By Lilly Price | Reporter
Talitha Koum, an “early childhood mental health therapeutic nurture center,” has been serving impoverished, trauma-affected children since its opening in 1999. It began with CrossTies Ecumenical Church, located in the Kate Ross neighborhood, an area of East Waco with copious amounts of subsidized housing.
Talitha Koum’s executive director, Susan Cowley, who has played many roles in the organization since its creation, said that the church’s early programs led to its inspiration for Talitha Koum.
“We had the Gospel Cafe ministry; it became sort of the neighborhood living room because we served meals three days a week,” Cowley said. “We watched families and babies come and go, and how parents were with their children and we started a youth group … We got very discouraged because we were burying more teenagers than we were seeing graduate from high school.”
The church staff saw that the children in their community weren’t succeeding in public school, so they searched for solutions.
“We went down the street to Sul Ross Elementary School and we said, ‘What’s your No. 1 problem with an entering kindergartener?’ We thought we knew what she would say … but she looked straight at us and she said, ‘Their mental health is shot and they can’t learn.’ I was kind of devastated because what she was saying is it’s too late,” Cowley said.
Cowley said it was a visit to Dr. Keith Warren, a child psychologist in Waco, that prompted the idea for a mental health therapeutic nursery. He specified that they shouldn’t start working with children at age two, but rather prioritize the conception to two-year-old range.
“He basically told us to do something no one in Texas is doing and no one wants to do,” Cowley said. “And I thought well, God doesn’t call us to something easy or simple, or you don’t need faith to do this.”
In January 2003, two classrooms opened, and the children who attended are now graduating and going to college. Since then, Talitha Koum has expanded and now serves 30 children in three classrooms, as well as many additional students, through its mentoring program. In turn, Baylor students have the opportunity to serve and enrich the lives of these children.
Denver senior Nicole Honnen, a psychology major, started volunteering with Talitha Koum in the spring of 2018. She said she has seen great personal growth and discovery through work at the organization.
“Talitha Koum has had an enormous impact on my worldview as well as my professional goals,” Honnen said. “Working with this fantastic organization has helped me realize that I want to pursue a graduate level clinical psychology degree specializing in child and family therapy with underserved multicultural populations.”
Cowley said she could not emphasize enough the importance that Baylor has had in running Talitha Koum.
“You have a wealth in your faculty, in your administration, in the kinds of community-giving Baylor does, the things that make possible even the ability to dream bigger,” Cowley said. “The lovely thing is to watch students catch a glimpse of what could be of trauma-affected children and say, ‘I want to be a part of that in a way that transforms lives.’”
Honnen said that for her, the results are empowering.
“Talitha Koum is an organization that the greater Waco community and Baylor need to be aware of because they are radically changing the course of lives mere minutes from Baylor’s campus,” Honnen said. “Without the support and enriching learning environment of Talitha Koum, the trajectory of many children growing up in the Waco area would be drastically different … I can not think of a cause more worthy of positive attention, volunteers and donations to keep their doors open.”