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A ‘Little Angel on Your Shoulder’ Helps Families Find Their Strength

Life can be challenging, and it’s easy for families to get overwhelmed when chaos surrounds them. Often, it can be difficult to just approach a situation, let alone solve a problem or make the necessary changes.

That’s why LSS CARES Wraparound Services was created. CARES Wraparound is an early-intervention service that coordinates care based on the family’s strengths and needs.

The goal-setting, resources and accountability provided by LSS were exactly what Erin and Cory’s family needed recently.

When Erin’s son, Wesley, was 4 years old, he started showing signs of autism. Coupled with frequent trips to the hospital for intestinal issues, the diagnosis couldn’t have come at a more difficult time.

2018 was a year of upheaval for Erin. She had just transferred to a new role at a local grocery store after moving to Sioux Falls only a few years earlier. A budding-but-challenging relationship with Cory, her future husband, had just started. Then, her dad passed away. And now, even with help from her mother, she was solo parenting a child with autism and trying to keep herself together.

Depression, anxiety and an increasing sense of hopelessness took hold.

“I was not in the mood to deal with anyone,” Erin said.

It’s the kind of personal trouble that might sound familiar to many. And what could have come next could have been a cautionary tale with a sad or even horrific ending.

Instead, Erin and Cory were directed to LSS and its new LSS CARES Wraparound Services. And through goal-setting, accountability and a lot of work, they are now on a path to “stability so we can prosper,” Erin said.

‘It was chaos’

After six years in the Army National Guard, Cory was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and given medical discharge from his service. Originally from the Hinton, Iowa area, he moved to Sioux Falls and began working as a cook at a local grocery store.

Cory had two children of his own, who he was co-parenting with their mother. Juggling work, parenting and his medication was taking a toll.

When a new co-worker, Erin, came into his life, he wasn’t exactly in the best space to be starting a relationship.

“It was chaos,” Cory said. He had just spent a night in jail over a misunderstanding with his kids’ mom and was living out of his truck. “I was miserable.”

But annoyance led to finding common ground as parents, which led to hanging out. And the next thing Cory and Erin knew, they were moving in together.

Looking for help through hardship

Fast-forward three years, and Erin and Cory still had each other, but neither felt they were getting better. The pressures of the pandemic weren’t helping.

Wesley was having continued health issues and had to have a gastrostomy tube installed to deliver the medicine he needed. He was spending a lot of time with grandparents while Erin was working through her challenges. Cory’s children also were spending time with their grandparents while they were out of school.

Cory was experiencing severe depression. Erin felt suicidal and spent some time at Avera Behavioral Health.

Individually, and as a family, they were in desperate need of help.

‘They actually, genuinely cared’

Wesley also was seeing a therapist at school, and after a session, the counselor told Erin they could help Wesley, but it sounded like the whole family could use support. LSS and its new CARES Wraparound Services was suggested. From basic goal-setting and skill development to partnering with other providers and resources, ensuring that the family’s voice is heard is at the center of the plan.

“They actually, genuinely cared,” Cory said about starting with the program in April.

CARES Wraparound started with small goals for Erin and Cory — things like making an appointment or getting laundry done. That advanced to a week-by-week plan for everything from work to groceries and then monthly objectives. Sprinkle in daily contact through texts or calls, and being in the Wraparound program has felt like having an organized hype man in your corner, Cory said.

“It’s kind of that little angel on your shoulder,” he said. “It’s just kind of that person beside you saying ‘OK, I know you don’t want to do this, but hey, we talked about it, and we need to do it!’”

Challenges still remain, but the support of CARES Wraparound Services, along with help from Erin’s mom and stepdad, have set Erin and Cory’s family down a path toward stability and success.

“There is no way to feel better about the situation until you take that leap and do something scary,” Erin said. “It seems like they always have whatever you need. They know someone, or they have resources for the help.”

“The anxiety I felt before we started was suffocating,” she continued. “The unknown is scary, but it’s awesome to find help.”

CARES Wraparound is an evidenced-based, strength-based and family-centered model that reaches families before stressors they experience lead to child welfare or juvenile justice involvement. Referrals are made through school social workers or counselors.

An LSS CARES Wraparound team member will contact families after a referral is made to set up an introductory meeting for them to learn more about CARES Wraparound Services. Families have the choice to enroll, and there is no obligation to participate.

Email LSS CARES Wraparound Services at or call 605-403-8038 for information or to find out if CARES Wraparound Services are available in your community.

LSS CARES Wraparound Services is made possible through a grant from Lutheran Services in America and is a part of Lutheran Service in America’s Family Stabilization Initiative.