“Parents wanted their kids to have a safe place to go in the after-school hours,” began Kimberly L. Dellinger, M.Ed., executive director of Bacon Street Youth & Family Services. “The early part of the work we have done came from that very fundamental place of helping kids make healthy choices, [and if they were] really struggling with something, having a soft place for them to land.”
Bacon Street Youth & Family Services opened in Williamsburg in 1971, following a void that could only be filled by mental health and substance abuse treatment. Originally a drop-in center, Bacon Street’s outreach has blossomed over its 52 years, growing into four buildings throughout the Virginia Peninsula.
Williamsburg serves as the location for the organization’s main office, with satellites in Yorktown, Gloucester and Newport News. However, its impact expands further, with services offered also in Hampton, James City County, York County, Poquoson and Mathews County.
“We provide prevention, treatment and outreach services to adolescents, young adults and their families struggling with substance abuse or mental health disorders. It’s for folks up to the age of 26 and their families,” Dellinger says. In 2022, Bacon Street provided services and outreach to about 338 families. In addition, the organization offers school programming and psychoeducation.
Classes include REVIVE! Naloxone Training to prevent opioid overdoses through Narcan and the free Strengthening Families program “to teach family communication” and increase familial health. Its Breaking Barriers campaign combats stigma that often accompanies mental health issues.
Dellinger took the helm as executive director in 2015, and her position allows her to ensure the organization’s dynamic and inclusive environment extends to all who could benefit from it. Bacon Street has 15 staff members, with interns and practicum students added as needed.
Dellinger says Bacon Street serves “families with lower income and higher risk.” She emphasizes the importance of “providing services regardless of circumstances or ability to pay,” meeting people in need where they are and remaining “free of judgment and full of compassion.” Increasing the accessibility of mental health and substance abuse services is of the utmost importance to the organization. As Dellinger says, scarcity and lack of health insurance often become barriers to people receiving the medical care they deserve.
Dellinger compares diabetes to addiction, with both being illnesses that should be taken seriously, regardless of whether they appear to be physical or mental illnesses. She shares a surprising statistic: by the end of their lifetime, one out of every two people will have experienced a mental health disorder or substance abuse disorder.
“If you’re struggling with a difficult conversation with your teenager, go for a drive and put your teen in the passenger seat,” Dellinger suggests to parents. Why? The lack of eye contact could allow for more heartfelt discussion. She says that parents taking children seriously with regard to their mental health is essential, contributing to their senses of safety and self-worth.
Dellinger believes healthy coping strategies are important mental health tools. She encourages “box breathing,” an anxiety-reducing breathing exercise in which one breathes in for four seconds, holds it for four seconds, exhales for four seconds and repeats.
When she is not working with Bacon Street, Dellinger loves mothering her “wonderful, sassy, amazing” twin teenagers. “I do what I do because of them,” she says. Her work is inspired by them and by her background as an educator. She also loves reading, exploring nature and indulging in the arts (especially Broadway) with her family.