Outpatient Achievement Story: Cal


The first chapters of the story of the relationship between eight-year-old Cal Baker and his mom, Nicole Dabrowski, don’t read the same as the journey currently being written.

For his first 3 ½ years of his life, Cal lived with his mom and dad.

Then, the pages to their story go blank.

After drug addiction took hold of Nicole, she left her son and gave custody of Cal to Cal’s father. Nicole spent two years in a long-term treatment facility in Florida and returned to Erie in late 2021.

When she returned, she realized Cal had gone through his fair share of trauma with her leaving him and difficult experiences with his dad while she was gone.

“Cal was living with dad in a motel room at the time before he moved in with me,” Nicole, who is now four years sober, said. “Then he gets his own room and there’s boundaries and rules and it was all different for him.”

Cal began exhibiting angry behaviors and outbursts. Nicole was getting calls from Cal’s school two or three times a week mentioning Cal’s flareups, with frequent mention of restraints and having to call the police.

After bouncing around through different treatment modalities, Cal was referred to outpatient therapy and medication management through the Achievement Center of LECOM Health. With the help of Mental Health Professional Olivia Royal – affectionately referred to by Cal and Nicole as “Miss Olivia” – Cal began learning coping mechanisms and ways to deal with his emotions.

And for Cal, Nicole and their story, they went from writing wrongs to righting those same wrongs together.


Outpatient Therapy at ACLH

Cal bounds into Olivia’s office first, his bright orange shirt serving as the first declaration of his loud personality. He is a typical eight-year-old boy in many ways: He loves Legos. He plays soccer. He talks about video games, and when describing the plot of a Super Mario game, you not only hear his excitement, but you see it, as his hands work to explain the game at the same time as his words do. Cal also likes pranks and jokes (Here’s a joke from Cal: “What do polar bears eat? Ice burgers!”).

Getting to this point – a confident, well-spoken boy capable of both expressing and handling his emotions – didn’t happen overnight.

But the openness between Cal and his mom about all they have gone through, both together and separate, set the stage for being able to work with Olivia on healing from traumas and handling emotions.

“Cal knows what I’ve been through, or at least as much as you can tell an eight-year-old,” said Nicole. “And the worst thing as a parent is to see your child go through some of the things you’ve gone through – and knowing it’s a direct result of your behavior, that’s a tough thing to deal with.

“We’re on the same healing journey. We’re learning and growing together.”

Now, when Cal gets angry, he remembers his coping strategies. He might go to his room, his safe space, to deal with his emotions. He’s more productive at home – he does chores and wakes up promptly in the morning, both tasks he once struggled with, because of Olivia’s reward chart suggestion.

“Through the reward chart, we’re spending more time together. His rewards from the reward chart [after completing tasks] aren’t money. We’ve gone to the library, we’ve gone to the park, we’ve had movie nights,” Nicole said.  “It’s getting to a point where I can parent him, not just calm him. We’re becoming a team. Cal enjoys me, I enjoy Cal. We’re mom and son – a regular family.”

Cal is an eight-year-old who has been through a lifetime’s worth of trauma – but now, Cal and his mom get to build a relationship that will last a lifetime.

“Mom and Cal are communicating better,” Olivia said. “Mom’s approach is validating, in that she acknowledges and understands when Cal is upset, but also maintains expectations and boundaries. She provides him structure.

“He’s so smart, so outgoing. I think he can work through what he’s been dealt with. He can do anything.”

Nicole agrees and is especially complimentary of the services provided by Olivia and the Achievement Center of LECOM Health.

Compared to other experiences, it’s been night and day for me here. I leave work early every Tuesday to be here, and I’d rather make that sacrifice than have to go back to where we’ve been or go elsewhere,” Nicole said. “Some other places didn’t seem hopeful. Walking in here, I feel hopeful.”