A young woman recently dropped by the TwoCor office to say hello and reconnect with the staff. Typical of our youth she grew up in a tumultuous home setting. With her parents frustrated and overwhelmed by her delinquent behavior, she was removed at age 14 from her home and placed in foster care. TwoCor intervened to help prevent further behavioral and psychological spiraling and provide work skills for when she eventually emancipated from the foster care system at 18.
It was good to see her after years of infrequent contact. She looked healthy, she sounded confident in the direction her life was headed and she seemed hopeful about her future. Years of falling on her face after her emancipation appeared to have brought about an epiphany. She gave up fighting with adult authority, she tapped into the experience at TwoCor to reset her sights and was headed to army boot camp. She thanked us effusively for our support and encouragement.
I don’t know if she really is headed for boot camp. In fact, I frequently don’t know if the professed accomplishments of our youth are true--whether its regular attendance at school, passing their classes, getting a boyfriend or girlfriend, staying out of trouble or securing a job. They don’t embellish the truth because they resent TwoCor’s intervention in their lives or are incapable of making good choices. They embellish because they want me to believe they are deserving of admiration and respect. They want to silence the voices of failure, self-contempt and hopelessness that continually echoes in their brains. The voices of the adults in their lives who tell them how worthless they are, that they will end up like their parents or their siblings, either in jail or dead on the streets. The voices of the bullies at school. Their own voices.
The young woman believed the negative voice in her head when I first met her at TwoCor. She was lonely and depressed living in foster care. Her personal narrative was one of unrelenting failure. She told stories about her exploits with drugs, fights with other kids at her foster home, suspensions from school and unsafe relations with men. Each new story added a new layer of grit and griminess to the previous story. Negative attention was the only kind of attention she knew, and she desperately wanted to be seen and heard.
After months at TwoCor her narrative took a new tack. With the help of staff members, she started to recognize her poor choices and discover better ones. She became a worker in the community work projects even though the physical labor was about the hardest thing she had ever attempted, but she stuck with it for a while. She acted as a role model for other young women entering the program, sharing her stories of hardship and redemption and encouraging others to continue with the program. Her road to success was not straight by any means, and TwoCor paused and readmitted her to the program a few times. In the end, she decided she was done with the program and graduated based on the good work she had accomplished. Ultimately a drug relapse sent her to rehab in another city and she broke her connection to TwoCor.
One day I ran into one of her former TwoCor supervisors and relayed the details of meeting with the young woman. “That’s a great story, if it is true,” she cautioned, not trusting in the young woman’s story but not dismissing it either. Perhaps the young woman did tell me the truth. With love, acceptance and enough time the negative voices our youth hear can be diminished, replaced by affirmations of worth and resilience. It has happened many times.
However, parts of her story I know to be true. She experienced a community of people at TwoCor who love and care for her and she knows where she can turn for help, she knows the fundamental skills to be a good worker and to obtain sustainable employment that will keep a roof over her head and food on the table, she knows she can accomplish more than she thinks possible if she is determined and asks for help, she knows she is accountable for her actions—both good and bad—and there are people at TwoCor who will give her second and third chances. She reconnected with her TwoCor community for a purpose, perhaps during a moment of insecurity and doubt. We hope she will stay connected for as long as she needs to until she gets her feet firmly planted beneath her and takes off again.