It was a dog tag, held in the hands of a young man who years before had been a patient at the Psychiatric Residential Treatment Center in Salina, Kansas.

But the simple treasure that he wore around his neck reminded Irene Werth, who has worked at Saint Francis Ministries for 31 years, why she shows up every day to work with young people.

“One of my old clients came in, and I hadn’t seen him for years,” Irene said. “He had been in Salina West PRTF, and I also saw him in  outpatient. He had such high anxiety about everything. His anxiety was so high he couldn’t even go to school. Finally, after years, I was able to find the right combination of meds. His mom was so excited.  She said, ‘Can you believe he even went to the state fair on his own?’

“The client showed me that he had a dog tag that he had made and had engraved on it who helped him succeed. One of the names on the dog tag was Saint Francis.

Irene Werth, Psych, APRN, B.C., has worked at Saint Francis Ministries 31 years this month. She joined the organization in 1989 as a director of nursing, and then she returned to school to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

Her role working with young people and helping to manage their medications and determine what would be most helpful to them has changed much over the years. But it has always, always been fulfilling.

woman works at computer

Irene Werth started at Saint Francis Ministries in 1989.

“I loved being able to see kids change. When you work in the hospital or a nursing home or any of those places, you don’t get to see the mental change as well,” she said. “With these kids, it was so good to see how the day-by-day, weight on their shoulders were getting less, and they smiled more. They were able to talk about things in therapy and get on the right medications. When they left, they would be happy – it was rewarding to see that change. Every little thing, every little bit of attention you gave them, the clients seemed to appreciate.

“I was raised by parents who gave me a good religious background and happy childhood. When I first started to work in Ellsworth, I would come home and cry because I felt guilty hearing their stories and myself  having such a good life growing up.”

What keeps her strong when those stories are difficult?

“Nothing surprises me anymore. There are some bizarre, horrible things that happen to these kids. I think if your faith is very strong, it just comes naturally. I am a Dominican associate out of Great Bend. The first order is priest, second order nuns, and third order is lay people; I’m a third order or associate,” Irene said.

​​​​​​​“The Sisters at the Dominican Convent  renew you in your faith all the time. Being there makes you feel stronger every time you see them,” she said. “A good faith base keeps you grounded. I lost my husband March 2018, and in July 2018, my daughter died of cancer. That was a nightmare for me; without having the Dominican associates, friends, and my parish in my life, I would not be where I am.

​​​​​​​“They all helped me get through a lot of rough times. I pray all the way to work; I pray all the way home. I have 45 miles so I can say rosaries on the way there and home. I pray for the kids, that we’re going to find the medications that will work for them without causing any harm.”

Although toying with retiring in a few years, Irene shared that she still finds joy in making a difference.

“Sometimes you think, ‘Oh, there’s no medication going to work for this kid. I give up,’ but when you have somebody who says ‘I’m glad you didn’t give up on me, it really works’ and they’re thinking about joining the Marines or Air Force or something. . . You see him just sitting there, and instead of his feet going 100 miles an hour, he is sitting there calmly there talking as an adult, all grown up.”

That is, Irene said, how you keep persevering, even when it’s difficult.

No man needs sympathy because he has to work . . .

Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard

at work worth doing.

– Theodore Roosevelt