'Miss Gail,' longtime Milano House volunteer, wins advocacy award at Burrell's Youth Mental Health Conference
Over two decades, Gail Thompson has volunteered with nearly 20 youths, taking them on skill-building social excursions and spending invaluable time together at the Milano House as well.
Nov. 17, 2023
When it came time to nominate someone for the Youth Mental Health Advocate Award this fall, Mitra Pedram considered Gail Thompson a shoo-in.
“There was no doubt in my mind that the person I was thinking of was deserving of the Youth Mental Health Advocate of the Year Award,” Pedram, the Burrell Behavioral Health Director of Youth Residential Services and Behavioral Crisis Center, said during the 2023 Burrell Youth Mental Health Conference. “And that is because we don’t have a Youth Mental Health Advocate of the Last Two Decades Award.”
Since 2003, Thompson has worked with Burrell’s multidisciplinary team at the Milano House to pair “Miss Gail” with a youth receiving intensive care at the residential treatment facility in Nixa. While receiving professional treatment and care, Pedram said the 13- to 17-year-olds at Milano benefit from having family or guardians to practice social skills with. But some of the teens at Milano didn’t have those opportunities.
That’s where Miss Gail came in.
Over two decades, she has volunteered with nearly 20 youths, taking them on skill-building social excursions and spending invaluable time together at the Milano House as well.
Thompson was sitting front-and-center at the Youth Mental Health Conference on Nov. 13, but she was unaware she was receiving the award until Pedram noted that the winner was a Milano House volunteer. Thompson, Milano’s only volunteer guardian, began to tear up.
It’s an honor her family, who snuck in the Glendalough Convention Center over the lunch hour to join the celebration, said she was beyond deserving of. Before she began volunteering to take Milano youths under her wing, Thompson first delivered Christmas gifts to youths in Milano care starting in 1997. Over the years, her contributions expanded to Easter baskets, Halloween candy, back-to-school supplies and more. On the morning of the Youth Mental Health Conference, she first stopped by Milano to drop off pillows.
Thompson, in her acceptance remarks, said Milano gave her and her family more than she could ever give them. Her son, Andy, received care there in the early 1990s.
“At one of the lowest times in my family, we needed help,” she said. “And we got that help from Milano House. My son was there. “For a year and a half, he was alive. I had my son. Milano House gave my boy back to me. It was when he died when I started taking Christmas presents to the house.”
The multidisciplinary team of Burrell professionals who address Milano youths’ needs include psychiatrists, nurses, therapists and case managers. When Burrell team members are teaching Milano clients new skills, they need a space to practice them. Often that’s a home environment or over a meal with a loved one.
“Not all of the youth we’ve served at Milano had that home environment or had those supportive adults,” Pedram said. Thompson has become that for those youths, she said.
Thompson had been invited to the conference by Jordan Campbell, Youth Residential Program Clinical Coordinator, as her guest. Together, they joined over 200 teachers, counselors, school-based specialists and other professionals who came to Springfield to learn about best practices and share success stories as they work to address the youth mental health crisis. Thompson sat at a table near the main stage as keynote speaker Josh Shipp told the full convention center that a researched-based key to success in a child’s life is at least one caring adult in their corner.
Pedram said Thompson has been “the embodiment of that one person.”
“The impact that she has had on those youths is immeasurable,” Pedram said. “She’s still in touch with many of those youths.”
Thompson, after she was honored, said one of those former Milano residents recently ran up to her at a Walmart and hugged her. During her acceptance speech, after waiving to her husband, daughter, grandson and close friends, Thompson said she’d gained sons and daughters from her work at Milano, and vowed to continue it.
“You guys, you do really, really good work,” Thompson said, addressing all the conference attendees who work with youths. “There are people out there like me who you have helped who appreciate you. I will never, ever be able to repay Milano for what they gave me, but it has come from the heart.”
Milano House is Burrell’s youth psychiatric residential treatment facility for ages 13 to 17.9. Milano provides trauma-informed care utilizing Person Brain Model, DBT skills groups, and trauma-based treatment modalities in a homelike setting. Youth at Milano typically attend school in-person at Nixa Public School District. Milano’s multidisciplinary team’s treatment includes psychiatry, therapy, nursing, case management, education, Person Brain based therapeutic programming, and high levels of family engagement. This residential treatment program is individualized and may last between three and nine months, with six months being an average length of treatment.