Friday, April 13, 2007

Empowering the Youth Educator: Reawakening Purpose and Passion

On April 12, 2007, I was privileged to deliver a presentation to counselors, coordinators and administrators of the Morris County Youth Shelter in Morristown, New Jersey. Also attending the presentation entitled "Empowering the Youth Educator: Reawakening Purpose and Passion" were representatives from the Morris County Prosecutor's Office, the Morris County Juvenile Detention Center, the Conklin Youth Center of Bergen County and the Sussex County Youth Shelter. These individuals work in challenging circumstances to provide services to troubled youth in their respective counties. In a very profound way, the hope of the future for these young people is dependent upon these counselors, coordinators, and administrators remaining hopeful themselves and avoiding burnout and cynicism.

We talked about the importance of keeping their mission in mind and creating a collaborative environment with their co-workers and the agencies with which they interact. Working together for the common good allows for maximum achievement. Becoming isolated and indifferent not only reduces achievement, but makes life miserable. And because this work is ESSENTIAL and their roles are VITAL in the lives of the children entrusted to their care, it is critical that each individual spend time renewing their inner strength each day so that they can continue this good work.

The individuals who attended this venue, clearly the unsung heroes of America, were an inspiration to me. They are on the front lines in work that is meaningful, important and vital to American society and they work selflessly for the sake of youth in need, often with very modest compensation. Yet, their dedication can truly touch the hearts of the youth they are in contact with and, through their dedication, they can give hope and inspiration.

About the Morris County Youth Shelter

The Morris County Youth Shelter is a short term (30 day) placement facility that temporarily houses in- crisis Morris County Adolescents who have been placed by the Morris County Family Court Judge. Residents are provided with a structured program that includes recreational activities, life skills instruction, therapeutic groups and community service projects.

Resident behavior and progress is tracked through a point system called Minimum Behavioral Expectations (MBEs). These MBEs provide a structure for the residents to function within. Using this system residents learn life skills including hygiene and proper grooming, laundering their clothing, making their bed and keeping their room neat. Residents are taught about nutrition, healthy eating, and table manners. Other behavioral expectations are in areas such as accountability, use of appropriate language, response to staff, feedback and anger management.

The Shelter has a social services component in its program. The Shelter employs one social services supervisor and two case managers. Case managers work with outside agencies to facilitate basic resident needs such as doctor, dental and therapeutic appointments. Case managers conduct one to one counseling sessions with each resident as well as group sessions. Case managers troubleshoot personal, family, social and school related issues.

The Shelter also employs a full time activities coordinator. This staff member plans daily, special incentive and community service activities for the residents. Daily activities include trips to roller and ice skating venues, bowling, sporting events, movies, cultural exhibits (such as trips to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island) and lectures. Shelter residents and staff participated in a work project at Six Flags Great Adventure and at Gateway National Park this summer. Many outside agencies come to the Shelter to provide their services including the Hope Alive Church, Alcoholics Anonymous and the “You Can” program of the New Jersey National Guard.

All of these services and activities create a well-rounded program for adolescents in crisis. The Shelter strives to stabilize adolescents, and with other agencies, resolve the crisis that forced their temporary placement. For many residents the Shelter provides important services and enjoyable experiences they might not normally receive.

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