Knowing whom to reach out to (and a meta call for help)

[For Dawn] So I’ve been going through a very specific experience lately that I haven’t really shared with many people in my life, including (perhaps especially) those nearest and dearest to me. Since it’s a situation I’m unfamiliar—and therefore unequipped to deal—with I decided to turn to someone whom I know has handled something similar with tremendous grace and strength. From an outsider’s perspective, it may seem strange for me to bring something so personal to someone whom I’ve only recently met. But our limited number of interactions this year have been so enriching and energizing that I knew she would have a lot of advice and words of wisdom for me. [And thank you very much for all of it. Your kindness is overwhelming.]

This happens to be another good example of how I walk the walk and pass what I’ve learned on to my youth. I recently turned in a proposal to contribute to a transition curriculum for a mentoring program (more on that later), and one of the final activities that I have planned is for each young person to map out a personal support networkand then to label each individual in that web of relationships with the type of emotional and/or practical support s/he provides. 

I think it would be helpful for mentors to prompt their mentees with questions such as:

    • Whom do you turn to when you’re sad?
    • Who is the first person you call with good news?
    • Whom can you rely on to give you relationship advice?
    • If you’re in a silly mood, who’s the best person to laugh with?
    • If you just want to be quiet in someone’s company, whom can you sit with?
    • If you feel like dancing, who is your partner in crime?

I prefer a digital contact list myself, but in the context of this workshop I think it would be better for the youth to collect these contacts in an old fashioned paper notebook. Each page would have someone’s name and contact information, but also important details about that individual (e.g., activities they enjoy, skills they have, etc.). The notebook would be solid evidence of the existence of a community and safety net.

Of course for this exercise to have any value, it’s not enough that young people know they can reach out for help, not enough that they know how to reach out for help. The very first step is ensuring that they are ready to receive help. This is a whole nother ball of wax, as they say, and something that’s been weighing heavily on me lately, because I’ve been learning that even when people explicitly ask for help, they also have their own particular ways of resisting it.

Look! Here is another call for help: If anyone has any bright ideas about helping people who aren’t ready to accept help even if they ask for it, please ping me. I’d love to brainstorm with you. (Y gracias de antemano por cualquier ayuda proporcionada.)

Nahjee stretches her wings

It would take a long paragraph to list out all the awards and honors that Nahjee has won, but I won’t go into any of it here because I’m convinced that the foundation of a positive self concept is not built on the external validation you get from jumping through other people’s hoops, but the feeling of self respect you earn by working toward challenges you set for yourself.

Nahjee has accomplished a lot these past few days! Aside from sending off an email on a delicate topic and having a difficult conversation with someone, she also took it on her very own initiative to sign up for a networking event. To practice, she told me. And, ever the clever one, she made sure it was an event outside of the child welfare space. (Basically, she’s going to try out her networking skills on a bunch of randos that she’ll “never have to see again,” so that if she “messes up” it won’t impact her career.) Lady, you crack me up.

But seriously: my how you’ve grown.

When the enormity of your dreams begin to overwhelm you, just remember: you are a giant. And you’re so very very dear to me.

New projects on the horizon

I’ve been invited by New Yorkers for Children to run some training sessions with their Youth Advisory Board, a group of young people who are or have been involved in foster care. The YAB is going through a particularly interesting transformation: It started off as an informal monthly social group that gathered around pizza, but recently members have expressed a desire to organize around the issue of foster care. This past May they successfully hosted a literacy project to encourage younger kids in care to cultivate a love of reading. As with any transformation, however, the YAB is experiencing growing pains. Coming out of that experience, many of the members expressed a desire to give their group more of a structure and a well-defined vision.

To this end, they’ve come up with a mission statement, and in their next meeting they will be electing four officers to occupy the posts of President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. But even so, this core group, and the YAB as a whole, still faces the principle challenge of forming a stable and lasting organization—and building an effective team—out of a membership that by nature tends to be transient. I’ve been working on a program for the past two weeks that will address team building, leadership, and communication—problems that haven’t explicitly come up in my program development for other clients, but which all have to do, broadly, with the aspects of adulthood in terms of finding your voice (credo, communication style) and making a place for yourself in the world (mission, community).

The first step in getting this program off the ground is having the YAB members fill out a survey that asks them to reflect on their general experience with the group, their particular opinion of how the project planning and execution went, and their vision for themselves and for the group going forward. It asks them not only to identify present difficulties in the organization, but also to assess their own performance in the group. What do they need to change in order for the group to function better? This survey will give me a quick read of the group dynamic and see what the priorities should be in their training.

I’m very glad for the opportunity to work with NYFC. Thanks again, Lynne and Harry, for putting in a good word for me!