■ BY SUE ERWIN
On Tuesday, Feb. 13 Dr. Hildegard Messenbaugh will share stories about healing from trauma and abuse as part of the “Lessons Learned from Living” series sponsored by the Friends of the Boca Grande Community Center.
The presentation will take place at 2 p.m. at the Boca Grande Community Center auditorium.
Messenbaugh is the founder and medical director of Third Way Center in Denver, Colorado, a residential treatment center for abused and neglected adolescents who suffer from complex trauma.
Her life is one of extraordinary professional achievement.
A concentration camp survivor, she was driven by her desire to achieve personal justice for the trauma she and her family endured during World War II. She recalls having to beg for a piece of bread on the street when her family had absolutely nothing.
“But my grandmother told me that one day I would marry a prince and have many fine things, and I never disbelieved her,” she said.
She and her mother were given Austrian citizenship, but the Nazis declared them stateless.
“They took everything from us, our birth certificates and passports … We ended up in Rochester, New York with very few belongings,” she said.
She learned to speak English and finished high school, college and medical school in New York, eventually becoming a psychiatrist.
She moved to Colorado and later founded Third Way Center.
“I started out with a loan for $2,000 … and we now have an
annual budget of $11 million, nine treatment centers and more than 250 employees,” Messenbaugh said. “We get clients from Colorado and nine surroundings states.”
She chose to work with teenagers, because working with younger children was too disheartening. “Though teens are a bigger challenge, they are able to learn new things,” she said.
Messenbaugh wrote a story in the recently published Friend’s of Boca Grande book, “World Wars: Memories & Reflections of Boca Grande Families.” Her story, “Childhood Memories from Yugoslavia, Hungary and Austria,” can be found in the publication.
She authored the book “Getting Even” and shares, for the first time in print, her unique treatment methods so that traumatized adolescents and adults can benefit from her life and work and find their own paths. Messenbaugh will have copies of the book available at the event for $20.
In the late 1960s Messenbaugh worked with Dr. Henry Kempe, founder of the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse.
She is currently on the board of the Kempe National Fund and is organizing a national campaign against child abuse.
“I think the time is right to do it,” she said. “I’ve spent 50 years of my life
trying to fix one child at a time, but after I help one it seems like there are 50 others on my waiting list … so I’m ready to do something on a larger scale.”
Messenbaugh’s successful work has empowered people to build better lives and to find hope and healing.
“The national campaign is designed to help the public, particularly men, get involved and become aware of child abuse and its prevalence and horrifying results.”
Messenbaugh has been coming to Boca Grande for nearly 20 years.
“Her stories from childhood, her own grandchildren and her career working with adolescents are fascinating to hear,” said Grace Ott, facilitator of the “Lessons Learned from Living” series.
A Q&A session will follow the presentation, and the discussion will not be recorded, so the conversation will be confidential to the attendees.
There is no charge to attend, and pre-registration is required. Call (941) 964-0827 to register.
To find out how to get involved with the Kempe National Fund, call (303) 807-7525.