Friday, October 14, 2016

"The only difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them." -Unknown

When Amanda Wilkinson asked the students in her program to create "Worry Dolls", the effect can only be described two ways: Heartbreaking.  And eyeopening.

Then again, what more is there to say when a child worries whether or not there will be enough food for him this week?  Or if his mother will come home tonight?  Or if one of the strangers that is constantly in her home will come into her room while she's sleeping?

While most of us can't imagine having these types of worries when we were young, these are the types of fears that Amanda battles every day in the Union RXI school district with her Pinocchio Program: an early intervention program provided by Crider Center for children in Kindergarten through 3rd grade to battle social and emotional complications.

Yes: we have kindergartners who worry about not having enough food or security or shelter or love in their life.

While not all participants are homeless, some are, many are from impoverished families, and all are fighting factors that could lead to problems down the road--problems such as homelessness.  Some children in the Pinocchio Program have, and continue to, suffer from trauma of some kind, whether it is  not knowing if they will have enough food to eat or a place to sleep that night, witnessing the abuse or neglect of a loved one, enduring abuse or neglect themselves, a parent's substance abuse or mental illness, or various other situations. If healthy coping skills are used, individuals can work through trauma and eventually heal.  On the other hand, without these skills, individuals often--in an effort to eliminate the pain trauma leaves--resort to "dysfunctional coping mechanisms." As with anyone who experiences trauma, we may begin to search for a way to numb the pain we feel--to create a distraction from our own past.  Unfortunately, these situations create common coping methods that aren't exactly healthy ones: substance abuse, depression, difficulty building healthy relationships, self-harm, and aggression--all of which can (and often have) lead to homelessness and poverty down the road.

This is where Amanda and other counselors step in: it is their job to help students "discover healthy ways to work through their feelings and emotions", so that they are better prepared to handle any hardships that they may face in the future.  Poverty and mental illness are largely intertwined, and both together make a cycle that is extremely hard to break--even from generation to generation.  For that reason we have to intervene as early as possible to show these children that, while their past experiences are out of their control and they were NOT the reason these things happened, their future and their personal happiness is up to them.  The goal of the program, as well as Amanda's personal mission, is that if we, "Can teach them coping skills and self-confidence, and teach smart decisions, it will carry over [to adulthood]."

And the effects of the Pinocchio Program's work is the difference between night and day: children who begin the program spending their entire school day without taking their hood down, or raising their hand in class, or saying a single word to anyone, grow to be able to be engaged, self-confident, motivated, and self-loving.  The counselors use things such as a feeling board, play therapy, and mini lessons about things like kindness and self-respect to touch the lives of multiple students in various Franklin County school districts each year.

Organizations like Crider--who established the Pinocchio Program--have put their heart and soul into helping tackle issues in our community.  They have dedicated their lives' work to pairing those who need aid with doctors, dentists, psychologists, mental health specialists, transportation., and a network of community resources.

Our lives affect who we are.  Anything that we do at any age shapes our lives, but we have to decide how to use that past to determine what we want the future to be.  The only way to truly end homelessness and poverty is to eliminate the factors that cause them.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development found that, in 2013, over 257,000 homeless people in the U.S. suffered from severe mental illness or chronic substance use disorder.  We need organizations like Crider because they find personal, individual ways to help clients grow and overcome problems such as these--and the Pinocchio Program starts with our youth, to provide a way to overcome obstacles both before and during homelessness.

No comments:

Post a Comment