A career in counseling and a heart for changing the lives of children has brought Jon O’Keefe to Pinevale Children’s Home.
The home’s new executive director said Pinevale’s mission is very personal.
“I was actually adopted, so my heart’s always been with adopted kids and working with families. When I got my counseling degree that’s where I wanted to focus,” he said.
A Texas native, O’Keefe spent 20 years as a full-time Church of Christ minister and it was through that work he discovered his love of counseling and decided to transition into it as a full-time career.
He quickly developed a love of working with kids and a passion for making a difference. He worked in two other children’s homes as a program director, most recently at Shults-Lewis Child and Family Services in Valparaiso, Ind., before the opportunity came to come to Pinevale as its executive director.
“I hate to see children who have been abused or abandoned. I want to be able to help them be the best they can be because they’ve been dealt a hard hand by the world. If they can have somebody who will help them through life and give them some tools to be the best person they can be in life, then that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
As a faith-based program supported by area churches of Christ which does not take any state or federal funding, Pinevale also offers a unique opportunity to encourage children in their faith.
“I enjoy being able to teach them about God and that God has plans for them,” he said.
O’Keefe said there’s no such thing as a bad child and it’s important to understand what each child has been through in order to know how to reach them.
“You don’t ask what’s wrong with the kids, but what’s happened to them. If you can figure out what’s happened to these kids, a lot of their behaviors, in context, make complete sense,” he said.
The director said once that’s understood, a path can be found to help them change their thinking and their lives.
“You just want to be able to give the kids the best opportunity you can,” he said.
Pinevale currently operates two cottages with a capacity for up to 12 children – six boys and six girls. Renovations are underway on a third cottage that’s expected to open in June allowing them to add six more girls to their capacity. O’Keefe hopes in the next few years to see an additional cottage added as well.
Children are referred to Pinevale from counselors as well as directly from parents and others. He said most come from either adoption situations where early trauma experienced prior to the adoption has begun to result in behavior the adoptive parents aren’t prepared to deal with and need help to address or from grandparents who have taken on the responsibility of raising their grandchildren and are in need of help in caring and supporting the children.
Pinevale employs a full-time licensed counselor and in addition to the residential program also offers individual and family counseling to families within the community.
O’Keefe said their main goal is to reunite families whenever possible and part of that is providing counseling and help not only to the children but to the entire family.
“If we help the children and their issues and they go back into the same environment, we’ve really not done anything, but if we can help the adults and the parents and the grandparents or whatever change their mindset as well then they’re going back into a completely different environment,” he said.
The director is quick to praise the home’s house parents as the heart of the program and said they have an often thankless job as they provide a family structure to children who often have never been in a stable home environment.
“The house parents are the backbone of a children’s home,” he said.
Funding for Pinevale comes from churches of Christ throughout the tri-state area as well as from individuals. Along with financial support, they welcome donations of food and snacks as well. He said he’s been impressed with the support and love people in the area have for the home.
“Everyone seems to know and love Pinevale,” he said.