Meet Sam Cummins

Sam Cummins is the Shelterwood Dean of Student Services and also leads the Independent Studies program. This month, Sam celebrates five years as part of the Shelterwood team. Meet Sam Cummins.

What he loves most about Shelterwood: “I like the opportunity I have to see students meet their individual goals,” Sam explains. “As the Dean of Student Services and in my role leading the Independent Studies Program, I get the chance to help make academic and individual goals for students. It is exciting over time to see students meet those goals and to see them become academically ready to return home and enter into their next chapter.”

Before Shelterwood: Having grown up in suburban St. Louis, Sam always saw himself teaching history class in public school in a suburban environment. “However, my first teaching job after college was in an inner city, private school north of Chicago,” he smiles. “It was a very focused, small school that was designed to help traditionally lower-achieving students be successful. I loved my time there.” He went on to work as a special education paraprofessional. “This was so informative for me as a teacher.”

What brought him to Shelterwood: After relocating to Kansas City for his wife’s work, Sam heard about Shelterwood from a friend at church. Shelterwood was looking for an Independent Studies teacher, a role Sam initially was not interested in because of his passion for teaching history. “John Lawrence, the Shelterwood Principal, offered me the role with the promise that after leading Independent Studies for a semester, I could begin teaching history the following fall,” Sam says. When fall arrived, as promised, John approached Sam about teaching history — but Sam turned down the job. “I loved Independent Studies so much!”

Sam Cummins NATSAP Award Shelterwood Therapeutic 1024x604 Meet Sam Cummins
Sam Cummins (center) joins Shelterwood colleagues in celebration of his NATSAP Excellence in Service Award.

Independent Studies, defined: “Shelterwood is unique in that we offer typical courses in traditional classrooms, like history and science,” Sam says, “but we also offer Independent Studies so students can pick up with any part of the curriculum in any subject area. Some students arrive behind in credits in a subject area we do not offer, like AP History or Spanish, for example. Independent Studies allows students to make up credits and even get ahead. I compare it to a one-room schoolhouse.”

Day in the life: Sam spends a good part of his day working with students in the Independent Studies classroom, helping students achieve their individual academic goals. “The other portion of my day, as Dean of Students, I work to get students what they need to be successful, like academic support, behavioral support, learning plans and resources on the Shelterwood campus.”

When he was a teen: Even as a teenager, Sam had an affinity for the underdog — “people who have amazing talent and amazing capacity, but do not always do things in the traditional way, people who others may write off but have amazing abilities,” he explains. “One of my best friends in high school was blind, and he was brilliant, but other people did not see it.” That very passion drives his work today at Shelterwood.

Award-winning work: Sam is a recent recipient of the NATSAP Excellence in Service Award. Principal John Lawrence nominated him for the award, commending Sam for the time he has invested to help students be successful. “When students are struggling in other classes, Mr. Cummins does not hesitate to step in and offer support to the student and to the other classroom teachers . . . Whether working with students, communicating with parents or interacting with other staff, Mr. Cummins is one we can count on.”

Family: Sam and his wife have two daughters, ages six and four. Both are adopted, and both are blind. “God has really led both my wife and me to work with the visually impaired,” Sam says. They are getting ready to adopt a third child soon, from the Republic of Georgia.

samandfamily Meet Sam Cummins
Sam Cummins enjoys the Fourth of July with his wife and two daughters.

Outside work: Sam enjoys running, and recently completed the Kansas City Marathon. He also enjoys traveling and learning as much as he can about the world.

Best part of his role at Shelterwood: “I enjoy getting to connect with our students. Our students are accepting, talented people with great leadership skills, and I love seeing them meet their goals and use the adversity they have faced to become strong, resilient people. I love hearing from our graduates about the amazing ways they are facing the challenges in their life — our graduates are able to be of encouragement in their own communities, in part because of the skills we have given them here at Shelterwood. We are having an impact not only on individuals, but on communities across the country and around the world.”

Meet Lis Klemme

Elisabeth (Lis) Klemme, Brain Balance Program Director at Shelterwood, loves being part of a new chapter in our families’ stories. Get to know Lis.

What Lis loves most about Shelterwood: “Shelterwood fosters a continual growth process. I love that I’m constantly learning and constantly growing,” Lis says. “Shelterwood continually challenges its staff to be better and to grow in a kind, loving way.”

Brain Balance, defined: Often, students arrive at Shelterwood with a gap between their biological age and their brain’s age of maturity. For example, a student may be 16 years old, but with a brain function at age 11. Because of the gap, the student can struggle to handle situations as someone his or her biological age should. “Brain Balance helps make the brain teachable, so students can better learn,” Lis explains. Shelterwood is the only therapeutic boarding school with Brain Balance right on campus.

When she was a teen: “Sometimes I look around and think, perhaps I should have been at Shelterwood as a teen!” Lis says. “My mom was a politician and I learned from an early age how to just put on a pretty face. On the one hand, I was on the soccer team and Honors society and youth group, but then I had another side that was far less positive. I went to church every Sunday, but I spent Saturday night partying or doing things that were not God-honoring,” Lis reflects. She dedicated herself to Christ at age 17, as a senior in high school. “I always had a relationship with God, but when I gave my life up to God, that changed everything.”

What brought her to Shelterwood: Lis earned her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Missouri, and after graduating, spent time writing grants and working with children through after-school programs, and then got plugged into the Brain Balance community. “One of my Brain Balance mentors was connected with Amanda Gunter, and when the coordinator role opened, it was a great opportunity for me,” Lis recalls. “I got to train with the previous Director, who was retiring, so it was such a smooth transition into both Brain Balance and Shelterwood.”

SW TherapyQuotable ElisabethKlemme Meet Lis Klemme

Favorite part about being the Brain Balance Program Coordinator: “One of the things I love about Brain Balance is that every day looks different,” Lis says. She works directly with students, counselors, parents and coaches. “My role is making sure everyone is engaged on all fronts, and I love being kept on my toes!”

Most unique aspect of Shelterwood Brain Balance: “Brain Balance is really innovative in that it acknowledges that not all behaviors are the child’s fault,” Lis explains. “Brain Balance starts first with the immaturities in the brain and gets to the root of the problem. Integrating Brain Balance from the beginning to the end also helps therapists along the way to know where the students are, so they are able to serve them more effectively.”

Family: Lis met her husband, Jason, while they were students in college. They have a two-year-old daughter named Corrine. When the weather is nice, Lis and her family head to the park or go for a bike ride. They also enjoy spending time with friends from their church.

Best part of her Shelterwood job: “I love enrolling new families!” Lis says. “It is such a new beginning for every family, so I get really excited when I am able to be part of that treatment plan and part of the next chapter in their story.”

Meet Jessica Wood

Jessica Wood, Clinical Director at Shelterwood Academy, loves seeing families restored and relationships rebuilt. Get to know Jessica.

Jessica1 683x1024 Meet Jessica Wood

What Jessica loves most about Shelterwood: Jessica points to the sense of community throughout Shelterwood. “This is a very compassionate environment in which to work, and the importance of family is communicated to our residents and our staff,” she says.

When she was a teen: Growing up in a small town in South Dakota, Jessica loved her strong support system, including her family, friends and youth group. “I also encountered some of the struggles teens today do, and I really leaned on that support system,” she says. Jessica also enjoyed being actively involved in school, clubs and sports, including volleyball and basketball.

We all scream for ice cream: Jessica’s father owned a Dairy Queen in their small town, and Jessica worked there as a teen. She still loves working with ice cream today, especially baking ice cream cakes. Her favorite flavor? Chocolate chip cookie dough.

Before Shelterwood: Jessica earned her doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.) from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist for the state of Missouri. She spent more than eight years in residential therapy for children and adolescents. “While I have always loved working with adolescents, I felt something was missing and wanted to incorporate a spiritual element into my work,” Jessica explains. Her family had relocated to the Kansas City area, and her sister-in-law mentioned Shelterwood. Jessica continued to explore Shelterwood and applied for the Clinical Director role. “From the location to my desire to incorporate spirituality into my practice, this was all God’s timing,” she smiles.

Her favorite part about being the Clinical Director: In her role, Jessica says, no two days are the same! “I enjoy getting to be involved in a variety of activities and handling a variety of responsibilities,” she says. She provides therapy to students and their families, explores training opportunities, tackles administrative duties and more. “I really enjoy the opportunity to have a caseload and provide therapy, but also to help others in our team grow. All of our therapists come from different backgrounds, and it is fun to see how it all works together to benefit our students.”

The most unique thing happening in Shelterwood counseling right now: “We’re constantly refining our approaches to therapy,” she says. “From sand therapy to equine therapy to experiential therapy, we’re always striving to advance the therapies we’re providing for our students.”

Family: Jessica has been married to her husband for two years. They have one daughter, Lily, who celebrates her first birthday this month.  

Outside work: Jessica loves staying active and working out. She also enjoys exploring the outdoors with her family, including going on walks. “I also love just relaxing at home as a family and snuggling Lily!” she smiles.  

Best part of her job at Shelterwood: “I love watching families heal and grow in their relationships,” Jessica says. “It is a difficult thing to have your child away from home, and the best part is to watch those reconnections built and those relationships restored.”