse.
“Over the last 10 years, we’re just getting away from thinking someone who has these problems is some social misfit, not a person with a serious disease,” Flanagan says. “We’ve still got a long way to go.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the opioid epidemic caused nearly 400,000 overdose deaths in the United States from 1999 to 2017 — an average of 130 people per day. Research also shows a strong connection between drug abuse and imprisonment, with an estimated 65 percent of the U.S. prison population having a substance use disorder.
In previous contributions to William & Mary, Flanagan has given more than $600,000 dedicated to scholarships in the School of Education, with most designated for students serving the New Horizons Center.
His latest gift increases the funds available for doctoral and master’s level students working in the school’s two clinics through scholarships, assistantships and stipends. It also brings together the New Horizons Family Counseling Center and the New Leaf Clinic under an umbrella organization called the Flanagan Counselor Education Clinic.
“This will help us be more competitive in terms of recruiting the top students,” says Spencer G. Niles, dean of the William & Mary School of Education. “It also will help us ensure that the clinic has sufficient counseling support.”
Charles “Rip” McAdams, a professor of counselor education and faculty co-director of the New Horizons Family Counseling Center with professor Victoria Foster, says that while the School of Education has been able to offer a limited number of graduate assistantships for doctoral students who oversee the clinics, there has never been financial support for master’s program students who provide a significant portion of the clinical services.
As a result, it’s been a challenge to keep both clinics staffed sufficiently to keep up with demands for their services. Fewer graduate students working in the clinics means longer waiting lists and a reduced number of clients being seen, McAdams says. The clinics also have lacked funds to pay for the graduate students’ travel costs when they see clients at public schools and at the regional jail.
He says that the new support from Flanagan’s endowment will allow the school to offer financial support to all of the clinic’s graduate student counselors, making William & Mary more competitive with other schools. Additionally, there would be more funds available to reimburse doctoral students for their supervisory and leadership roles at the clinics, beyond the support they currently receive.
Finding graduate students who want to work in addiction counseling as a specialty has proven especially difficult.
“While addictions counseling is in high demand, it's a very difficult area to work in,” McAdams says. “There's a high reoccurrence rate and it can be very frustrating. We think that financial support will help make people more interested in pursuing it.”
Flanagan says he became aware of the clinics’ needs and their impact in the William & Mary community and beyond through a friendship he developed with McAdams and Foster. He was impressed that the clinics serve over 600 people each year, with services provided free to families through New Horizons and to William & Mary students and community members through New Leaf.
“Where can you have an opportunity to provide scholarships and stipends to students that are immediately going to have an effect on local students and families, and on campus helping students?” Flanagan says. “You just don’t get that opportunity very often.”
Being able to work with the families of grade-school students was part of what attracted J. Richelle Joe Ph.D. ’15 to William & Mary’s program. Now an assistant professor of counselor education at the University of Central Florida, Joe was one of the doctoral student co-directors at the New Horizons Clinic. Before entering William & Mary’s program, she had worked as a school counselor in Chesapeake, Virginia, but she felt limited in being able to address issues that affect children.
“Through New Horizons Clinic, I was able to see the whole family system, see how families interact, how they structure themselves and what communication looks like within the family unit,” Joe says. “To be able to work in the clinic and have that experience and know that families were benefiting was very worthwhile.
“It’s an experience I likely wouldn’t have had at any other university,” she adds. “New Horizons is very unique, the way that it’s structured and the volume of services that it provides to families specifically.”
Bringing New Horizons and New Leaf under the Flanagan Counselor Education Clinic fits with an effort to promote coordination between the programs, with a new faculty clinical director, Rebecca Sheffield, managing their day-to-day operations.
“If we can include families in addictions treatment, then the chances of treatment outcomes sticking is much better,” McAdams says.
For Flanagan, the new name for the combined clinic also offers a way to honor his late parents, Robert Hugh Flanagan Sr. and Helen Crutchfield Flanagan, and their legacy of giving to the community.
“My mother played the organ and directed the church choir and assisted with Red Cross activities,” he says. “My father led his local Masonic Lodge and had a passion for helping others. He raised three gardens to give food to people who didn’t have much. When you grow up like that, you learn that life is not about just you, but others as well.”
Editor’s note: Since campus buildings closed to the public in March as part of the statewide effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, both clinics have continued offering telehealth services to clients. In addition, an online peer support group for William & Mary’s international students formed through a partnership between New Leaf Clinic and the Reves Center for International Studies. “The current health crisis has understandably resulted in substantial challenges for individuals and families, and we are pleased that the clinics are open and available to assist them at this difficult time,” says Charles “Rip” McAdams, professor of counselor education and faculty co-director of the New Horizons Family Counseling Center.