READING FOR CHILD
AND YOUTH CARE WORKERS
REGULAR COLUMNISTS: GRANT CHARLES
“She called me Rhonderrrr”
Child and youth care work is in a large part about story telling. We spend a lot of time listening to the stories of the young people in our care. Many of these stories are tragedies. This is the difficult part of our job. However, as we work with the young people we often become part of stories that they will tell in the future — stories of adults who gave something to them instead of hurting them; stories of adults who were there for them when they were in need; stories of adults who helped them take control of their lives and build the foundation for a happier life. Often the stories are about how one person had such an impact upon them so as to change their lives and their futures. Our field abounds with such stories.
I was reminded of this recently when I met for the first time a person who had been a student of mine a number of years ago. I hadn’t met her face to face because I was teaching a distance education course for the School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria. When done properly you can develop a strong connection between the participants in a distance education course so I knew this person but as I said I had never met her. Anyhow, I was doing some work with her agency in Kamloops British Columbia and got to meet her.
Rhonda Schmitz runs a family intervention program serving a rural and small urban center population. She is quite a remarkable person, the kind of person who serves our field well. One day while I was there we got to talking about some of the people who have influenced our lives. I talked about a past professor of mine who had been a mentor of me over the years. Rhonda talked about an adult who had believed in her when she was younger. I would like to share her story here.
I grew up in a beautiful little town in the Shuswap region of British Columbia. Salmon Arm was the home of my family for many years. My Mom, sister and brother all moved there when my parents separated. We lived in the "inner city" of Salmon Arm in the apartments known as Lander's apartments. It was where many people on financial assistance lived.
The person who influenced me was my second and fourth grade teacher. Her name was Mrs. Lucas. She was from England and she had two sons named Andrew and David. They lived in a house and I was sure she was royalty. Mrs. Lucas was able to see past my unkempt self and she challenged me daily on my work ethics. We had a standing joke between us since grade two that she would see me in a dress at my grad, that was a terrifying notion to a tomboy extreme!
One of the ethics Mrs. Lucas was working on with me was my insistent use of the words "I can't". She would roll her eyes and say Rhonderrrr, there is no such thing as I can't. I would then roll my eyes and try with half a heart. In my grade four year with Mrs. Lucas I made the grade seven basketball team. I was ecstatic, no other girl in grade four had ever made the team. There was a catch though, one that brought my hope to basement level. I had to be able to throw from the free-throw line with one hand. That was it, I can't swallowed me up and I claimed defeat.
Mrs. Lucas decided to take me on. We went down to the gym, I stood on the free-throw line for what seemed like hours saying I can't. Mrs. Lucas even stopped replying to my protest, she simply stood there and waited. I decided to end this, I had better show her I was right and I threw the basketball towards the net, one hand, I did everything she said to do, knowing that I would only prove myself right. The ball went high in the air and before I could breath again it swooshed through the net. She looked and me and said "You see there is no such thing as the word I can't."
She helped me push through the fear of failing and I have not looked back since. I received a card when I graduated. It said: "you looked beautiful in your dress, I knew you would."
Some days it is hard for people to go to work. Ours is not an easy field. We deal with lots of difficult situations that sometimes never seem to end. However, I think our jobs can seem easier if we remember that, like Mrs. Lucas, our belief in the young people with whom we work can have an everlasting impact upon them. It is such a simple concept and yet can be so powerful. I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I did when I first heard it.