Cornell University’s model on helping children in residential settings grow has changed the climate and culture of our agency. We celebrate every relationship built and every moment of positive change. We cherish them. These are just some highlights of our year…our favorite CARE moments of 2018.
In the Education Program, a former student (graduated in 2010) came back for a visit to the school. Her impromptu visit turned into a 3 hour visit and the realization that she was having a really hard time personally. After many hugs and tears she said “Thank you, I just really needed to come back to my happy place!” It was amazing for Education staff to see the relational elements of CARE working long after the student was still with us. To be considered a place of safety and happy memories is such a privilege.
In our Adoption Program the annual family picnic always brings the joy of watching the special adoptive families grow. During this year’s picnic, a young boy named Jonathon declared “I was so happy to come today! I wanted to see my birth helpers!!” The Director and staff were touched that this little boy not only knew he was part of an adoption story but that he coined his own title for the people who helped him find his forever family. His “birth helpers.”
In our Summer Camp – Camp Cuheca, we had a student working as a Jr. Counselor/Intern from the boarding school. This young man is usually very quiet and brooding, hesitant to engage or get involved. But starting from Day 1 with Camp Counselor training, the staff were amazed to see him step up and help. By the end of the summer, this teen who liked to remain on the fringes and refused to conform was also climbing towers, going swimming and being a leader. This might not seem too impressive but even the campers cheered for him on the last day when he waded into the water for the first time! We celebrate the atmosphere that CARE has created on our campus where every small step outside of the normal comfort zone is an accomplishment!
In our Medical Program there was a student who came to clinic with constant medical complaints. Although usually her health concerns were unfounded, the nurses listened and validated her concern every time. In the course of their time spent with her they found out she was most comfortable with her own pediatrician from her home town, so they made sure to provide a way for her to get back home and see this particular pediatrician. They realized positive change was happening for this student when she had NOT stopped in to the WCS medical clinic for 6 months. The staff were amazed to see that just being validated and knowing that someone would listen to her concerns greatly helped her anxiety over her health. During the course of her time at WCS, this student also lost 51 lbs, her blood sugar levels had improved and was off of previously needed medications….and this was not the goal for this student….it happened naturally, thanks to the CAREing climate at Waterford Country School!
In the Therapeutic Boarding School program a young boy was being considered to enter this newest addition to our array of programs. After struggling in school and then refusing to go to public school, he had been homeschooled for several years and now even that wasn’t working. He wouldn’t eat or dress, was heavily addicted to video games. His parents were at their wits end but after several visits with our Boarding School Director and Clinician, they made the difficult decision to enroll their son at our therapeutic boarding school. Knowing that this child had not been in a school setting successfully for a while, the team planned to slowly help him adjust hoping that by a month, he would be able to do a full day of school. He got up, got dressed and went to school for 2 hours the first day…and hasn’t missed a day since! He loves the farm, loves the animals, loves to go to school… his parents are relieved. Lowering the expectation and working very closely with his family, we saw that the right environment, without demands or power struggles can free a child to more than surpass what is expected of them.
In our Foster Care program, a young boy was struggling immensely. He had been in 3 foster care placements in a week. In every one he refused to go to school and created a giant struggle every day. In his new placement, knowing that he would struggle with the morning time routine and getting to school…his WCS Foster care worker, foster mom and on call staff all arrived at the Norwich office instead of school. They let the boy play basketball and blow off steam while they casually watched and talked. There was no agenda, just a meet-up of everyone who cared about him. After a while of no one trying to make him do anything, the boy came up to them and asked “What are you guys doing? I have to go to school!” That day he successfully conquered his anxiety and school avoidant behaviors….he’s been successfully attending school ever since. This kind of out-of-the-box thinking, where a team comes together to show unity and support while giving a child space to work out their difficulties is what CARE is all about.
In our Residential Treatment program, holiday dinners are a big deal. The students live and go to school on campus and some of them are not able to go home on weekends or holidays. The WCS Board and Staff throw big dinners and invite everyone to a family meal. This year, one of the student’s biological mothers was planning to come but was having issues with transportation and at the last minute broke down trying to get to the special Thanksgiving feast. Without hesitation, some WCS staff jumped in a vehicle and traveled out to reach her and bring her to the dinner on campus. The CARE model has allowed us the confidence to do just what our motto says…”we do whatever it takes” to help children and their families. Ensuring that this family could be together for a holiday celebration is foundation to the CARE approach, “family involved.” What a change we’ve seen from extending a hand, not just to our students but to their biological families.
In our Emergency Shelter program one particular child has been admitted 5 separate times in the last 2 years. The difference the staff could see in the young man from the first to the fifth stay was amazing. He was engaged, interactive…friendly. When he was ready to leave on his last stay with us (the shelter is a temporary placement for kids in crisis) he took turns giving everyone a hug and made a point of saying “You never gave up on me.” This same student has finished his GED and is doing well in a new job. The idea that residential staff EVEN in a temporary setting can give a child hope, when they don’t have any…is powerful. Never, never, never give up.
Even the Staff Support and Human Resources team has stories to share of their CARE infused involvement over the past year. Whether it’s Maintenance coming to fix something a student had broken and instead of bringing punishment, started a casual conversation which turned into a friendship which earned the Director of Maintenance a new title (Hi Uncle Brian!) or the Business Office staff showing up at an intake meeting with a new family just to make sure all the financial paperwork was explained well and questions answered so the family would feel at ease. To our IT Department updating software and installing video conferencing capabilities to ensure that families that were far away could have “virtual therapy sessions” with their child and staff on a regular basis. Although these are people who work behind the scenes, they are all trained in the CARE Model and bring the agency full circle as we work together on behalf of each individual child.
From comments on our surveys like “I feel safe here”….”the staff understand my problems” …”‘R’ (child’s worker) is my best friend!” we leave 2018 behind knowing that we built relationships, strengthened family bonds, changed expectations, instilled hope and did whatever we could to bring each of our students along their individual path of success. Every day is a new beginning…on to 2019!