By ANNA CLAIRE O’CAIN
Canopy Children’s Solutions, based in Jackson, is a nonprofit organization providing a host of interventions for children in all 82 Mississippi counties. CEO Dr. John Damon shares about Canopy and the services they provide — including Canopy’s new school, currently under construction in Ridgeland.
“We have the new school that we’ll be opening in the fall, which is The Canopy School,” he shares. “It’s a school that is for kids with different and diverse learning abilities.” John says that the new Canopy School will be a space to serve children who have been diagnosed with conditions such as dyslexia, autism and ADHD.
Kara White, Canopy’s head of school, shares how the new addition of The Canopy School will provide even more solutions for Mississippi children.
“The Canopy School is such an exciting new solution for both Canopy and the children of Mississippi,” Kara says. “We know that children learn and develop in different ways, and The Canopy School will provide an innovative school environment for children who need an individualized educational solution.”
Kara says that The Canopy School will include small classes with teachers who are specially trained to work with students of varying learning styles. Kara shares that the highly qualified staff at the new school will also provide on-site services such as counseling, dyslexia therapy, speech and occupational therapy, and ABA (applied behavioral analysis) therapy.
Kara says, “I like to describe our school as a ‘one-stop shop’ for parents who are seeking a wide range of educational services to help their children thrive. … We really take a therapeutic approach to education, with the understanding that we have to nurture and place equal emphasis on addressing our students’ academic, social and emotional needs.”
Kara shares why these types of solutions are so greatly needed for Mississippi children. “We know some kids may fall through the cracks,” she says. “The current systems may not have the resources or expertise to identify how each child learns best and provide the necessary learning supports for that child to be successful.”
She continues, “I want to help these children and families by addressing the needs of the whole child — academically, socially and emotionally — in a collaborative environment.” Kara believes that parents, teachers and specialists can all work together to eliminate barriers to student success.
Helping the whole child
In addition to the soon-opening school, Canopy does so much more. John shares that the three main areas of services provided by Canopy include “behavioral health, social service, and education solutions” for children all across the state. “We have about 15 offices around the state (and) each of those offices goes into the homes with community-based services,” he says.
“You can think of our solutions in three big buckets. (First) we have behavioral health solutions (where) we have traditional outpatient clinics in Jackson, Gulfport and Hattiesburg.” John also notes that Canopy has a psychiatric residential treatment facility known as the CARES Center, where children with more intense needs can receive 24-hour care and help for trauma they’ve experienced.
“In addition to the CARES Center, Canopy also offers a variety of community-based solutions,” John says. “We have community-based mental health wraparound solutions that are in all 82 counties where we go in the homes for kids who need intense mental health solutions.” He explains, “we take those (solutions) into their own home and community.”
Another part of Canopy’s behavioral health solutions includes services for those who have been diagnosed with autism. “We have an autism early intervention center of excellence, and we help kids that are neurodiverse (and who are) diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.”
John shares that the second big “bucket” at Canopy is their education solutions. In addition to The Canopy School, “we offer CARES schools for children who aren’t functioning well in their local public school and have a special education ruling and they’re referred out.” He continues, “those kids can come to our school for a season and then as they’re performing well, go back to their home school and reintegrate back into their local school district.”
John shares about the third main way that Canopy provides solutions: “The third bucket is our social service solutions,” he says. “That starts with what began our organization in 1912 —adoption. We’ve done (more than) 7,000 adoptions in our history.” John says that Canopy provides adoption and maternity services and therapeutic foster care where they recruit, train and license therapeutic foster families.
John notes another service that Canopy provides is known as family preservation and reunification, a process in which alleged abuse or neglect (to children) is reported and investigated. “We are tasked to go into the home and work with that family to see if we can keep that kid and family together,” he says. “We have a 97 to 98 percent success rate of keeping them together. (We’ve) diverted about 5,000 kids since 2019 from entering the state system through that one program.”
John praises the Canopy staff for such tremendous accomplishments: “Our staff are just heroes — they’re amazing.”
John continues by sharing about more services that Canopy provides through their bucket of social service solutions: “We’ve got statewide family support services that we have across the state (and) our link program that is connecting families with the resources they need to prevent that call from happening to the state for abuse and neglect.”
He continues, “we also have a child advocacy center in Gulfport and Pascagoula.” The child advocacy center allows the space for professionals to conduct forensic interviews for children following abuse. Once their story is told to a trained interviewer and clinician, their account can be taken to court to prosecute the offender and connect the child with the services they need.
John shares an additional solution provided by Canopy for children in need: “We have a children’s shelter in Vicksburg that’s for kids who may be taken out of the home in the middle of the night due to abuse or neglect. … They have a psychologist and a physician who will conduct evaluations and make sure they’re okay and find out what the next step in their life is going to be.”
Working and serving by faith
Kara says that faith, hard work, and the passion to help others is what allows her and the staff at Canopy to meet the unique needs of the children whom they serve. In her case, “The Canopy School has been a labor of love for me and so many others who have held strong to the belief that there was an unmet need in our community for a school for students with diverse learning needs.”
She continues, “I’ve long believed that God will place opportunities in our lives if we are willing to put in the work, and this school is a perfect example.”
Kara also shares that she has been blessed with a group of like-minded educators and community stakeholders who share her commitment to providing quality services to students. “Having worked with students who learn differently for most of my career, I place a strong emphasis on understanding and valuing the differences that make students who they are,” she says. “This is a core value at Canopy: Relationships matter, and our differences make us stronger.
“I’ve always said that while success looks different for every child, every child can be a success story if we can help them uncover their talents and use those for good.
For more information about Canopy Children’s Solutions, call 601.352.7784 or visit mycanopy.org.
Anna Claire O’Cain is a Scott County native, former English teacher, and current grad student in the clinical mental health counseling program at Liberty University. She is married to her best friend, J.T., who is a teacher and youth pastor. Most of all, she is a believer who is passionate about serving God through missions and worship. Through MCL, she is able to use her love for writing to serve the Lord in a new way.