dispatches from beyond the comfort zone

day 1 – monday aug. 2

oh boy – here goes nothing. at least i didn’t get lost, although the gps took me some bizarre way through an unmarked gate. i think i better write down the directions from people who actually work here. i don’t want to get turned around and lost in a state park in the middle of the night.

after signing my life away on a million forms, i got to meet the kids i’ll be working with, and had lunch with them. well, they had their lunch, i ate my sandwich. i will definitely be bringing my own food. i thought regular school lunches were awful. ew. glad i have the choice.

yup. twelve teenage girls, ages 12 to 17. i will be the minority in the sorority.

by the way, the kids/”clients” on my team are girls. yup. twelve teenage girls, ages 12 to 17. i will be the minority in the sorority. i had agreed to work with either gender when i accepted the job, hopeful that it would allow me to be on a team with flexibility to work around at least some of my youth group commitments. i also met my immediate supervisor today. (call her “jameela.”) she is a commanding presence. i like her, i think.

it was a rough first day, though, mostly because of how much my eyes literally ached by the end. i can’t look at that many pages of information in one sitting, much less process even a fraction of it. i guess i’ll learn what’s most important as i go.

day 2 – tuesday aug. 3

rene’s birthday was today. i had a quick lunch with her, but would have loved to spend the evening too. instead, the new reality is her at home alone, me working until midnight, then a 70 minute drive home. i was exhausted, and wish she wouldn’t have woken up when i came stumbling in at 1:30. but she did, so one more birthday kiss, albeit technically the day after.

i got to see what a shift can look like, although i quickly learn that there is no such thing as a “typical” shift. the girls have “group” most evenings, during which they present and discuss pieces of their program. all kids in d.y.s. (division of youth services) complete specific self-evaluation and counseling goals, including analysis of their cycle of behaviors (such as the triggering event, build-up to the destructive choice, and “outs” along the way) and victim empathy, among several others. their “sentences” are indeterminate in length, so they have to make satisfactory progress before they are released. it’s hard work.

there is a whole new vocabulary i’ll have to learn. beyond the expected alphabet soup of acronyms and abbreviations (the first one i picked up was r.d.o. – rotating day off), there are terms the kids and staff use in unique ways. when you agree with something another person says, you say “support!” it’s sort of a secular counterpart to “amen.” several times each day, the kids process the previous block of time (tasks/chores, school day, group meeting, etc.), check in with how they are feeling, and set goals for the upcoming segment of the day. “motivate” is used reflexively – if someone needs to hurry up in the bathroom or doing tasks, you ask them to “motivate.” i hope i can remember not to talk with the lingo outside of work. people will think i’m nuts.

day 3 – wednesday, aug. 4

my. i wish i could have slept past 6 this morning! it’s going to be a looooong day.

this was my first shift working primarily with the boss lady. (just to clarify, i’m not being sexist here – i would have called a male supervisor the “boss man.”) the girls really respect and respond well to her. she calls them by various pet names i could never pull off. i think i can get away with calling them “ladies” collectively. jameela calls them “ladybugs” as a group, and individually may call them “girl” or even “boo.” judging from the way they greet her and share hugs before bed, jameela is certainly the mother figure.

i can’t share any details whatsoever about individual kids, even if i change their names. confidentiality is of paramount importance.

because i’m the new guy and can’t be without another staff member, we have another staff from somewhere in the facility relieve jameela when she needs a break. right after the girls on our team are in bed, she is called to another team to deal with an emergency situation. (i need to interject here that i can’t share any details whatsoever about individual kids, even if i change their names. confidentiality is of paramount importance.) i end up leaving a little after my scheduled time, but find out later that jameela was there for hours longer. i don’t want her job! not just yet, anyway.

day 4 – thursday, aug. 5

today was my first team meeting. i had no frame of reference to contribute much to discussions of team issues and dynamics. what i really appreciated, though, was that creating the schedule was a very collaborative process. the schedule for august was already set, so we were doing the first three weeks of september. the standard is to have 45 days’ schedule done in advance. i am in quite a few trainings my first several months, so that often dictates what other days i can even work. again, i am hopeful that i can have most sunday mornings and most wednesday evenings off. that may mean being willing to work at some other times i would otherwise prefer not to, including the dreaded “turnaround” (working late one night and then the day shift the following day).

also at the team meeting, it was decided that the girls could come off of “high structure.” due to some dynamics the previous weekend, the girls had lost several privileges as a group. they were quite happy to learn of the restrictions being lifted, but they also got to brainstorm ways to maintain their privileges.

day 5 – friday, aug. 6

it is definitely true that no two shifts are alike in this line of work. the entire atmosphere was so much lighter. the girls were happier, and because they had regained the ability to attend to hygiene beyond the basics, they even looked nicer. this was the first night (of my 5-day career) that they got to listen to music as they waited for sleep. among the relaxing choices was a “church cd” (they have a group of adult volunteers from local churches that does a weekly bible study).

seeing the kids make positive progress may be what could end up keeping me at it when the hours are late, the schedule frustrating, and the drive far too long.

it’s clear to me that jameela is a believer. although being a state agency, staff cannot preach to or proselytize the kids, the entire model is essentially grace incarnated. these are kids that much of society, sadly including many in the church, would prefer to write off. instead, as part of being held accountable, they go through the difficult, often painful, process of full repentance. i was touched as one girl shared about her choices and how she knows she will struggle to stay on a positive path when she is released. i think seeing the girls (and perhaps boys, eventually) make positive progress may be what could end up keeping me at it when the hours are late, the schedule frustrating, and the drive far too long.

by the way, we are strongly considering relocating (to the north kc or liberty area) when our lease is up, assuming i have reason to believe i’ll stay at this facility for a while. but we cannot justify paying nearly 6 months worth of rent in penalties should we try to break our lease early!

day 6 (or perhaps 8, depending on how you count it) – monday, Aug. 9

my first (half) day of training. all i can say is, it can only get better from here. there were a lot of class clowns in the group (from various facilities besides my own), and at times only a few of us were not snickering over something mentioned in the training materials. communicable diseases, including sexually transmitted diseases, was the topic. ’nuff said.

too many words for one reading, as usual. i hope to find a realistic rhythm of rest, fitness and recreation, time to edit video, and digital engagement (and sabbath) – including regular blogging. my phone can’t be on my person while i work, so checking my various streams of content is pretty much done at 2:30 when i start my drive. that is going to be a good thing, though. i checked too frequently as it was.

Popular Posts

About andrew burden

andrew blogs about being a volunteer youth leader, teacher, video editor, husband, friend, child of God
This entry was posted in career and business, family life, video projects, volunteer backpack and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.