Carrying on a Legacy: Supporting Student and Staff Success at Behavioral Health Associates in Pennsylvania

March 19, 2024
Behavioral health professional holding hands.

CPI has over 42,000 Certified Instructors around the world. Their passion and commitment to our mission help show the world that by combining the right skills with dignity and respect, you can create a sense of well-being throughout the workplace and beyond. And their selfless desire to serve is indicative of their intrinsic desire to make a positive difference in the world.

Take Executive Director and former Certified Instructor Joe Trimmel and his daughter Jillian Horton, chief mental health officer and current Certified Instructor. The father-daughter duo both work for Behavioral Health Associates (BHA) in Pennsylvania, an organization Trimmel co-founded in 1998. The organization now operates seven schools, each of which has a mental health component built into the educational system.

BHA was created to address the need for better mental health services in the Pennsylvania educational system, especially for students living with developmental or behavioural challenges. When BHA opened in 1998, Trimmel realized that CPI’s mission and training seamlessly complemented the mission of BHA. Now, nearly 30 years later, his daughter Jillian has become the organization’s Certified Instructor, carrying on the legacy her father started.

The commitment Joe Trimmel, Jillian Horton, and all BHA staff have to the mission of their organization and the values of CPI have helped create an environment where students are successful, staff are well-prepared, and the legacy of serving others is carried on for years to come.

How the Shared Values of CPI and BHA Support Student Success

CPI is dedicated to changing behaviours and reducing conflict for the Care, Welfare, Safety, and SecuritySM of everyone. This perfectly aligns with the mission of BHA: to create an environment where students feel safe, valued, connected, and secure.

The BHA mission is deeply impactful for the students, many of whom live with developmental and behavioural challenges. As Trimmel explained, “Kids need to be accepted in their classroom, but because of their behaviour or their inability to learn in a traditional classroom, they’ve felt rejection and anger.”

When students arrive at BHA schools, “they come in resenting school systems,” according to Trimmel. “But those are the first barriers that break down when they come to BHA, and they see the commitment of our staff.”

Horton expanded on this: “It is so important for all the kids that come before us, that we talk about what is driving their behaviour. We know that they are dealing with so much other stuff, but at the end of the day, we can have a positive impact. We can be the one who is consistent in what we are presenting them with.”

That ability to remain consistent comes, in part, from regular CPI training. Horton shared, “I usually teach about one CPI class per month for new staff. There are so many parts I talk about as being my favorite. I review things like nonverbal communication with kids, and I also love the idea of understanding Precipitating Factors. It is all baked in together. CPI and BHA go hand in hand. A lot of the success happens when a kid recognizes these staff are actually there to listen to them.”

Trimmel expressed the value of having an organization centered on supporting the needs of these students, “If there is one kid’s life that a staff person can change in their entire career, look at the value of that. One kid. If everyone can change the life of one kid, that changes how they treat their families and down and down. The impact of that is amazing.”

How the Shared Values of CPI and BHA Empower Staff

Supporting students living with developmental and behavioural challenges is not easy work. “It takes a very specialized staff person to work in this environment,” Trimmel explained. It requires that staff have the appropriate skills and support to do the work.

“We train all our staff in CPI because we believe that whatever interactions they’re having with our students or their parents, CPI can be an effective tool to deal with any sort of conflict that arises.”

These tools include understanding concepts such as:

  • Rational Detachment
  • Implicit bias
  • The CPI Crisis Development ModelSM
  • The CPI Decision-Making MatrixSM

Together, these topics help staff remain consistent in the kind of care they provide for students. It’s also something students notice. “The kids give staff props because they see this is an adult acting differently than what they are used to,” Trimmel explained. “I think this is what CPI training does—it gives you a framework you can use to stay in the moment.”

As students begin to develop trust with staff, it enables true success to take place. “There is so much going on that is positive with these kids and their staff connections. The payoff is when the parents come in for review meetings and see that their child has found success here.”

How the Shared Values of CPI and BHA Support the Legacy of Serving Those in Need

As BHA has grown, “we’ve transitioned to fill a lot of niches in education and mental health services,” Trimmel shared. This has allowed BHA to serve hundreds of students in Pennsylvania. Trimmel and Horton want to ensure this can continue for years to come.

“Right now, I’m really interested in the way systems work and how the mental health and educational systems interact,” Horton shared. “I’m interested in how they can best work together to continue to provide the best support for these kids.”

As part of understanding this connection, Horton now serves as one of BHA’s Certified Instructors, taking over the position her father had originally held. This succession is special to both Trimmel and Horton. Horton expressed, “At this point in my life, in my career, it is something that I find to be positive and heartwarming. It is nice to feel like I am carrying on his legacy.”

Jillian Horton, chief mental health officer at Behavioral Health Associates.

Earning the title of Certified Instructor has helped provide thousands of people with the tools needed to not just make a difference at work but in the world as well. Trimmel explained, “The CPI de-escalation skills are things we use daily in our lives without even thinking about it because it’s just so inherent to our personalities and our careers. If you want to get better at interacting with people in a positive fashion, the more tools you have, the better. And CPI is a great tool to have.”

Horton and Trimmel’s shared passion for CPI has also made a lasting impact on BHA students. “When you’ve been in the field as long as I have, you occasionally bump into someone at a restaurant,” Trimmel shared. “I might not recognize them, but they recognize me, and they start telling me a story about a time when I said something that helped them. Often, I don’t even remember what I said, but in talking with them, it is obvious that what we did [at BHA] helped make a difference in their lives.”

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