I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, originally attributed to the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, which states, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Walking a thousand miles sounds impossible to me. Would I get lost, walk in circles, be in a lot of pain? Attempting to push fears aside, I start to think of what a personal accomplishment it would be to walk so many miles. Then I think of how walking all of those steps might benefit me--physically, emotionally and spiritually. So I then brainstorm how I might accomplish this impossible task. Ten miles a day for 100 days or two miles a day for 500 days? I start to think of all the opportunities that might cross my path on this walk; all the people I might meet, the sights I could see and the things I would miss if just sped past in car. Pretty soon, a concept that started out as impossible, starts to look more and more plausible.
In my role working with current and former foster youth through FCNI’s Transitional Age Youth (TAY) programs (for youth ages 14 to 24), I have the privilege of aiding young adults as they develop their plans to walk, run, skip or even cartwheel down the wide open path of their futures. It’s my honor to stand with a young person, full of potential and promise, on the launching pad of his/her next thousand mile journey—their journey towards adult independence. Although many youth are uncertain about how they will get to where they are going, it’s FCNI’s job to help equip them with the tools and resources they’ll need for a successful journey.
The first obstacle many of our youth face when planning for their future is fear. Most TAY foster youth have been through a lot. They’re weary from the previous 1000 miles they’re already traveled, so they face unknown futures with weighted feet, heavy hearts and a lot of uncertainty. These youth, although mostly teens, have already navigated their way around challenging terrain in their young lives, and facing the vast unknown of adulthood is daunting—it’s a new journey which seems ominous and even pointless to some. Just the idea of starting something new can triggers fears inside them; fears that spark great internal doubts, and overshadow the immense potential they actually possess. These youth have faced multiple displacements, may have had limited educational success, some have had difficulty building employment skills or had minimal opportunities to build life-skills. Some also have unmet health and wellness needs which directly impacts how they see themselves. When you add all these obstacles up, the future can seem unachievable and even unthinkable to many of our youth.
As a TAY support worker, I have found that instilling hope in them makes a striking difference in how a youth approaches their future. Researchers have stated that individuals who display the highest levels of hope do the following: 1) set goals; 2) cultivate ways to accomplish these goals; and 3) have a positive “I can do it” attitude. Working with our youth to not only be hopeful, but to practice hope by utilizing these three rules can be life changing for them. As workers, we provide encouragement, teach goal setting and the necessary follow through, mine for strengths, and “give permission” for the youth in our care to turn the page and start a new chapter in their life-books. And during this healing and redevelopment process, we explore the youth’s choices, provide for new opportunities and empower them with tools that they will need to explore the path before them; a path they choose for themselves.
As a new school year starts, I want to take a moment to commend all of our TAY youth, many of whom are looking at the road before them and starting to map out their individual paths. TAY youth, your strength is to be admired. We believe in you. We believe that you possess the gifts, courage and abilities to take the path which is right for you; the path that you choose for yourself, and however you decide to get down it—walking, skipping or cartwheeling--just keep moving forward!