Written By: Madeline Kopiecki | Mar. 1, 2020
Photo by: RJ Ryan Construction
The Aris Clinic ‘s new location at Woodwinds allows the program to grow in important ways.
When Dr. Shalene Kennedy started her rotations after graduating from Creighton University School of Medicine, her days revolved around surgery; trauma surgery, vascular surgery. Surgery, surgery, surgery. She had planned to be a plastic surgeon originally, “I really thought I was destined to do other parts of medicine,” Dr. Kennedy says. “When I did my child and adolescent psych rotation at the end, the fellow said, ‘You really have a gift with these kids.’ And pointed out to me that it was the most needed specialty.”
After discovering her way with kids and learning about the urgent need for more professionals in the field, Dr. Kennedy dove into child and adolescent psychiatry headfirst. “What I originally had was just a little out-patient practice. The need was so great, because there wasn’t much. Outpatient to hospitalization is kind of this empty zone,” she says. In this gray-area, Dr. Kennedy founded the Aris Clinic at its original Currell location in 2011.
While the program was small in capacity, the range of kids was broad. The Aris Clinic on Currell initially treated adolescents, from kindergarteners to 12th graders, all under one roof. This proved difficult at times; the problems afflicting younger age groups didn’t necessarily carry over to the older kids.
“We had this brainstorm of, ‘We’d really like to have our own space,’” Dr. Kennedy recalls. Expanding the clinic to a second location—the newly constructed Woodwinds site just down the street from Currell—allowed the Aris team to divide the program it two. Now, kindergarten through sixth grade remains at the Currell location, while the seventh through 12th grade program moved into the larger facilities at Woodwinds.
But beyond just the physical size of the clinic, another thought for the future was having control over the space itself. They’ve appreciated their time at Currell, Aris general manager Molly Wilson says, but they got to thinking; what if they could have more control over their next space?
When the Woodwinds property became available, the Aris team saw potential immediately, but the planning stage of the project raised new challenges.
“There’s significant wetlands on this property,” Wilson says. “It took a long time to evaluate, you know, could we do what we wanted to do here.” Of the 20-acres, only 2.7 acres were buildable.
It took close coordination with RJ Ryan Construction, the watershed district and the city of Woodbury to come up with a building plan that kept the wetlands intact, but Dr. Kennedy says that, although the process was tricky, she believes the site was meant for Aris, “The buildable space on this large property was exactly what we needed”
The outdoor space will allow kids participating in the Aris’ Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) to disconnect from their screens and reconnect with nature. “We’re trying to re-train kids to play again,” Dr. Kennedy says. “That’s how children heal, mostly. Play leads them to talk and open up.”
Dr. Kennedy says she has a ‘less-is-more’ approach to medication for the kids participating in the IOP. The clinic educates kids on what non-medical factors affect their brain chemicals, and what they can do to start building those chemicals back up. Fresh air and exercise are huge, but the new outdoor capacity also leaves room for a garden at the Woodwinds site, which means nutrition can take on a home-grown meaning.
“It’s going to be an interesting spring,” Wilson says. With plans ranging from trails to outdoor classrooms, patients will truly be able to immerse themselves in nature and learn to break away from those screens a little bit more.