Breathe. Focus. Thrive: Sensory Zen Den

The Sensory Zen Den is a space for youth to regulate their minds and bodies.

The Boys & Girls Club of Door County recently unveiled their newly remodeled Sensory Zen Den. It is a unique and important space for Club members. This sensory space, one of a few in Door County, provides youth with a dedicated area to work through their emotions and receive support from a Youth Advocate.

Sydney Tlachac, the Director of Emotional Wellness, explains the significance of the Zen Den. “It provides youth with a safe space to regulate emotions, process feelings and practice healthy coping strategies. If they need to work their wiggles out or calm their minds and bodies, youth know they have a space at Club they can utilize to work through those feelings.”

Before the Sensory Zen Den’s opening, Club staff observed youth entering a state they call the “yellow zone,” following the Zones of Regulation. These youth displayed fidgety and restless behavior, seeking time to adjust away from the constant go of the school day. Program spaces at the Club are often bustling with activity, which can be overstimulating for some youth. The Sensory Zen Den offers a necessary alternative space.

“It’s vital for Club members to feel supported and build trustworthy connections with Club staff,” Tlachac emphasized. “Our Emotional Wellness team provides one-on-one support when needed. We are there as trauma-informed professionals who listen to and guide youth through the challenges they may experience. The Sensory Zen Den has enhanced our level of commitment to Club members.”

The pandemic left a significant gap in the social and emotional development of many kids, particularly those who entered kindergarten during that time. Many of them, now in second or third grade, struggle with regulating their emotions. The Zen Den, along with the Emotional Wellness team, fulfills this critical need.

“We offer support through counseling, case management and skill-building. Youth develop tools for regulation and emotional identification,” Tlachac said. “These practices and exercises empower kids to manage their emotions effectively.”

Tlachac recounts a recent success story. “A Club member used breathing exercises to regulate his frustration when he was in a heightened state of emotion. We had been working on developing these tools and practicing them together the past few months. After successfully putting these tools to use, he was proud because he had remembered to use them in that heightened state, something that can be a challenge for many kids. The Emotional Wellness team’s consistent support has helped him develop coping strategies that he has been able to utilize outside of the Club as well.”

The new Sensory Zen Den serves as a vital resource for members of the Boys & Girls Club of Door County. Tlachac explains, “This remodeled space would not be possible without the support of the Bill Vineyard Memorial Fund and Sue Vineyard. We greatly appreciate their continued support of the Emotional Wellness Department at Club.”

One Club member sums up the Sensory Zen Den’s impact perfectly: “It helps me relax and calm down. If I’m sad or angry, I can go there to use the tools I learned to help me.”

Additionally, Zen Den spaces are a part of the Lutsey and Nagel Units in Green Bay. They offer similar tools and staff assistance as the Sensory Zen Den in Door County. In the Green Bay Clubhouses, highly trained Emotional Wellness staff supports members who are in need of assistance regulating their emotions, working on unique emotional wellness skills, ensuring for emotional and physical safety, and much more. They use evidence-based practices and interventions to work with members through a trauma-informed lens.

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