I would like to emphasize how I was welcomed at our Oliver Cottage these past few months. There was a group that was held after what I heard was a pretty tense situation between peers. When staff called the group into session everyone grabbed a chair and circled around. I heard that we were going to process what happened the day before and what will come of it, so I prepared myself for a potentially tense conversation. As we all settled in to the circle and quieted down, we all had a moment to quietly acknowledge each other’s presence.
Staff started off in a calm and quiet tone with a message about creating a space for self empowerment, community care, and individual initiative to prevent what had happened the other day from happening again and to grow an even stronger caring community. There were no inquiries from staff about whose fault it was, who was going to take responsibility, how bad the situation was, etc. Now don’t get me wrong, those topics came up. Not by direct inquiry, but through establishing a space of community care, non-judgment, and the discussion of individual initiative. Each youth spoke by their own volition about what they could specifically contribute to foster a more therapeutic environment. As each of them spoke, the rest listened actively. As each of them spoke, I could see the other’s feet quietly tapping away on the carpet, their hands moving around, all in anticipation of their turn to talk about how they could help contribute to their community. When they were done sharing, their peers were able to give them kudos and constructive feedback about how they can support them in that behavior.
I am continually humbled and keep learning new things through the wealth of knowledge and experiences that everyone carries with them at our agency. Many times I would catch youth approaching a staff about how other peers would annoy them. There would be the usual conflict resolution discussion about avoidance, assertive dialogue, etc., but what I keep hearing comes back around to the culture of individual initiative. On top of conflict resolution, each youth is challenged to see how they can be friendly to that person; a paradigm shift for our youth in not only resolving conflict for what may be a temporary solution until that youth’s behavior comes up again, but to figure out how we can be friendly towards someone who exhibits a few behaviors that might annoy us. As the conversation continues, the challenge is not to have the youth ignore or bottle up their own emotions, but to get to know the other youth on a deeper level that allows them begin to see sprinkles of positive behaviors amidst the annoying ones. Each discussion continues as we find their positive behaviors for ourselves. We can support the growth of those behaviors and encourage the shift of the ones that aren’t as healthy. There is no doubt that staff are also vigilantly observing and supporting that peer’s growth, but the lesson that each of these youth are embracing can dramatically help them as they come into professional and familial relationships in their future, especially with individuals that they can’t just walk away from.
Every time I come to help out at any of our cottages, I learn a little more about how I can make my life a little better through the support, challenge, and encouragement that I can give to others. At Oliver, what I keep seeing unfold in front of me is a strong united culture that upholds our philosophy to put safety and recovery from adversity first, through the active creation of a trauma-informed community. Every staff that I see only has the best of reviews about the culture of care that is instilled there. Now I can philosophize about the different factors that make up the culture of care there, as I feel that it is only one of the many that make up this culture at Oliver. What is consistently true is that the staff shares a culture of accountability, early, honest dialogue and a united front. I am proud of us for providing the care that we do to all of our youth and I look forward to continually learning more about helping those around me.