Have you ever seen a picture of a child who is starving from malnutrition? It’s difficult. It’s haunting! Images of this severe level of distress either compel you to look away or strongly motivate you to want to make a difference. Similarly, seeing children starving emotionally from mal-parenting, abuse and neglect, and a lack of love and nurturing can ignite the same feelings. For me personally, seeing children in need compelled me to join FCNI as an Education Coordinator eight years ago, moving me to utilize my skills in education to make a difference in the lives of children impacted by trauma.
Being an Education Coordinator has been an interesting challenge for me. Early on, I felt that helping kids with their academics was like teaching someone who needed heart surgery how to drive a car. Knowing how to drive a car is helpful, but having heart surgery is necessary. I wanted to help kids where they needed it the most. I wanted to be a heart surgeon. Over time, a couple of things helped to change my perspective, however. First, every child at FCNI has a whole team of highly skilled people working on their deeper needs. I could trust these teams! And second, I learned that I could contribute to the “heart health” of the kids in our care while teaching them skills that would be very beneficial to them in the long run. Each connection with a kid was an opportunity to show love and care for them even while working on something as seemingly surface level Algebra I. Little gestures of kindness could sneak into a child’s heart like medicine can be snuck into a teaspoon of sugar.
One example of how working on academics with a kid turned into helping him on a deeper level was when I was called to work with a young male student in high school. He had threatened some of his teachers with physical harm and was not allowed on school grounds unless someone worked with him one-on-one in a private space. I began working with him for two hours each day, after which he would go home.
At first, it was tough to just get through any of his school work. But in time, we would get through all of his work and have time left over to play chess and talk. It turned out that he loved the one-on-one attention, and began opening up more and more. Over the months that we worked together, we bonded and he learned to trust me with a lot of his personal story. The more I got to know him, the more empathy and understanding I had for him. His life had been rough to say the least. Having someone to talk to on a daily basis turned out to be therapeutic for him. And after six months of our daily meetings, his behaviors improved so much that he was integrated back into his mainstream classroom. I will always remember what a neat kid he was underneath all of his anger, fear and frustration—all symptoms of his traumatic life circumstances which were outside of his control. He turned out to be one of the sweetest kids I have ever worked with in my time at FCNI. And today, he is reunited with his biological family and doing very well indeed!
Instead of being frustrated by what I had first thought was working on superficial stuff, I became motivated by the prospect of helping the whole person. If love could help their hearts then education could help their minds. Trying to make a difference showed me how the practical things in life can become powerful things if they are shared with love.