Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Learning to Dream: Getting Things Done with Good Shepherd Volunteers

By Haileigh Nelson-Good Shepherd Volunteers

Service Site: Family Foster Care

Haileigh Nelson was born in Corona, California. She graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 2011 as a Natural Science major. For the past 2 years, she has been working as a Good Shepherd Volunteer. She spent her first year in New York City working as an intake assistant and recreation counselor for Family Foster Care (Therapeutic Department) in the Bronx. After that, she continued her service as an international volunteer in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where she is am currently serving now in a residential center for teenage girls. 

"Many people in his life have given up on him. I refused to. He taught me to dream again, no matter how crazy or far-fetched my dreams may seem."

My AmeriCorps year has been filled with countless memories and people who have impacted my life in ways that I could have never imagined. Serving at Family Foster Care, I was challenged on a daily basis by youth who came to us with various backgrounds, and have each experienced their share of trauma. I was able to work with many of them on a one on one basis, and get to know them as people rather than as information presented in a file. Each youth was unique in their own way, and underneath the trauma was a determined, eager, resilient young person who wanted something more.

When I first met Leo, he was upset. I wasn't sure what he was upset about, but I went over to him and introduced myself. Even with his anger, he was able to introduce himself to me, and just that simple conversation helped to calm him down. After that day, every time he came to the agency, he would come over to my desk and say hi before talking to me about his life. I partnered with Leo’s sociotherapist at the time to come up with a recreation plan for him that coincided with his behavior plan. Leo struggled a great deal with emotional management, and often times got in trouble due to this. Because I had started to build a relationship with him, I was able to use our recreational activities as an incentive for him to try to manage his emotions in a less violent manner. We were also able to use basketball, his favorite sport, as a metaphor to help him understand that consequences for aggressive behavior due to anger were similar to the consequences in basketball for committing a foul. 

As the year went on, I watched Leo grow tremendously. About halfway through the year, his sociotherapist, whom he was very connected to, left the agency. This threw him for a loop, and he was very sad when she left. He would come and sit with me and talk with me about her, expressing how much he missed her. I was glad that I could be a person that he trusted to talk to about how he was feeling concerning this particular loss. 

Leo often times would express his gratitude for me in ways that only he could. This story is my way of showing my gratitude for him. Leo taught me great patience in this year. He also taught me to never give up on someone. Many people in his life have given up on him. I refused to. He taught me to dream again, no matter how crazy or far-fetched my dreams may seem. Now, I dream big and work to make it come true. 

Thank you, Leo.

During her AmeriCorps year, Haileigh provided case management and recreational therapy to 58 youth living in Family Foster Care in Bronx, New York.