Hand In Hand, LLC is a for-profit, limited liability corporation located in Franklin, Pennsylvania. Founded in 2001, by Darla L. Dodds, Hand In Hand started with humble roots. Its first location was in the basement of a local church as Mrs. Dodds’ private practice in Counseling. Darla Dodds, a Pennsylvania Licensed Professional Counselor, received her Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Edinboro University where she also minored in sociology. Likewise, Mrs. Dodds is a Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner (CPRP), has a certificate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy through the Cleveland Center for Cognitive Therapy, and she received her Christian Counseling training through the American Association of Christian Counselors.
Hand In Hand is now been established in the community for 20 years, and the agency is what it is today as a result of a big dream, hard work, pushing through the obstacles, celebrating the victories, its wonderful team of employees, and the support the local community, other agencies, and the faith community. Ultimately, the thanks goes to our Heavenly Father for any and all of the victories of Hand In Hand.
Hand In Hand, LLC has over 50 employees working in over 10 different departments within the Agency. It serves people primarily from Venango, Crawford and Mercer Counties in the Northwest corner of Pennsylvania. Hand In Hand serves individuals with varying degrees of mental health diagnoses as well as people struggling with day to day issues such as relationships, anger, stress, anxiety, school, work, and those who just want to better their lives. Hand In Hand helps those who want to develop their leadership skills and grow in any area of their life.
In 2001, Darla Dodds, Founder and President of Hand In Hand Christian Counseling LLC, followed her calling to reach out to youth within the Venango County area by providing counseling services and launching an after-school program at the United Brethren Church in Franklin, Pennsylvania. The church provided Darla the use of space in the basement of their facility to do counseling, in exchange for Darla doing some counseling for members of the church. For the first year the practice was extremely small. Specifically, Darla was counseling about 5 hours a week to a very limited clientele. However, as people began to see the value of the counseling services and the positive effects Darla was having on families, the amount of clients began to steadily grow.
Likewise, the overwhelming success of the after-school program and the desire for Darla to expand upon her mission, to guide struggling families through the healing process, resulted in the preparation to launch a full-scale agency to provide comprehensive and certified professional counseling services. Through countless letters, phone calls and face-to-face contact with community leaders, professionals, and other religious and business people within the community, the groundwork for Hand In Hand Christian Counseling was established. On January 1, 2002, Hand In Hand Christian Counseling officially commenced operations.
Providence would show its hand again in 2003. A student from Slippery Rock University called Mrs. Dodds and explained that she would like to do her undergraduate internship at Hand In Hand Christian Counseling. Darla assured her that she had gotten the wrong number because the practice was too small and there would not be any work for the intern. Nevertheless, the student was persistent. She insisted that she could be beneficial and offered to work with Darla in developing the counseling practice. The affiliation between Darla and the Slippery Rock intern was extremely successful.
In addition to assisting in the overall growth of the agency, the intern was successful in aiding Darla in the development of a teen anger management program that could be marketed to schools and juvenile probation within the area and surrounding counties.
Shortly after the student finished her internship, Hand In Hand Christian Counseling received a contract with Venango County Children and Youth Services (CYS) to utilize the anger management program to serve youth referred by CYS and juvenile probation. The anger management groups took off quickly and soon Darla was serving not only youth in Franklin, PA, but also in partnership with the Genesis Project in Titusville, Pennsylvania. During this time, the counseling clientele grew slowly but steadily.
However, God would continue to intervene in Darla’s life by providing her with a husband whose vision and enthusiasm would inspire her to further develop Hand In Hand Christian Counseling into a full-scale counseling agency.
In 2004, as providence would have it, another atypical event would play an essential role in the continuing success of Hand In Hand Christian Counseling LLC. The Crawford Central School District Superintendent mistakenly called Hand In Hand Christian Counseling. Thinking he was phoning an all-together different agency, the Superintendent was seeking anger management groups for high school students within the district.
In the course of explaining to the school official that he had inadvertently contacted the wrong agency, Darla confidently articulated that although he may have accidently contacted her, she does indeed offer teen anger management group sessions. Being impressed with her honesty and professionalism, the district administrator offered to meet with Darla to discuss the curriculum of her anger management program. Having successfully reached an agreement with the school district administration, the anger management groups started in the high school, then expanded to the junior high. As the groups met with great success, the school administration requested additional groups with various topics. Subject matter such as self-esteem, building relationships, and stress management were incorporated into the group structure. What emerged was an all-inclusive teen empowerment program that would become known as the Life Improvement Strategies; Teens Empowered Naturally (LISTEN) program.
As word spread of the success of the LISTEN program, other schools, such as Meadville High & Junior High and the Cochranton schools commissioned Hand In Hand Christian Counseling to bring the LISTEN program to their students. With the expansion, Darla brought on an employee to facilitate and co-facilitate the groups.
Over the next several months, all aspects of the counseling practice were growing very rapidly and the church, likewise, was growing at the same time. As a result, in August 2005, the Dodds elected to move the agency to a more conducive space that was adjoined to their residence. In spite of the agency being omitted from the local telephone directory, successful marketing allowed Hand In Hand Christian Counseling to continue to grow at an accelerated rate. In fact, it was not uncommon for an individual to travel over sixty miles round trip for counseling services.
Word of Darla’s successful practice caught the attention of the management of a prominent counseling practice in Meadville, Pennsylvania. The executive of the agency offered Darla substantial earnings to counsel clients in Meadville. Being intrigued by the ability to strengthen her experience and work with professionals within her own profession, Darla worked one day per week for the counseling agency in Meadville.
Shortly thereafter, Venango County Human Services put out a request for proposals on an adult living skills program. Recognizing the LISTEN program could be modified to fit the request, the Dodds submitted and was awarded the contract. Thus, as funding at the schools was running out and the TEEN LISTEN program was winding down, the adapted adult LISTEN program was emerging. Likewise, Darla was now credentialed in with various insurance companies and could begin to accept insurance at Hand In Hand Christian Counseling. As a result, Hand In Hand Christian Counseling began to grow at an expeditious rate. Darla began focusing all her energy on the agency and a billing clerk/office manager was brought on to assist with the administration duties.
In 2008, LISTEN expanded to serve not just people from the county assistance office, but also included individuals with mental illness, substance abuse issues, and people on probation/parole. In follow up surveys with the graduates of the group the members attributed the success in their lives to the changes they made in their thinking as a result of the program: realizing they had choices, that they needed to take personal responsibility and to build a support system. Graduates of the LISTEN program began reporting some significant changes in their lives, such as finding employment, getting out of the welfare system, obtaining their GEDs, obtaining their drivers licenses, and improving relationships.
Venango County Human Services put out a request for proposal looking for a site-based psychiatric rehabilitation program, and because of the successful outcomes of the LISTEN program and the recovery philosophy, Hand In Hand Christian Counseling became the candidate to be awarded this contract. A short season of preparation, planning, and training followed before The Challenge Center-Site Based Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program was launched in July of 2009.
Of all the growth and milestones along the way, none compares to the rapid expansion that took place in 2009. The swift increase in the number of individuals being served forced the agency to move from the home-based office to the Franklin Physician’s Building on Prospect Avenue in Franklin. Hand In Hand Christian Counseling was now employing six individuals, including two Master Level Therapists, an Office Manager, and three Psychiatric Rehabilitation Workers.
By January 2010, Hand In Hand Christian Counseling expanded once again to separate the counseling offices from the Challenge Center offices. As expansion of the services continued over the next couple of years, Hand In Hand Christian Counseling would once again out grow its location. This time, however, would mark a historical event, in that, Hand In Hand would move into a facility of its very own. Specifically, a three-story hardware store known as the Buyers Fair Building had come on the market. Initially, a different organization was attempting to purchase the building. Nevertheless, the Dodds’ persistence paid off again when the realtor informed them that the building was indeed available. The building was officially purchased in January 2012 and, after approval from the Franklin City Council, construction began on the upper level of the building.
As the bricks and mortar element of Hand In Hand Christian Counseling was taking shape, the agency continued to grow in both the number of participants served and the number of employees. In the spring of 2012, there were 10 employees at Hand In Hand Christian Counseling.
Hand In Hand Christian Counseling officially moved to the second floor of the former Buyer’s Fair building in August 2012. At the same time, the second phase of construction began on the first floor of the building. The second phase was completed in November 2013. The completion of the second stage allowed counseling services and administrative staff to move to the first floor and the second floor to be inhabited exclusively by the Challenge Center program and staff. The timing of this move coincided with the record number of individuals being served by Hand In Hand Christian Counseling.
Recognizing the power of helping people get into valued roles, and how that impacts their mental and physical wellness, in 2013, the employment training program was developed. This program allows for hands on work experience as an official employee, with on the job training, support, and skills teaching to overcome barriers to working and how to grow as an employee. From filling out the application, to the interview, to on the job training, showing up for work as scheduled, and doing the work, employees in the training program experience a safe “no fail” workplace that helps them gain the confidence and skills to apply for positions in various work places in their community.
As a result of serving the ever-growing number of people coming to the Challenge Center Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program, Hand In Hand had acquired a small fleet of vans. In 2013 a proposal was offered for Hand In Hand to contract with Venango County Transportation to help fill some gaps in the rural transportation, especially after-hours and to areas outside the public bus route. Hand In Hand already had the vehicles and it looked like a great opportunity to create some additional jobs in Venango County, so the Transportation Program was started.
The final phase of construction commenced in March of 2014. The second half of the first floor of the Hand In Hand building was developed into a Community Center, commercial kitchen, a conference room and additional offices.
From 2009 through 2016, we began seeing people who were attending the Challenge Center have true transformation in their lives. Personal victories and goals being achieved were part of the daily celebrations. People were going to the psychiatric hospitals less often and staying for shorter periods of time. People were going back to school to get their GEDs or enrolling in college. People were getting jobs or engaging in volunteer activities. People were moving into their own apartments after times of failure in this area in the past. It was so exciting to see how hope and helping people strive to get into valued roles makes such a difference in their lives. As a result, agency-wide, Hand In Hand adopted the principles of psychiatric rehabilitation as well as the recovery model. This did and still does influence all that Hand In Hand does and all the services it provides. Counseling, although many people were still benefiting from this service, was no longer the main thing.
In 2016, an opportunity to take the psychiatric rehabilitation principles and recovery model into the residential setting emerged. Although resistant at first, this seemed like a natural next step to be able to offer the same type of hope and life-changing experiences in the community in small (3 resident) group homes. Thus Residential Rehabilitation was born. First with one group home in 2016, and now with 3 group homes across 3 different communities.
Spinning off of the idea of Residential Rehabilitation, in 2017, came a step down program into a more independent living setting. Community Living allows people to live in their own home or apartment and receive support to learn skills to live independently, problem solve and help people be successful living in their own place.
After much planning and development, a 15 bed Personal Care Home serving adults with mental health diagnoses was created in Saegertown, Pennsylvania. This program, opened in 2020, called Renewed Life Haven, offers the same psychiatric rehabilitation principles and recovery model as the programs in the rest of the agency. It is designed to bring life and growth and hope to the residents living there. The ultimate goal is that residents will use this as a safe place to learn and grow as they develop their independent living skills, and if they choose, then work towards moving to a future home or apartment which offers more independent living.
Hand In Hand continues to strive for excellence in all we do. We consider any future programs or services by checking with our Mission, Vision and Values to make sure that future options match with the heartbeat of the agency. We continue to provide development for our staff in order to make sure that we are offering the best practices in what we do and we consult regularly with the people we serve in order to ensure that we are meeting or exceeding the expectations. We hold ourselves to high standards of accountability and integrity.