Staff meetings routinely astound and humble me – this once a month gathering of (now) 100 employees, from eight (8) sites in nine (9) counties. The room is always full of good energy as folks reacquaint, swapping stories and perspectives. Just being together with others who share a common experience and understanding of the world is powerful. Everyone gains; everyone’s level of commitment is reinforced; everyone leaves the room more whole. At least that’s how I see it…
The meetings have a certain ritual, always culminating in ‘client presentations’, which might be from any one of our programs: it is critical to me that everyone on staff, no matter their job, have a feel for the real life circumstances/needs of our clients and the actual activities staff pursue to address the needs in question: “Who are these individuals we all work on behalf of..?” Presentations are anonymous with only individual and regional demographics shared. The stories are always sobering and often heart breaking, despite the many ‘happy endings’.
This past meeting our Q Center case manager, gave us a rapid-fire briefing on four teen (16 -17) referrals he had the previous week. As is he, the service is new, only recently funded, and now that word is getting out, we are starting to get referrals from our entire region, despite the Q serving primarily Onondaga County LGBTQ youth
Two of the referrals were from correctional facilities, one from concerned school personnel, and one from a social service agency in another county. Each referral is a story in itself, but the one that captured my imagination most had to do with a young man from a rural area some 50+ miles away. He is 17 and has been home-schooled his entire life. His (long-time foster) family adheres to a strict Christian fundamental religious philosophy/sect, and he has never been allowed access to TV, video games, movies, cellphone, internet, etc. He recently came out as gay and his parents immediately forced him into a church-related, ‘conversion’ program. Eventually resisting the programs’ philosophy and requirements he was promptly locked out of his home and all of his clothing/belongings’ were either destroyed or burned. Such is what all too often passes as Christian these days… I digress, I know…
Someone in social services gave us a call about this young man and our staff member immediately jumped in his car, picked up the youth in question, brought him to the Q Center, eventually finding him a safe local shelter placement.
The car ride alone proved to be a wonder to this young man: wide-eyed he stared at all the city activity, advertisements, and businesses. Once in the Q Center, he was completely overwhelmed: never in his wildest dreams had he imagined a vibrant welcoming safe space full of other young people like himself, who also understood themselves as, different from the norm: he was, at last, “home”.
So, happy ending, yes..!? Well, as in most of life, nothing is quite that simple. Because he is a minor his foster parents, despite their having thrown him out, have say as to where he can go while he lives at the shelter, and they are not allowing him to return to the Q Center…
Regardless of the visiting/destination restrictions, we’re not forgetting him, and our case manager has been in daily contact. He feels welcomed and safe at the shelter; more importantly, he now knows he is not alone – that there are others who celebrate and value who he is – as he is, others who share a common experience, others whose stories mirror his, others who are committed to leave shame aside and live ‘whole’ in their unique way of being-in-the world.
He’ll never know that his story, his struggle, his courage, has left a 100 strangers, most of whom he will never meet, more thoughtful, more committed, more whole.
Astounding and humbling.