Jenny* is a 13-year-old who, by many accounts, is making great progress. Eight years ago, Jenny was diagnosed with autism. Her family then began the journey of trying to provide for her needs and looking for the right educational placement that would help her grow and be successful. Jenny was placed in a special classroom to assist in providing for her behavioral needs. However, her behavior in the classroom was described as aggressive and intense and included stereotypy, running, biting, hitting and screaming, among other inappropriate actions.

These behaviors prompted placement within a different school district and classroom. However, the aggression continued and even escalated. Her safety and the safety of others were in question. At this time, the family and school personnel started to have conversations about what type of placement would best meet her needs. The seed was planted that she may need a residential placement to assist her in learning how to be successful at home and at school. With the increase in her inappropriate behavior, however, Jenny was, once again, moved back to her home district where the behaviors then improved for a short time frame.

When it appeared another school was not going to be the fix, Brenda Langstraat-Janisch, school/family/community mental health liaison at Northwest Area Education Agency (AEA), was asked to help Jenny's parents and grandfather in a placement at Children's Care Hospital and School (CCHS) in Sioux Falls. After much time and effort spent in securing this placement, Jenny began school this year at CCHS.

Brenda reports that the new placement is working well for Jenny and that she is successful and happy. Brenda is not the only person in Jenny's life that has seen a change. Her grandfather wrote to the AEA to say this:

"8+ years ago my granddaughter was diagnosed autistic. Her behaviors compromised her education and the family's parenting.  We struggled, became very frustrated and angry until we met Brenda. She was fantastic!

Brenda was the calm, gentle, knowledgeable and reassuring voice that we needed. We had been looking and praying to find her for several years. She successfully helped us navigate the layers of the process for a 24/7 residential/education plan for (Jenny). All along the process, she worked hard for (Jenny) while doing a great job keeping us informed. (Jenny) is now doing GREAT!

I have observed that successful people are artists...they appear to effortlessly embody multiple skills/work place expectations which result in beautiful work products.

Brenda has the rare combination/balance of professionalism, empathy and compassion.

Brenda is an angel who passed through my life."

Thanks to the numerous artists in Jenny's life, from her parents and grandfather to Brenda and other AEA staff and educators, the hope is that Jenny will continue down this path and eventually be placed back in her home district.

This is proof that when "angels" are placed in one's life, the potential is limitless.

* Not her real name.