Maggie de Vera Blogs: REFLECTIONS…

J’s story…

Posted in Uncategorized by Administrator on the February 9th, 2012

I just felt like I wanted to share this with you- whoever is interested in reading this.

We just restarted one of ROYAL youth programs for Juvenile Probation boys- boys that are court ordered into our 6 week-intensive daily program. I decided to take out one of the kids (who i’ll refer to as “J”) into the community to go grocery shopping to use an alternative approach to teaching the concept of math and cooking by teaching thru grocery budget and recipe measurements/instructions.

I brought him to Trader Joe’s as well as to the Mission; 24th St’s Mexicatessen/Tortillera. He was exposed to cultural differences and was fascinated by the fresh tortillas being made. While we were out at “Trader Joes”, J was very quiet, serious and distracted. As usual I was nurturing yet strict. I gave him many directives to see if he could comply. He did- EXCEPT when I asked him to ask the store staff where we could find the salad dressing. J immediately said “no”- he wouldn’t. I told J that I wasn’t ASKING him to do it, I was TELLING him to do it. He said “no” again. I reminded J of the right choices he needed to make as to earn rewards and can also earn consequences. He walked to the staff, rudely nudged him and when the staff turned to J, J pointed at me, gave him a rude look then walked away. I instructed J to do what he was supposed to do (ask the staff where the salad dressings were located). J defiantly shook his head no. I apologized to the staff, maintained my composure and informed J that there would be no salad dressing for their salad as a result. J remained quiet. We finished our shopping, went back to ROYAL, cooked, cleaned up, processed the day, then wrapped up. I had him write in his journal about what he liked about today and also to list the new things he learned. When I read his journal that night, he wrote “i learnt that people can be nice- even if they don’t know you”.
When i processed everything with him the next day, I discovered that he was afraid of being out in the community, he didn’t know how to act with strangers and was used to be stigmatized/judged negatively by other.

The following days, we focused on “Communication Skills Training”. On his third week with us, he has worked very hard to be helpful, proud of the cooking skills he’s acquired, learned how to write poetry, and learning how to control his anger. Not once has he challenged staff in an aggressive way and continues to try to show respect, despite his known anger issues. When I pass by the program to visit the boys, he immediately jumps up and gives me a loving hug- allowing himself to show his vulnerability (which is hard for many of these kids).

Many of our kids do a lot of negative things- because they were not shown/taught what was right… In fact, was shown very negative things… Some of our hardest kids become our most positive, and strongest leaders who have the most positive impact on many other kids- once they learn the skills, the tools, and are nurtured, empowered and validated yet held accountable…

As challenging as our work can be- esp in just raising money to keep our agency going, the breakthroughs that we witness are inspiring.