ASK Family Services (ASK) is a non-profit (501c3) organization dedicated to supporting families and youth with mental health or developmental challenges. Through collaboration with families and community partners, we strive to guide services in Kalamazoo County to be more family-driven, youth-guided, and culturally competent.
We believe that the support that comes from someone who has ‘been there’, and who can personally relate to the obstacles, frustrations, joys, and celebrations of raising a child is often extremely valuable to families and youth. As parents of children with developmental, mood, behavioral, and emotional disorders themselves, our Family Support Partners draw from personal experience and perspective to empower families. As young adults with lived experiences with mental health challenges ourselves, our Transition Peer Support Specialists and our Youth Peer Support Specialists empower youth to achieve goals important to them by sharing their stories of discovery and recovery.
ASK offers opportunities for youth with emotional, behavioral, and mood disorders to be empowered to impact youth services locally, within the state of Michigan, and nationally through our Calling All Youth, Motivating Others through Voices of Experience (C.A.Y. M.O.V.E.) program. This service is available to high school aged youth in Kalamazoo County who want to speak up and be heard by adults, teachers, governmental agencies, therapists, counselors, juvenile justice, schools, and other authority figures in their life.
ASK offers a variety of support groups, skill-building groups, parent trainings, Sibshops, youth and family leadership opportunities, and other trainings focused on topics affecting Kalamazoo County’s youth and families. ASK offers any of these opportunities to the entire community. Parents who are interested in using their voice to elicit change, have the opportunity to use their experiences and knowledge to impact the services offered to youth and families through membership in our Parent Advisory Group. Staff, youth, and families who have faced adversity and stigma regarding mental and developmental challenges use these experiences to educate the Kalamazoo community through various stigma-reducing events and activities. At ASK, we believe that with hope, strength, and our experiences, we can mold our community into a place where diverse individuals are included, embraced, and valued for their strengths.
On October 1, 2017, Advocacy Services for Kids and Parent to Parent of Southwest Michigan officially merged creating a new organization, ASK Family Services. Both organizations had similar missions to empower youth and families to achieve their fullest potential. Through the merger of the two agencies, ASK Family Services has been able to reach and provide services to more families and youth in the Kalamazoo community using a more intentional and focused approach.
In 1998, Parent to Parent of Southwest Michigan started providing support to families of children with special needs under the umbrella of The Arc Community Advocates. In 2004, they became an independent 501(c)3 and began to grow as an organization. At that time, they offered services primarily utilizing the national Parent to Parent USA Parent Mentoring model that focused on using parent volunteers to support each other through the challenges they faced caring for a child with special needs. In addition, they offered the community a hands-on “Sensory Classroom” that allowed participants to directly experience how individuals may be affected by overstimulating environments in various settings. They began offering the national Sibshops model to children of siblings with special needs as a way to support the entire family in a safe peer environment. Around 2013, they began providing Family Support Partner services as a Medicaid billable service through a contract with Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (KCMHSAS).
Advocacy Services for Kids began in 2004 when a group of individuals with ties to the local chapter of the Michigan Association for Children with Emotional Disorders (MACED) decided they would like local control over policies and fundraising. They were tasked with providing a resource to families in need of guidance and support, serve as a bridge to systems including Mental Health; Juvenile Justice; Education; and Child Welfare, and received a very large increase in funding to serve as the family-serving organization in Kalamazoo County through a SAMHSA grant in 2005 awarded to KCMHSAS. Through time, they were able to build infrastructure to begin offering the community Family Support Partner services, a local Youth M.O.V.E chapter and Parent and Youth Advisory groups. Though the SAMHSA grant ended in September of 2010, Advocacy Services for Kids maintained strong relationships with its system of care partners and continued to expand programs and services that allowed families to provide the best support for their children. In 2015, KCMHSAS received another SAMHSA grant to expand the system of care in Kalamazoo. Advocacy Services for Kids was able to begin providing Youth Peer Support and to expand the Family Support Partner services through this grant expanding youth and family voice.
As a new and stronger organization, ASK Family Services updated their mission and core values to better reflect the new and improved agency culture. A strategic plan was created to help guide our services. In 2018, ASK Family Services began a new five-year grant through KCMHSAS to provide Transition Peer Support services utilizing the Transition to Independence (TIP) model. In addition, we began providing Family Care Coordination or Case Management services to families involved in the system of care in Kalamazoo. As ASK Family Services continues to grow and expand our services into the future, the focus will continue to remain on helping families and youth obtain resources, understand how to navigate needed services, and empowering them to use their voice and knowledge to achieve outcomes important to them.