Healthy Relationships Play Crucial Role in the MCH Mission
People need connection. We are born with the desire to connect. We find meaning and purpose through our relationships with others.
So what happens when you don’t feel that connection? According to scientific research from “Hardwired to Connect,” a report from the Commission on Children at Risk, the effects on children can be detrimental.
“The latest research indicates that children are born ‘hardwired to connect’ to others and when that does not happen or those needs go unmet, we have a rising level of mental health issues, aggression, suicides, crime, and a compromised conscience,” explained Tim Brown, president and CEO of Methodist Children’s Home.
The philosophy of care at Methodist Children’s Home (MCH) is largely based on the evidence described in this research, Brown explained. The ministry recognizes the importance of relationships for human development, as well as the impact it could have on our society, and made it an essential element in our programs and services. “Relationships” is even included as one of six core values of the ministry, described as to “build healthy relationships through communication, respect, trust and love.”
“Teaching how to build, maintain and how to appropriately use relationships are at the center of all we do and is critical to our effectiveness as an organization,” Brown said. “Relationships are a core building block as we restore and promote wholeness and potential for success in the children and families we serve.
“Many of our children come to us with broken relationships, misusing and misunderstanding relationships, without significant relationships, or having been involved in inappropriate relationships,” he continued. “And just as these circumstances are the results of bad relationships that inflict pain and suffering, we utilize healthy relationships to heal and restore those who have been wounded and injured by them.”
MCH staff can become role models and mentors to children, youth and families as they work to overcome their challenges. They walk alongside them in their journey to healing and find ways to connect, whether through a common interest, lending a nonjudgmental ear, or by showing compassion and care.
“We believe we are giving an invaluable gift to every individual child, youth, family, and our society in general, as we are successful in helping our young people build, understand and utilize appropriate relationships,” Brown said.
MCH is blessed with staff who are motivated to have a lasting impact on our children, youth and families by providing them with opportunities to grow and connect. Several staff shared insight into how they have been successful in building relationships with those we serve.
A Friend in the Community – Family Outreach
Cindy Miller’s family was in crisis. She received custody of her grandchildren Kylee, now age 14, Riley,12, and Ryder, 11, in 2008 when they had experienced neglect due to their mother’s drug addiction. After their mother was incarcerated, her parental rights were terminated and Miller adopted the three children as her own.
The children were showing the effects of trauma through their behaviors and Cindy didn’t know where to turn. Kylee was depressed and felt angry with her mother. Riley had trouble controlling his emotions and the children were fighting a lot. The family needed help.
After a referral from the children’s school, the family went before the Community Resource Coordination Group (CRCG) in Taylor County where they met Jo Ann Evans, a case manager at MCH Family Outreach in Abilene, who received the MCH Core Value Award for Relationships in the spring.
CRCG is a group of local partners that hear about family situations and develop a service plan for people who are having trouble finding organizations that match their needs. Miller said during the meeting when Evans spoke, it was like she already knew her children. The family began working with Evans through the Family Solutions program in May 2016.
Through the program, families meet weekly with a case manager to assess their strengths, set goals and work toward achieving those goals. Evans worked with Miller and the children in coping with their emotions, understanding and controlling their behaviors and creating more structure in the home in order to grow closer as a family. Kylee spent six months in a residential care facility for youth to work through her personal issues and is making improvements.
“I’m not as depressed and I’ve learned to accept who I am a lot better and accept who my mother was and to not hate her,” she said. “That is my biggest change.”
Riley has also learned to understand his anger and said, “I can control myself a lot more than I used to.”
Throughout the process, the family valued Evans’ support and grew close with their case manager.
“She made it easy to talk and I knew that she wasn’t going to lie or be ugly to you,” Miller said. “She’s tactful. She knows how to tell you when you are wrong and not make you feel bad. You don’t feel judged.”
“The thing about Jo Ann is she can understand you,” Riley said. “I don’t know if it is because she has met people like us, but she can understand how you feel. Also, I am able to understand her and what she is saying.”
Jo Ann said even though their case was concluded in December 2016, she has still checked in on the Miller family and will continue the relationship as the children grow up. She said she sees the love the family has for each other and is proud of their progress.
“The neat thing about it is that if we don’t talk to each other or see each other very often, it is still right back like where we left off,” Evans said. “I’ll know all of them until the kids have kids. They will always have a way to find me and I will be checking in on them. This is a special relationship.”
A Home Away from Home – Residential Services
Leaving home and coming into a residential program to live in a house with other young people can be a scary experience. But at Methodist Children’s Home, direct care staff are able to ease the transition and provide a stable and loving home for children and youth.
After retiring, Max and Lou Larseingue felt the desire to give back and they became home parents at the MCH Boys Ranch in February 2014. In their position at MCH, the couple recognizes the importance of establishing a relationship with each boy as they manage their household.
“It is all about relationships,” Max said. “It is like a bank account – you have to make deposits first before you expect something from the boys. It is all about taking care of their needs and being in tune with what those needs are and reading their moods.”
“It’s important for Max and me to be open and direct with these boys in a kind manner,” Lou added. “Understanding that we have standards, we expect them to meet that standard to some measure of their ability and we’ll help them get there. Trust is huge. They need honest, straightforward people who they know will love them and want what’s best for them and will teach them how to make the best choices in their lives.”
The couple said they do their best to create a safe environment for the boys that will help them feel like a family unit by checking in on them, asking about their lives and planning activities together. They also understand that part of creating that environment is to let the boys know they will not be judged.
“We all have a past,” Lou said. “We’ve all done things we’re not proud of but we rise above that and move forward. That’s what we try to teach the boys.”
Galen, a resident at the Boys Ranch, has been in their home for a year and a half.
“You start to see that the home parents are the cornerstones in these young men’s lives and their life does depend a lot on them and there’s a deep connection – between the guys and the home parents – and it becomes a lot like a family,” he said.
On the Waco campus, home parents Dewayne and Paula Cady work alongside unit manager Monica Rose to oversee a household of girls. The Cadys began working at MCH in July 2016 and Paula is a former resident herself. The couple succeed in their role by trying to create a family-like environment with a good balance of nurture and structure.
“I want them to understand there are rules, but we can have fun,” Paula said. “I want them to know it is OK to make a mistake and help them learn life skills and things they are going to need to know when they walk out these doors.”
The Cadys make an effort to be active with the girls by taking walks with them, playing tether ball or giving them experiences in the real world. Dewayne said he recently took the girls to the park where they saw families cooking out and playing games together. He said initially many didn’t want to go but on the way home, several asked when they could come back to do their own cookout and games.
“This is what we want to show them – that this is what families do,” he said.
Rose, who came to MCH in 2014, leads the staff in the home and said she treats every child as she would treat her own. She has been successful in resolving conflicts and building solid relationships with the girls.
“I accept them for who they are and what they do,” she said. “Even in a situation that is challenging, I always tell them that their emotions are OK. I just help them try to find a way to express that emotion appropriately. I keep it real and help them prepare for life outside of MCH. Here, like the real world, we deal with things and keep on moving.”
Rose said she has been blessed with strong staff who all have been able to connect with the girls in their home. When one staff member, Audrey Wells, moved to the night shift, she said they had to tell the girls they couldn’t stay up all night to talk to her. Rose also noted the home services specialist, Stephanie Lewis, is popular with the girls and very good at playful engagement.
“We all play our part,” she said. “Our house is just like anyone else’s… we just have more extended family living here.”
Ari, who came to MCH in 2016, said she was worried she would be on her own when she came to MCH.
“But it is not like that,” she said. “Our staff is always there for us and they are the parent figure that I wish I had at home. They listen and are there for us and help counsel us.”
The direct care staff in the homes deal with challenges, but find strength in their desire to make an impact in a child’s life.
“There is a feeling of hope, love, charity and grace – that’s the dynamic and attitude that people have at MCH,” Lou said. “They have a servant’s heart, the people who work here. I don’t know if you could work here if you didn’t have that.”
A Foundation of Support – Transition Services
Yesenia lived at Methodist Children’s Home as a teenager from 2009 until she graduated from high school in 2013. During her time on campus, she became close with her staff and at the end of her junior year she was assigned a Transition Services (TS) coordinator to guide her as she prepared to leave MCH for college. TS coordinators work with MCH graduates as they prepare for life after graduation.
During her senior year, Yesenia’s TS coordinator helped her as she signed up for the SAT and ACT tests, went on college tours and signed up for courses to earn college credits while still attending high school. Leaving MCH was bittersweet for Yesenia as she packed up her belongings and headed to Austin to attend the University of Texas. Staff and friends helped her settle into a new community and decorate her new room.
Then before Thanksgiving during her freshman year, Yesenia suffered a spontaneous hemorrhage in her head and landed in the ICU. Her support system from MCH was there to help her through the ordeal and her TS coordinator at the time was immediately by her side.
“I don’t know who called her,” Yesenia said. “I just know that when I woke up in the hospital, she was there.”
Yesenia said her coordinator took care of arrangements with school and insurance so she was able to focus on getting well. In 2015 after her TS coordinator left MCH, Yesenia was matched with Crystal Anthony. Anthony said she believes she has been successful at building relationships with her young adults.
“I am honest with each of them, but treat them with respect,” Anthony said. “When we work together, I listen to their plan or goal. Then we discuss how to accomplish it. They understand that the ultimate decision is theirs and that I will support them. But I will also show them things that may cause a problem.”
Anthony has been a tremendous support to Yesenia as she makes decisions in her adulthood and the two have built a healthy and playful bond. They email and text each other regularly and have face-to-face visits at least twice a semester. Yesenia visits MCH frequently to see staff and stops by Anthony’s office to talk about her plans.
Yesenia will graduate in December 2017 with a double major in social work and human development and family sciences and plans to attend graduate school. She also recently attended a study abroad course in Paris and London that gave her valuable insight into social issues in different countries.
Anthony encouraged Yesenia to push herself academically and continue growing. She also helped her develop a budget and offers life advice. Anthony said Yesenia is doing well and “even when she hits an obstacle, she pushes through.”
Yesenia said she appreciates the way Anthony and other MCH staff have been there for her, even after she left campus. She and Anthony have grown close and she feels comfortable asking questions and talking with her about things in her life.
“I like that whenever you graduate from MCH, you don’t have to lose contact with everybody,” she said. “I still say that MCH is home.”
Anthony said TS is a vital part of MCH because they are able to convey life lessons to young adults as they pursue their dreams in a realistic way. She is proud of Yesenia’s accomplishments.
“I could see her in 10 years coming back to MCH to work,” Anthony said. “She is passionate about MCH and understands how MCH has made a difference in her life. Even if she doesn’t work at MCH, it would be something similar – Yesenia would want to give back.”
A Higher Purpose – Spiritual Development
In “Hardwired to Connect,” connectedness is twofold, described as “close connections with other people, and deep connections to moral and spiritual meaning.” As a Christian organization, MCH strives to show youth Christ’s love for them as they heal from their past. This effort is led by the Spiritual Development team who are challenged to build relationships with youth who come from different home situations and spiritual backgrounds.
“We have to approach them without an agenda,” said Kim Clark, director of spiritual development, who has served in her role for 13 years. “We value them as human beings and get to know who they are. And I think from there, God blesses that and helps us find a way to make a deeper connection.”
The team makes an effort to show up at the school, athletic events or other activities in order to establish the foundation for a relationship.
“We actively and prayerfully pursue relationships with our students while trying to make sure we don’t push too hard,” said Ron Britton, who has served as spiritual development minister for seven years. “Our goal is to have an honest relationship built on mutual trust.”
Ahmad Washington, spiritual development minister who has served in several roles at MCH for the past 17 years, added, “When we engage on a natural level, events and other life issues going on, we are also in tune with God, trying to walk how He wants us to walk here, and the spiritual core of who we are manifests itself in how we talk about those issues or listen.”
The Spiritual Development team also utilizes their own talents to connect with the youth through groups for art, praise dance and praise team. Britton leads art sessions on an individual basis and said conversations come about organically through these lessons. Washington works weekly with praise team and praise dance as they prepare for performances.
“We want to figure out ways to allow them to share their gifts in a way that helps them develop a sense of connectedness and belonging here so that through that connectedness, they can encounter Christ,” Washington said.
Youth find support systems among peers and the Spiritual Development staff while also expressing emotions or insecurities through their craft. Iona, who currently plays guitar in the praise band and is a member of praise dance, said music is an outlet for her and said the praise team is “a place to forget about things for a while.”
“Pastor Ahmad is kind of like a father figure here for me,” Iona said. “If I have something that is bothering me, I typically go to him. I’ll tell him what’s going on and we talk together and pray.”
Soleana said working the audio/visuals for the praise team has helped her gain confidence and get closer to staff.
“I was shy and I wasn’t social at all with the staff at first,” she said. “It helped me a lot in getting over my fear and with my communication.”
Rainn, a member of the praise team, was able to start a praise dance group last year with the support of the Spiritual Development staff. She coordinates practices and choreographs dances while helping other members improve their skills. The popularity of praise dance has grown tremendously and she said seeing its success has helped her faith grow.
“Pastor Ahmad told me God has a plan for me,” she said. “God helped me reach my goals that I didn’t think could happen. It helped bring me closer to God knowing there is a purpose for me.”
Although their role can be trying, the Spiritual Development team all say they feel called to serve this special congregation and hope they can help them see God’s love for them.
“My hope is that these kids will ultimately find a foundation in Christ,” Britton said. “So many of them often have zero foundation – they don’t know who they are or what they want and are chameleons trying on every identity they can. Ultimately I want them to leave here with a strong foundation and strong identity in regards to who they are.”
Washington added, “I want them to also have an honest look and view of their scars, whether it be from their past or family issues. Through that honest look they can begin or enter the process of healing through Christ and faith in Jesus by allowing Him to bring the assistance and the help they need.”