I talked recently with Dr. John Damon, CEO of Canopy Children’s Solutions, about Canopy and its mission. The organization has a long history of helping kids and families deal with behavioral health issues, having been founded in 1912 as the Mississippi Children’s Home.

John first joined Canopy as a therapist in 1993, and through the years, served as their CARES Center Director and COO before his appointment as CEO in 2013. He has served in a number of important roles outside Mississippi as well, including past president of the National Association for Children’s Behavioral Health in Washington, D.C. John and his wife have 5 kids of their own and reside in Madison.

From that beginning, until today as Canopy, the folks at Canopy have never looked back on their commitment to help families and children, and today, there is a greater need than ever before for the work they do.

John told me that depression and anxiety are probably the greatest issues faced by many kids and families nowadays, and this crosses all socio-economic groups.

“We focus on a full spectrum of services, including behavioral, social services, and education, in our interaction with kids and their needs,” he said. “We provide both residential and non-residential services in our facilities, and we’ve seen some great success stories through the years.”

Among those are a really impressive 97% success rate at keeping kids out of state custody, resulting in positive outcomes for the kids and families, and providing a massive savings to the state as well.

In addition to the ongoing work with depression, anxiety, and other behavioral and mental health issues, one of John’s great concerns is the growth of the rate of autism among kids.

“In just a few decades, we’ve seen the rate of autism go from one in a thousand to one in 59 kids,” he said. “That’s truly a chilling number and a call to action for all of of us in this field!”

He told me that there is still no solid research on the reason for this growth in the autism rate, but that from all indications, “it’s to be found in some interactive link between biology and environment”.

Despite those challenges, John said that they’ve had great success working with autistic kids, and he stressed the importance of early intervention as playing a major role in helping kids to lead normal and productive lives.

John believes that Mississippi needs a Center of Excellence that will focus on autism issues. The closest center is in Atlanta, and it does incredible work.

“We can accomplish great things here, with a Center of Excellence. There are so many kids who need the help and support, and we can give it to them. Mississippians are truly caring people, and we’re delighted to have so many volunteers who work with us to make life better for kids and families,” he said.

John pointed out that the work done at Canopy is also very beneficial to the state and to businesses.

“Think of it this way,” he said. “One of the greatest challenges for working families with behavioral issues is that parents must take time away from work to deal with the problems. And they are understandably distressed by those problems, resulting in loss of productivity and poor morale. The better their needs can be met, the more productive they become.”

Canopy works closely with pediatricians throughout Mississippi, and of course, many referrals come from the physicians. John sees that as a vital partnership in providing the support and care that the kids need.

What are Canopy’s needs?

“Well, we always need support from communities, whether volunteers or financial support. We know we are meeting the needs of many thousands of kids and families every year in Mississippi, but that does cost money, far beyond the grants and public support we receive”, he said.

How does someone get involved as a volunteer?

“We really need people with big hearts,” he said. “Just call us at one of our main numbers, tell us about your interest and we’ll direct you to the appropriate people who can discuss how you can get involved.” (The numbers are listed in the sidebar.)

Through the years, I’ve gotten to know many great people who work tirelessly to make Mississippi a better place to live, work, and raise families. The folks at Canopy are certainly proof positive of that care and concern.

You can also access the podcast from this interview by clicking here.

This articles was written and featured by the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact  publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021 for more information.