Tuesday, January 24, 2017

One Big Change Already

When I settled into the night shift job nine-plus months ago, it took me a while to figure out a fundamental issue with it, one that I never really was able to resolve. In all the time that I worked with runaway/homeless youth, I very rarely disliked actually working with any actual youth. Most of them were good kids caught up in bad circumstances, and I can only think of three, off the top of my head, that I thought at the time they were part of the program that they bore the lion's share of the responsibility for their predicament. Three, out of several hundred, is a minuscule percentage, and as a result, when I was working directly with RHY, I felt a sense of purpose and direction that I rarely have felt in any other area or at any other time of my life. So much so, in fact, that I kind of burned out, not because I was tired of the kids I worked with, but because I was tired of seeing so many jerky parents, so many hopeless situations, and so many kids that were damaged beyond any repair that they were likely able to be accessing. There were the occasional success stories, and they still sustain me somewhat to this day.
I progressively lost touch with the clientele the last five years I ran the program, becoming more of a management/administrator, to the point where I couldn't tell you what the kids we admitted to the program looked like, if they hadn't come from the Johnson City school district (to ensure that we continued to get funding from a particular source, I had to work with Johnson City kids). I was thinking the other day, when I saw a name on Facebook, about a kid that was part of our program for over a year--and I wouldn't know her if she walked through the door. And in retrospect, this disconnect from the youth the program served was one reason why we eventually lost funding--simply, I lost the level of deep passion that I had the first decade of working with those kids. I wrote a serviceable grant proposal, technically sound--but the brief references to personal stories and the direct positive benefit we provided for some youth that are often sprinkled through successful grant proposals were missing from the 2015 effort, because I had had such little contact with actual youth the program served over the previous three years.
When I started working the night shift job, there was direct contact with a house full of youths every time I went to work. But the connections I made never quite approached the levels that marked my old job. Part of it was that an ideal workday entailed most of them going to bed, sleeping soundly, and getting up for school without an issue. And part of it was that unlike the program I ran, I was not supposed to do much in the area of direct care with the youth there. I wasn't supposed to talk with them about their issues, I certainly was not in any way supposed to contact service providers or work with parents on their issues. There were other staff and workers whose job that was; I was more or less someone that kept the environment safe and secure, but had very little to do with the actual living of their lives.
And put another way, the only way I had substantial contact with most of them was if they were having problems--AWOLing, acting up in the house, engaging in behavior that they should not engage in. And the result of that was that I never really developed any close bonds with any of the kids that were part of the residence. And while I am not going to say I grew to dislike any of them--I never lost sight of the fact that all of them were where they were and are because of difficult circumstances in their lives--there were some that I disliked dealing with. The end result was that I began to regard a good night on the job as a quiet one, nights when everyone was in bed or at least in their rooms when I arrived and never emerged until it was time to go home. And while the physical toll of working nights four times a week is the primary reason I was looking to move to another position, it wasn't the only one. I missed meaningful interaction with youth that I am in contact with as a part of my job. Or put more bluntly, I want to feel like I make a difference, like I am actually helping a young person in some way deal with their challenging situations.
And it took one day at the new position to for that positive feeling to return. One kid that is going to be on my caseload is a young boy, in the third grade. I looked over his file for a couple of hours yesterday, and he has some issues. And my two hours with him yesterday are not going to permanently change those issues. But he responded well to me, and a lot of the problem behaviors that I was reading about were nowhere to be seen during my time with him, It wasn't all me, to be sure; I was with another staff, and we engaged in activities he likes.
But I found myself a little sorry that the time with him was coming to an end. And I haven't felt like that in a long time. One of the things that was a sign that the passion had ebbed away in my former job was that I was barely working 40 hours a week. When I was doing direct care, hands-on with youth, there were many, many weeks where I was putting in 45 to 55 hours--and I honestly didn't care, because I felt like I was making a difference. I felt that spark, that sense of purpose and fulfillment, for a time yesterday, and if that is going to return regularly, then I know I will have made the right choice in switching programs. It's still early, of course, and probably not every kid I work with is going to respond as positively as this kid did yesterday.
But what yesterday served to remind me of was that despite the talents I showed as an administrator/manager--I built my professional reputation on the ability I showed to reach and make a positive difference with the youth I worked with. And there was a part of me that feared that that part of me had atrophied away, that it was gone forever and that it had been a by-product of raising my own kids at the same time. And in retrospect (I've been gone from there less than 48 hours, and I'm already talking about "in retrospect?" I crack myself up sometimes), my former position's biggest disappointment was that I never felt like I really, truly reached any of the kids there. I was in direct care again, but the atrophy never abated--and I believe that on some level, I was terribly disappointed and disillusioned. It wasn't a bad job, by any means, but it also wasn't what I wanted and on some level needed to lift my own spirits, to feel like I enjoyed going to work. And obviously, it's too early to say that this position is going to provide that all day every day.
But it was a good start.

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