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Guidance clinic marks 50th year

The Child Guidance Clinic of Pinellas County, the first of such clinics in the state and one of the first in the Southeast, completed its 50th year of helping children Oct. 14.

The occasion will be celebrated with a luncheon at the Stouffer Vinoy Resort on Oct. 31, featuring Kathy Cronkite, author of On the Edge of Darkness, a book about her personal experiences with depression.

Today, the center has an annual budget of $6.5-million and provides counseling and treatment for more than 7,500 children, adolescents and adults each year, regardless of ability to pay.

In 1943, it was a far-sighted group from the Child and Family Committee of the Community Welfare Council that realized children with emotional problems needed help. A Child Guidance Clinic opened its doors a year later when the Covenant Club, a Jewish men's organization, provided the necessary funds to ensure that the clinic would be open one day a week.

Paul Penningroth, local psychologist and educator, was hired to lead the organization, the city provided quarters in the Chamber of Commerce building, and Dr. Arnold S. Anderson headed its 17-member board.

The clinic was dedicated to a program of psychological service to children with emotional, educational or social difficulties and fostering an educational program in the field of mental health. It was supported at once by the community and expanded continuously. The clinic provided consultation services for the Juvenile Court, for school personnel and social work organizations and worked with disturbed children and their families.

In 1947, a full-time program was initiated, by which time the Pilot Club of Clearwater had spearheaded the establishment of a Child Guidance Clinic there. In 1948, the two offices merged, forming the Child Guidance Clinic of Pinellas County.

Psychiatric social worker Harold Rivkind came to the Child Guidance Clinic in 1948 and served with Penningroth as acting director, administrative director, then joined its board in 1983. He recalls that the Juvenile Welfare Board subsidized two staff members and hired a psychologist for the clinic, and it garnered Community Chest support.

"County Health was always heavily involved with us," Rivkind said. "And the Child Guidance Clinic was most helpful with the school system. We provided services for referrals and private evaluations, but we worked with parents as well as children.

"It was always a challenge to help families resolve their difficulties. The clinic was always a very valued organization in the community. Many other organizations looked up to it. Sometimes they would hire their own psychologist, but when they got stuck they came back to us."

"There have been tremendous changes in the treatment of mental illness in the last 50 years," said Virginia Gellerstedt, director of development of the Suncoast Center for Community Mental Health, of which the Child Guidance Clinic is now a division. "People who might have been institutionalized for a lifetime can now lead a productive life because of counseling and, in some cases, medication. In the case of children, there is more understanding that the entire family needs to be involved."

"We're proud to have been a force in the community for improving mental health for families," said Norma Reinhardt, executive director of the Suncoast Center. "And we're proud to be providing one of the most successful treatments for children and families today."

The Child Guidance division of the agency is at 3820 Central Ave.