Kelly Graves, 42, Child and Family Advocate
For over a decade, Dr. Kelly Graves had a tenured professor job that allowed her to do much of the work she loved. But her friend Lindy Beauregard, a tireless child and family advocate who worked with Kelly on Greensboro’s Child Response Initiative, saw something bigger in Kelly’s future.
That something bigger was the Kellin Foundation. Kellin services more than 10,000 children and adults a year in behavioral health and victim advocacy services, holding the hands of some of Greensboro’s most vulnerable residents through the most difficult circumstances.
This year Kellin became a nationally-recognized child trauma recovery center, part of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. It’s among only 100 organizations nationwide to meet national requirements to treat children and families who experience or witness traumatic events.
“Lindy knew way ahead of time that this could be something bigger than I even had the vision to see,” Kelly says.
Kelly was born in the Midwest, a military kid raised by a single mother. She went to 11 different schools before middle school. She worked hard through high school and got a scholarship to Virginia Tech. She knew she wanted to work with kids and families. At first she thought she’d be a pediatrician, then a teacher, but finally landed on child psychologist.
“I tend to always find myself cheering for the underdog, for the ones who aren’t necessarily empowered to use their voice. I feel like kids are a huge group sometimes that are set aside and hushed, when there is so much power in what they have to say and how they can change our world,” she says.
After graduation she moved to the Triad to attend Wake Forrest University and got her master’s degree in developmental psychology. She first started to work with children on the autism spectrum. She loved being able to see how research could be used in real word settings.
“I really loved statistics. I loved research. I still do. I love reading about the science of what works and what doesn’t. If it was my child or a family member or my loved one, I would want them to get the best that was available,” Kelly says.
After graduation she took a job as data director with UNCG for its North Carolina System of Care Demonstration Project. It was a statewide project that worked out a new way of coordinating care for children and families in need.
“I got to see what kids and families were struggling with,” Kelly says.
“Underneath almost every system was this underlying thread of exposure to violence and trauma which basically showed itself in different ways.”
When you have kids that have been impacted by violence and trauma, some kids will show it by acting out and showing up in the juvenile justice system. Some kids will show it by engaging in a lot of risky sexual behavior, so you see them in public health. Some kids will drop out of school. Underneath, if you look at the big picture, you have a driving force that is contributing to pathways that we don’t want for our kids.”
She ended up joining UNCG’s clinical psychology doctoral program. After graduation, she served as the Associate Director of UNCG’s Center for Youth, Family and Community Partnerships from 2008-2011 and focused on bridging research, policy and practice to enhance the health and well-being of children and families.
She worked on projects like the Guilford County State of Mental Health Assessment, the Gang Assessment, and Understanding and Addressing Disproportionate Minority Contact in our community.
In 2008, she helped found the Child Response Initiative (CRI), a partnership between law enforcement, victim advocates, and community service providers to help children who have experience traumatic events. The program has victim advocates in every police department in Greensboro, responding to the scene of incidents where children are involved. To date, it has served 15,000 children.
The grant-funded initiative started with one part-time child advocate — Lindy, a Wall Street retiree.
In 2011, Kelly was recruited by North Carolina A&T State University to help them develop a trauma resource center called the Center for Behavioral Health and Wellness, a series of trauma-focused courses and a potential trauma certificate program.
In 2012, Lindy was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. To help her get through her treatment, she and Kelly spent time brainstorming a way to grow the CRI into a nonprofit. Kelly agreed to push it forward in Lindy’s honor and memory with one stipulation. Lindy had to pick a name. So Lindy named it: KELly and LINdy, the Kellin Foundation.
The nonprofit was established just a few months before Lindy passed.
In 2015, Kelly stepped down from her role at the center and focused on her professor duties and CRI. But people she had worked with over the years in the community kept reaching out, wanting her help.
“I underestimated how much the community wanted these research-to-practice services. Foundations and funders and the community was saying, ‘Can you somehow still do this?’ I started thinking, ‘Yes, why couldn’t I?’”
In 2016, Kellin Foundation officially opened its doors and it’s been steadily growing even since. In its first few years, it grew so much that Kelly decided to leave her tenured academic position in 2018 to embark fully on building and growing the Kellin Foundation. Today, it’s got a 21-person staff and many people seeking their help in the community – services that Kellin provides largely at no cost.
In addition to CRI, Kellin provides peer support for adults with mental health or substance use issues. They do clinical assessments as well as outpatient behavior health treatment. They have staff members that work at both Greensboro and High Point Family Justice Centers to help people in crisis.
They also have youth empowerment programs, including Kellin Kids, which taps children to lead service projects in the community. It’s work that was inspired by Kelly’s own daughter and the Graves’ desire to serve as a family.
“It’s the heart of why we do what we do, in terms of kids making a difference,” Kelly says. “If we can spark in kids that they can make a difference, no matter how little they are, I think Greensboro is going to be a in a much better place long-term.”
Then there’s The Treehouse, Kellin’s effort to provide the best, research-based, trauma-informed assessments and treatments for kids and families who have been exposed to stressful events.
It’s this work that was recognized by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, a national coalition of research organizations and practitioners working together to improve the standard of care for people who witness traumatic events. It puts Kellin amongst the most important organizations in the trauma field, from the UCLA-Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Mental Health Service in Pediatric Primary Care.
The Kellin staff has access to the cutting edge training and national experts and can bring that knowledge back to serve the Greensboro community. And they have continued to build bridges between a wide variety of local, state, and national university partners to ensure a strong connection between research and practice in the services they deliver every day.
“We take what works and we are known for being the place to get some of the best trauma treatment available,” Kelly says. “We’re helping the four-year old who has been kicked out of their fourth daycare. We’re helping the business CEO who nobody knows is living in a violent relationship every day. We’re helping the first responders who struggle with what they see and hear every day in the jobs they do. We are helping the 17-year-old that’s been sexually assaulted multiple times and is trying to graduate high school. We’re helping the 15-year-old who is recovering from being humanly trafficked. We’re helping the cancer survivors and their families and loved ones. We’re helping the mom know how to best help her 21-year-old who is so strung out she doesn’t know what to do. All of those are real situations we work with every day. And we are honored to be able to help inspire hope and healing throughout our community.”