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Rapid City native takes reins at Wellspring
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Rapid City native takes reins at Wellspring

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Jessica Olson sees her new job as director of Wellspring as the perfect "philosophical match."

Wellspring, a Rapid City program that provides mental/emotional health and substance abuse services for youth, brought Olson on board about three months ago. She replaced the organization's first and only director up until now, Jay Van Hunnik. Van Hunnik retired last year.

A Rapid City native, Olson said she was immediately struck at how the organization's attitudes and her own align when it comes to helping kids within the framework of their families and communities. She recalls staff members telling her at their first meeting that their jobs were "changing lives."

"The people who work at Wellspring do incredible, challenging work every day," she said. "I think it's because they know they are part of this life-changing experience."

Olson, 28, graduated from Rapid City Stevens High School in 2003 and earned her degree in English at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. While a student at Dartmouth, Olson started a nonprofit youth trauma program on campus. The program helped returning military veterans as well as victims of childhood abuse and sexual assault.

That experience planted a seed in Olson's professional aspirations. Though her first official job wasn't in youth services, she found that she spent all of her free time volunteering in such programs. She decided to return to school, earning her master's in health administration.

Last year, she found Wellspring right in her hometown. "I feel like it was very serendipitous," she said.

Wellspring was founded 23 years ago by Rapid City psychiatrist Stephen Manlove, local judge Marshall Young and attorney Al Scovel. The program has remained locally operated ever since, serving more than 15,000 children and their families so far.

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Wellspring embraces a family-focused approach, striving to give youths and their families the tools and coping skills they need to lead a productive, fulfilling life long after treatment ends, Olson said. Wellspring provides services for children ages 10 to 17 through various programs, including an in-patient facility for girls. Olson said Wellspring is exploring opening an in-patient program for boys as well. Until recently, another organization operated a boys in-patient facility, Olson said. With its closure, the need for a replacement is there, she said.

The organization also offers out-patient after-school programs, counseling and opportunities for children to participate in service projects for their community. Last year, more than 600 children benefited from the programs, Olson said.

In December, Wellspring adopted a new logo to go along with its new director. Created by a young girl helped by Wellspring, it features the word Wellspring with flowers and butterflies adorning the W. Along with it, a new motto was born — "Be safe, Be strong, Be well."

Beginning this year, Wellspring's staff also developed a guest lecture series. The goal of the series is twofold. It brings community members into Wellspring, giving them a look at the work being done there. At the same time, it allows Wellspring kids to explore careers. "We're looking for every range of professions," she said.

Beth Lytle, a local artist, opted for a hands-on approach in her recent guest lecture. The children, at her instruction, created artwork using various media. Some of the student creations were printed on thank you cards presented at last week's annual We Believe in Kids banquet, a Wellspring fundraiser dinner.

Lytle said her lecture was as much art therapy as it was a professional learning experience for the children. "I kept telling them, 'There are no mistakes,'" she said. "It was great."

Lytle hopes her presentation not only exposed the children to her profession, but demonstrated a healthy way for anyone to decompress and manage stress, which is a cornerstone of Wellspring's mission. "It's not just your careers, but how else do you spend your time," she said.

Olson encourages anyone interested in seeing what Wellspring is all about to consider being part of the series. "We want the community to come in and experience these life-changing moments with these kids," she said.

The new logo, motto and series aren't the only new things that have arrived with Olson. She and a graduate of the Wellspring programs, a high school senior, are now in the process of creating a mentorship program. The girl, who is successfully living on her own while finishing high school, wants to give back to children through the program that helped her through a tough time, Olson said.

That kind of passion for the mission is typical at Wellspring and, in this case, beyond, she said. "We want them to have successful futures."

Contact Lynn Taylor Rick at 394-8414 or lynn.taylorrick@rapidcityjournal.com

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