Working with youth is so much more than a 9 to 5, or in my case, a 4 pm to 12 am shift. For about 40 hours a week, give or take, I get to be a part of 10 different lives who are not biologically related to me. As a Relief Counselor for Carolina Youth Development Center, I work in a residential setting with abused and neglected youth in South Carolina. During training, I was more or less taught to remain guarded because anything you tell youth in good spirits can unexpectedly become a weapon in the mist of anger. Initially and much unlike myself, I didn’t share my personal story in the “workplace” or with “clients.” I was reserved about my personal life but still my affable self. The more I interacted with them, playing Uno and basketball, the more I began to continuously wonder about their well-being.
Honestly, the more I am here, the more I don’t want to leave. I worry about them when I am not working. I feel like I am leaving my children with a babysitter when I clock out and another staff clocks in. The attachment is something my Bachelor’s Degree in Child and Family Studies, internship experiences and clinical observations have warned me against. In the helping profession, I have been taught that, “A servant leader works their way out of a job.” My personal and professional experience has failed to teach me how to respond when one of my kids’ line of questioning progresses from, “Have you ever thought about being a foster parent?” to “Ms. SaShay, would you adopt me?”
Like my younger brother, my expectations for my kids are high, too. I expect them to identify what their best is and keep pushing toward that. I expect them to make sense of their life experiences and know that no one deserves to be neglected and abused. I tell them, that it is not their fault. I want them to ask themselves questions about what moving on looks like and addressing the feelings they have about what happened to or with them. More than anything I want them to be resilient and to know that I am listening.
I’ve written this essay before. I talked about how playing basketball is more than just dribbling the ball, fancy passes and shooting. When we play, I incorporate life lessons of perseverance, how to communicate during conflict and emotional regulation. I talked about how two of my 7-year-old kids asked me to reteach them the Lord’s Prayer. Ever since that night, they call me in right before their bedtime so we can pray together because that’s what families do. They pray, they eat meals together, they have fun, they cry, they talk and they love each other. What makes my children Lovelogical is not what I do with them but the love I have for them 168 hours a week; on and off the clock.
–Carolina Youth Development Center, South Carolina