Play Therapy Institute: Learning by Healing

Getting to know Ashley Carr

Ashley Carr, a Play Therapy graduate intern at Family Service of Roanoke Valley, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Hollins University. She is now participating in the Play Therapy Institute at Family Service to complete the Masters in Counseling program at Virginia Tech. She joined Family Service in August 2016, and her supervisor is Robin Wiley, LPC.

Carr has two children of her own–a 2-year-old and six-year-old–and has worked with children for several years. She didn’t know much about Play Therapy before beginning her internship at Family Service, but she said her passion is for working with at-risk kids.

The Counseling intern originally thought she wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but after starting a Masters in Education program she realized it wasn’t a good fit. While working in a local elementary school as an English Language Learner Instructional Aide, she developed the desire to work with children with the most dire situations.

“Right before I went back to school the second time,

I was working in an elementary school

and there were a lot of kids falling through the cracks.

The school just didn’t have the resources they needed.

The school counselor was awesome. It was watching him and his work with the kids that made me want to go into Counseling.”

The children who seek Play Therapy services at Family Service have often suffered the most extreme life circumstances–poverty, abuse, neglect, and violence in their home. Seeing how her supervisor Wiley and other therapists at Family Service work with the kids makes Carr feel like she’s found the right line of work.

A Closer Look at Play Therapy Institute 

Play Therapy

Counseling at Family Service is a robust program. Seven full-time and part-time counselors focus specifically on treating the youngest children in our community. With three rooms dedicated to Play Therapy, and a reputation for excellence, Family Service wanted to establish the Play Therapy Institute. The institute allows the agency to increase the counseling services available for traumatized children in our community, and address the waiting list for Play Therapy–which is consistently over 20 for children ages 2-12.

With the support of the Virginia Department of Social Services through the Victims of Crime Act funding, Family Service was able to see this dream come true. Carr joins Family Service along with two other Masters level interns–Alex Matthews and Malvona Ross-Sohl–to enhance the services available and reduce the number of children on the waiting list for Play Therapy,

Specifically for children who have suffered abuse or neglect,

Family Service is able to offer counseling free of charge. 

 for more information.

Spotlight on Guardianship

“We strive to make sure individuals who cannot help themselves have the best life possible.”

Catching up with Ruth Givens

Case Manager for the Public Guardianship Program

Ruth Givens has worked at Family Service of Roanoke Valley for nearly 10 years. Previously, she worked as a Social Worker in nursing homes for seven years and as a teacher before that.  She said she’s always had a passion for helping those who cannot help themselves. At Family Service, she serves as a case manager in the Public Guardianship Program and in her role works to make sure people are well cared for, living in a safe and supportive environment to help them grow and thrive and having the support they need.

A Closer Look at Guardianship

Guardianship allows Givens to do what she enjoys, helping others live with dignity and stability. "Our program is appointed guardian over individuals who have no family member or friend willing and able to be their guardian. We work to make sure these individuals are living in safe environments that provides for their welfare in every aspect of their lives," she said. Most referrals for Guardianship come from the Department of Social Services, Community Service Boards, and some hospitals and doctors.

“We strive to help them attain goals that are important to them. We try to help them be as happy and healthy as possible.”

Givens worked with a man who is 40 years old and lived with his grandparents until he was 33. They were unable to continue caring for him and he was sent to Central Virginia Training Center and had a very difficult time adjusting to that environment. He would usually refuse to even leave the building he resided in. It was challenging finding community placement for him because he would not ride in vehicles and exhibited aggressive behavior towards others. He also would try to harm himself. Due to the work of Givens, he was accepted by a group home where he lives with three other individuals that he now views as his family. He was loved and treated with kindness and patience. 

“He now attends a day support program, goes out frequently on community outings, and his self abusive behavior has stopped. He is growing and thriving in this nurturing environment.”

Aramark Building Community Day

For Aramark Building Community Day, Family Service was once again the beneficiary of this generous day of volunteerism and a grant from the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities!

Volunteers worked throughout the day:

Freshen up the mural in the Children’s Courtyard Create two canvases for Art Therapy in our outdoor areaCover some ugly graffiti

Donate and Organize supplies and materials for the Grief and Loss Center and

Donate supplies for Play Therapy

Conduct a Healthy Eating Demonstration at two of our TOP(R) community sites–Boys and Girls Club of Roanoke Valley and Indian Rock Village

What an exciting day! Our Children’s Courtyard looks as good as new, and we are so excited for the continued partnership with Aramark.


Soul Survivors launches as community resource

A new children’s grief group, supported by Carilion Clinic and hosted by Family Service of Roanoke Valley meets every other Tuesday from 6-7:30 p.m. at Family Service. It is a much needed resource in our community and is made possible thanks so volunteers throughout the area and those with the Community Grief and Loss Center.

Soul Survivors is a bereavement support group for youth and their caregivers, guardians or parents. The program provides a caring, safe environment where participants are free to explore their feelings and concerns.

Participants will learn that grief is not a process of forgetting, but remembering with less pain.

Soul Survivors provides an opportunity for participants to meet others their age who know what it’s like to have experienced a death of someone they love.

Participants will: • Share memories, explore feelings and remember loved ones through creative activities • Focus on the needs of mourning, with activities such as coloring books for younger participants and private journals for older youths • Share a light meal with other participating families

Soul Survivors is a free service of Carilion Clinic Hospice. Priority is given to first-time participants.

Space is limited! Register or refer a child in need by calling 540-563-5316, ext. 3014.

Read more about Soul Survivors in The Roanoke Times.

Family Service of Roanoke Valley Achieves National Accreditation

Family Service of Roanoke Valley has achieved national accreditation through the New York-based Council on Accreditation (COA). Family Service of Roanoke Valley provides mental health counseling, prevention and supportive services, regardless of age or ability to pay. It took Family Service of Roanoke Valley 12 months of diligent work to achieve re-accreditation. Organizations pursue accreditation to demonstrate the implementation of best practice standards in the field of human services. COA evaluated all aspects of Family Service of Roanoke Valley’s programs, services, management, and administration.

“The board, leadership and staff of Family Service are extremely proud of the services provided to the community through our accredited agency. We make mental health care available to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it or don’t know where else to turn. The people seeking our services and investing in mental health can rest assured everything we do meets these best practice standards.”

-Sharon Thacker, President and CEO

COA accreditation is an objective, independent, and reliable validation of an agency’s performance. The COA accreditation process involves a detailed review and analysis of an organization’s administration, management, and service delivery functions against international standards of best practice. The standards driving accreditation ensure that services are well-coordinated, culturally competent, evidence-based, outcomes-oriented, and provided by a skilled and supported workforce. COA accreditation demonstrates accountability in the management of resources, sets standardized best practice thresholds for service and administration, and increases organizational capacity and accountability by creating a framework for ongoing quality improvement.

To achieve COA accreditation, Family Service of Roanoke Valley first provided written evidence of compliance with the COA standards.  Thereafter, a group of specially trained volunteer Peer Reviewers confirmed adherence to these standards during a series of on-site interviews with trustees, staff and clients.

Based on their findings, COA’s volunteer-based Accreditation Commission voted that Family Service of Roanoke Valley had successfully met the criteria for accreditation.

An endorsement of COA and the value of its accreditation process is reflected in it being named by the US State Department as the sole national independent accrediting body under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption to accredit intercountry adoption service providers. In addition, COA is the only national accreditor designated by the U.S. Department of Defense to develop accreditation standards and processes for human service programs provided to military personnel and their families.

Founded in 1977, COA is an independent, not-for-profit accreditor of the full continuum of community-based behavioral health care and social service organizations in the United States and Canada. Over 2,000 organizations — voluntary, public, and proprietary; local and statewide; large and small — have either successfully achieved COA accreditation or are currently engaged in the process. Presently, COA has a total of 47 service standards that are applicable to over 125 different types of programs. To learn more about COA, please visit