I recently finished a book called “Almost Home: Helping Kids Move from Homelessness to Hope.” This was one of my favorite Christmas gifts this year as I was pleasantly surprised that Sean’s cousin’s husband, Matt, took my wish list seriously and gave me this book along with “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” and “Good to Great”. Books about homelessness, poverty and business… I was like a kid in a candy store. Well, ok, the business book is to me as brussel sprouts are to a child, but we all know how important vegetables are. And business books should one day make me more than a well-intentioned gal with a big heart. We’ll see.
So, Almost Home… This book tells the story of six young adults in the US who, for a variety of reasons, found themselves living on the street. One of the co-authors is Kevin Ryan, the President of Covenant House, a homeless shelter for teens. I was amazed by the parallels between homeless children here and those in Honduras. I recommend that anyone interested in this issue read this. Oh, and hey! There just so happens to be a book club starting in the near future and this book is our first read. The participants are from all over the US so if anyone can tell me how to do a multi-state book club that would be grand. And we’d love for you to join, even if you don’t know how to make the multi-state thing work.
Today, I want to share with you the passage that I have underlined, starred and emailed to a friend who is even more passionate than I about these children. (Hard to believe, right?) I took out the lesser important sections of this quote. (Which means that I took out half of the beginning of the first sentence. True story.) To me, every word here is important. But I realize that some of you may be reading this on your phone while driving (Put the phone DOWN right now!) or may have a crying toddler in the background (I have no helpful suggestions on that one) and may not be able to take it ALL in at this moment. So I bolded the parts that made me audibly agree even though I was in a public place. And I’m sorry about that one paragraph in which the entire thing is bolded. It’s just so good!
“Many of our young people [in Covenant House] never got the intense attachment they needed from their parents and they became independent before they ever had the chance to become dependent. They’ve gained more maturity than many of their peers, and they have a resilience that most people will never attain. But these kids are hungry for close relationships, with people who are doing the right thing, who have no agenda other than for them to succeed.
You may not be able to repair young people to the point that they can be who they could’ve been if they had been raised in an appropriate, loving way and offered all of the resources every child deserves. If you dwell on that, then you’ll never get engaged, and the kids need our involvement. What you’re changing is a kid’s life trajectory. Some will achieve great heights and have a real potential to serve others, precisely because of the life lessons they have gained through hardship.
You can make kids begin to believe in themselves again, by listening deeply for their strengths and reflecting their lives back to them through a different lens than they’ve used for eighteen or twenty years. They might share stories filled with risks and undesired behaviors, but I’m going to point out their resiliencies, their strengths – all the reasons essentially why I love them. [If only I could double bold this last sentence…Back to the quote, sorry for the interruption.]
When they see their own strengths, it can combat the demoralization that has paralyzed them from taking action. Maybe they’ll trust someone for the first time, and maybe in five years they’ll let someone else reach out to them again, and they wouldn’t have if you had not been involved.
The idea is, you believe in them and help them believe they are worthy of someone’s caring. You may be working with a 21 year old, but behind him is a 4 year old hurting boy, a 10 year old who’d wondering why he got put in foster care, and a 14 year old who did what he had to do to survive in a world that you can’t imagine. When you show someone that he or she is worthy of love, that can be profoundly healing.
We cheat ourselves when we measure only simple statistical successes, such as living independently or finishing school. Our real goal is to fight the demoralization that gets kids stuck in a negative cycle. I believe in love.
I believe love heals, and I don’t believe you can accurately measure love and respect.“
This is something I’ve been much dwelling on recently. I still get frustrated when a child who is doing so good makes a split second bad decision and is back on the street. But I’ve been thinking more about the record on repeat that has to be playing in their heads. When you’re so young, how do you rationalize abuse from a parent? Abandonment? There must be something wrong with you of course. There are so many inspirational quotes about having the courage to take the first step, to believe in yourself. And these quotes are needed by people who have lived fairly trauma free lives. I have a folder in my email of encouraging messages because sometimes I get it in my head that I’m just not cut out for all of this. If it is a struggle for me, or for you, can you imagine what it’s like for a child who believes he is worth nothing? Something has to change inside them before the battle can be won.