Holidays

A Holiday Memory

Written by: Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, National Safe Place Network

It would be difficult for me to think about or discuss the holidays without remembering my paternal grandparents and the influence they had on my life. As my mother’s parents had passed before I was born, my only experiences with grandparents were from a couple who were courageous, hard working, simple and very different from each other.

My grandma can best be described as a gentle soul who wanted to take care of everyone. She spent much of her life in a rocking chair, staring out a window and waiting for one of her children or grandchildren to come through the field to the back door of the kitchen. Regardless of the time of day, there would be something cooking. Chocolate pies (using a recipe that allowed her to stack them 3 high) would be in the pie safe and she would already be taking home grown vegetables from the stove before you could stomp the red clay of Mississippi from your feet and crack the screen door. Her desire was to care for each of her children by meeting very basic needs: food, love and knowledge of the Bible.

My grandpa was at work when he wasn’t waiting for grandma to serve a meal. Although he insisted that I was too young to help in the picking of beans in a field near the farmhouse, my memories were of watching him, my grandma and the other members of my family clearing row after row of vegetables in efforts to complete the task before the sun rose above the magnolia trees at the house. Grandpa was a no nonsense man who collected treasures from the castoffs of others and stories of his neighbors with an equal sense of purpose and passion. Quick to temper, he was also quick to defend and to encourage each of his children to stand up and be accountable for their actions.

My love of my grandparents deepened as I grew older and while we lived many miles apart, there was a strong emotional tie. However, this was not always the case. Love was shadowed by uncertainty and insecurity.

To be clear, as a young child, I felt isolated and different from not only my grandparents but from almost all of my relatives on my father’s side of the family. I don’t recall how I became aware of the differences between us. I just remember incidences of not ‘fitting in” and feeling as if I was living a life filled with broken rules.

I had two first cousins – one 11 months older and one 10 months younger – and we would come together on Sunday afternoons. While the adults conversed about whatever matter was most important that week, grandma would prepare dinner and the children would play outside. I remember attempts to play house that were never quite successful because we could not agree on the contents of our desired home. At the age of 6, it seemed quite important to me that we have a television, a record player and other items that were in my home. My cousins’ views of a proper home were of a stove and table with dishes set for the entire family. While this difference seems trivial now, at the time, I became lost in why there was a difference at all and what the difference meant.

I became increasingly aware that the conversations I attempted to have were challenging and that few commonalities exited between my experience and theirs. Once my older sisters and brothers were able to explain the difference, I understood but was still unsure of myself and how my grandparents could accept me.

My grandparents and the rest of my father’s family were members of a fundamentalist Pentecostal church. In the way they practiced their spiritual beliefs, they could not watch television, they could not listen to popular music, women could not cut their hair, wear pants or make-up, etc.  Because my parents both came from previous marriages, neither were allowed to practice in the Pentecostal church in my home community, and therefore, my siblings and I were raised in a different church with different beliefs. I grew up knowing that the people I loved best in the world did not believe as I did and in my childish imaginings I wondered who was right and if I was “less than” because of these beliefs. I started looking for, and so easily saw, slight differences in the way that our branch of the family was treated. I became sure that these differences were proof of an insurmountable divide. This awareness brought hurt to my inexperienced heart. Was the look that I received from my grandma one of love or tolerance? Was she proud of me for what I knew and for the dreams that I had? Was it o.k. that I knew about Elvis and could do the twist? Would she be disappointed if she knew I wore shorts and played softball every weekend? Was it o.k. to be me?

Christmas was the time when we could all come together and exchange gifts and appreciate that another year had kept us well. My grandma’s care-taking and love of the holiday meant that the stove was always hot and oranges, apples and walnuts could be found on every sideboard. My grandpa’s stubbornness and final authority meant the Christmas “tree” was a small branch cut from a larger tree and decorated with a single string of lights and a star. To him, it was important that the tree be high enough on a table so that he could walk without running into it. So we would gather around the table and open presents. While every child has wishes, I knew that my wishes were different from what my grandparents would see as appropriate gifts. So, I would receive a purse or a scarf or mittens and I was always happy because it was the one time of year when my cousins and I were alike because we would all receive the exact same gift. It was at those times when it felt as though perhaps it was grandma’s way of saying that we were all the same in her eyes.

The year that I turned 10, the gifts yielded an unexpected surprise. We came into the room and as I walked around the large wood stove that covered a substantial part of the floor, I saw three large boxes. I knew immediately they were for my cousins and me and unless there was a pair of mittens for every day of the year, there was something unusual inside. Not knowing what my grandma would select that was so big, it seemed as if I were going to explode as we finished dinner and took turns opening packages. When it came our turn – my cousins and I, with no regard to waste of beautiful bows or paper, ripped into the packages. The room was quiet as I studied the pink on the package and examined the pictures on the outside. I remember feeling across the top of the package for sealing tape because for a split second, a thought crossed my mind that the box may have been one found by my grandpa and put to use by my grandma for the present. However, the box was sealed and as I looked at my cousins, I was pleased at their smiling faces as we realized that we had all received Barbie Dream Campers. Well, even if no one else understood, I knew we had received a mighty gift. Barbie and her large residential road warrior were very much a part of my dream world.

How did Grandma know? Did my parents say something? If so, why would she go along with it? I didn’t state the questions out loud. I just laughed and felt an immediate and lasting joy.

Looking back, the message that I took from the gift was simple. I was o.k. Even if I knew about different things and had different hopes and dreams for my life, I was just as important in my grandma’s eyes as the other members of my family.  What I wanted and hoped for and dreamed about was just as acceptable as what they longed for in their lives. Years later, my grandmother shared with me that she had gotten the gifts because she had been in a store and had heard a woman talking about how the camper would allow little girls to make believe and imagine traveling and seeing what was beyond their own door.

As we celebrate a season that is filled with different beliefs, hopes and expectations for the world, I am reminded it is these differences in points of view and experience that make our world brighter. My life is fulfilling not because I am the same as everyone else but because I am different and because I embrace the differences in others. The truth in giving lies with the acceptance and love that is shared with a greeting or a kind gesture that says my world is better because you are part of it.

My grandma passed away in 1997 and a few weeks later, her husband of more than 60 years followed. I still return to that place and travel through that field, toward her home place and imagine her rocking in her chair, looking out the window and waiting for us to return. Now, I know she was not only waiting for us but she was also imaging those places that existed outside her door, over the hill and just beyond her reach.

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Sensitivity to the Season

Written by: Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, National Safe Place Network

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It’s October and with the season comes such traditions as pumpkins, fall leaves, trick or treat, and brisk mornings. One only needs to look at theater listings or the aisles of your local department store to see signs of Halloween. Who remembers the first time you saw the movie Halloween and heard Jamie Lee Curtis scream? Have you seen any cars named Christine lately? How many hockey masks do you have? Do crows make you shiver? Why is that balloon tied to the storm drain?

If you are one who enjoys the season, frights can be fun and create memories worth sharing. However, for many youth and adults, the signs and sounds of the season can trigger memories of experiences scarier than most of us can imagine. Just like you, Safe Place® is committed to helping youth not only BE safe but FEEL safe. As you think about how to connect with youth during this time of year, consider the following activities:

  • Invite youth to create a collage (on paper or digitally) of the images that remind them of feeling safe. Make sure there are sufficient options to address differences across culture, age, and experience.
  • Have discussions with youth new to your program about any aspect of your organization’s physical layout that is frightening or uncomfortable for them.
  • Host a group discussion of things youth rely on when they’re scared. Be prepared to respond when youth say they are never scared or when they say they have nothing or no one to rely on in those moments.
  • Ensure you are not selecting movies for group viewing or seasonal activities without considering the needs of each youth. Allow for alternative activities without disparagement. Adults working with youth may not recognize specific triggers. Corn mazes may evoke feelings of being lost. Haunted houses may trigger unsuspected reactions. Pumpkins that smile are just wrong.

If the sound of chain saws make you cringe and the idea of summer camp makes you nauseous, you understand the power of images, sounds, and, memories. Work with your staff to create safe memories for the youth you serve. It will be the treat they never forget.

Try a Mantra for 2017

Written by: Katie Carter, Director of Research, Education & Public Policy for National Safe Place Network

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Looking back in my 2016 work notebook, I have a list of “possible mantras” instead of actual resolutions for the previous year. I was coming back to work after several months of maternity leave and I guess wasn’t quite ready to commit to a traditional resolution. Instead, I was adjusting to my life as a new mom working full-time. Some of my “possible mantras” for 2016 included: “This is enough;” “Don’t forget to breathe;” and “No is a complete sentence.”

I wish I had reviewed my 2016 mantras more frequently than in January and now.

So this 2017, I’m going to try again to pick a mantra, write it down, post it around my workspace and my home, and use it. And I’m going to just pick one, not make a whole list of them.

If you are a person who also has trouble sticking to a resolution, may I suggest a mantra as well? I got the idea here: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/forget-resolutions-embrace-a-yearly-mantra-instead-226656. The author provides an example: instead of deciding to exercise three times a week, your mantra could be “move more.”

Here are some other examples of possible mantras to replace popular resolutions:

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Do you have other ideas for mantras or resolutions? Let us know on Twitter at @nspntweets.

Happy 2017.

Halloween Safety

By: Danielle White, Executive Administrative Assistant, National Safe Place Network / RHYTTAC

As Halloween approaches, many people seek out the seasonal thrills and chills. For some, however, the scariest part of Halloween is not the ghosts and goblins. Children are twice as likely to be hit by cars on Halloween, according to national statistics. Additionally, costumes and decorations can create tripping and fire hazards, while candy and other Halloween goodies can pose health risks.

It’s not all demons and dangers, though. By following some basic safety guidelines, everyone can have a safe and spooky Halloween!

COSTUME SAFETY

  • When picking out costumes, be sure to look for flame resistant materials such as nylon and polyester. Store bought costumes will often be labeled as “flame resistant.”
  • To avoid trips and falls, use face paint or makeup instead of masks for maximum visibility and ensure that the costumes are an appropriate length.
  • If props include swords or other blades, make sure they are pliable and smooth. Such precautions will reduce the risk of fall-related injuries.
  • Test face paint and makeup in a small area before applying it to the entire face. This will minimize the risk of skin irritation or other allergic reactions. Be sure to wash off all paint and makeup before bed.
  • Choose bright or light colors when possible. If costumes are dark, attach reflective tape or other light sources. Have youth carry flashlights or glow sticks at all times.
  • Avoid oversized clothing and shoes, as well as costume pieces that stick out so far as to be uncontrollable around open flames, doorways, or faces.

TRICK OR TREATING SAFETY

  • Establish a pre-planned route.
  • When planning your route, check the sex offender registry and keep youth away from those houses.
  • Go out in groups and make sure there are plenty of chaperones
  • Provide all youth with contact information, including addresses and cell phone numbers, in case anyone gets separated.
  • Serve a filling meal prior to trick-or-treating to reduce the temptation to snack on candy before it has been checked.
  • Review the difference between tricks and vandalism. Hold youth accountable for their actions.
  • Walk safely! Stay on sidewalks when possible. If you must be in the road, stay on the far edge and walk facing the oncoming traffic. Only cross the street at corners or crosswalks. Don’t run across the street and never cross between parked cars.
  • Do not allow youth to enter any homes.
  • As tempting as they may be, avoid homemade treats offered by strangers. Stick to factory-wrapped goodies instead. Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering before consuming (common signs of tampering include: unusual appearance, discoloration, torn wrappers, or tiny pinholes). Be aware of any allergies (especially nuts) and help youth steer clear.

DRIVING SAFETY

  • Slow down and be alert when driving in residential areas.
  • Enter and exit driveways or alleys slowly and carefully.
  • Eliminate distractions inside the car so that you can concentrate on your surroundings.
  • Turn on headlights earlier in the evening to help spot children in dark costumes.
  • Be aware of your local trick-or-treating hours and be especially alert during those times.

If trick or treating is not an option, consider hosting an event instead. This can be a fun alternative in a controlled environment and can be accomplished with minimal planning. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Provide healthy treats as well as candy—fruits, veggies, cheese, low-calorie treats, and drink options other than soda.
  • Use party games to promote physical activity while having fun.
  • Keep walking paths, stairs, and other high traffic areas well-lit and free of obstacles.
  • Never leave jack-o-lanterns or candles unattended or on the floor. Keep them on sturdy tables or shelves away from walkways, doorsteps, and curtains.
  • Activities can include: costume contests, jack-o-lantern carving, cookie decorating, ghost stories (try ghost story mad libs for a funny twist), and Halloween themed games.
  • If bobbing for apples, be sure to reduce bacterial contamination by thoroughly washing them with running water and removing any dirt or other obvious spots.

However you choose to spend your Halloween, be sure to celebrate safely so that everyone can enjoy this spook-tacular holiday and live to haunt another day.

Halloween Owl with Witches Hat Sitting on Broomstick with Happy Halloween text Isolated on White Background Illustration

Dear Valentine – Beware the Love Bug’s Sting!

It’s February – that magical time of year when love is in the air, or at least on every commercial and greeting card. With the onslaught of hearts and flowers come the not-often talked about negative consequences of love: heartbreak, mistrust, despair, and no one’s favorite, emergency clinic appointments. As we think about how love, sex, romance, and intimacy permeate the minds of our youth during Teen Dating Violence Prevention Month, here are some strategies to support our young people as they navigate the waters of interpersonal relationships:

  • Model what you want to see. One of the first ways in which we all learn is by observing and mimicking what we see. Young people pay attention to how the adults in their lives handle relationship stress, conflict, and communication in difficult situations. Be mindful of what you project that your young people can see/hear.
  • Building the all-importance self-esteem. We ask our youth to be brave in many situations, and to advocate for themselves in difficult situations. What we must not forget is to instill in our young people the skills and confidence it takes to be your own advocate, stand up for yourself, and know that your voice – in ANY relationship – is important.
  • Expertise is not necessaryAre you stumped as to which STIs are bacterial and which are viral? Not well versed in the four steps of decision-making? Don’t be discouraged. You don’t have to be an expert in sex & healthy relationships to be a caring, trusted, and genuine support to a young person. Unconditional positive regard goes a long way. Still nervous about finding information? You’re in luck; there’s this thing called the internet. See some of the resources below.
  • Teach what love isn’t – Love = respect. Relationships are not easy. They take commitment, patience, conflict skills, and trust. Youth – and adults for that matter – often struggle to identify the difference between love, desire, and affection. What does a healthy relationship look like? Should you be happy all the time? Is it a good relationship if you argue all the time or if you never argue? What does respect look and feel like? How do you know when you’re ready for sex? How do you communicate that you’re not ready? Young people are eager to seek the answers to these questions. However, they’re often not readily available or found in a textbook. Be open to having honest, meaningful conversation about the realities of relationships which, in this lady’s opinion, can be the best Valentine’s Day gift you could give a young person.

Author: Kim Frierson, Training Specialist, RHYTTAC/NSPN

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates

Truly. Even if you don’t like chocolate, it is hard to bypass a Valentine’s heart filled with a variety of choices. If it is your box, and you are patient, you look at the candy chart and based on the descriptions, you prioritize and dive deep. If you do not have a chart and you are forced to guess, you rely first on the touch test (to see if pink or white comes out) and then the taste test (a little nibble is enough). Though you might be left with a package that looks as if it has been ravaged by hungry squirrels, you are satisfied that you have made the most of your chocolate gift. Your tummy is happy. Your brain is happy. Life is good. Note – if it is not your box of chocolate, your temptation may get the best of you and anyone who left the box lying around, well – consequences.

Our work is like a box of chocolates. The youth may or may not come to us with a chart. When we see the description, it is far too easy to compare those words in search of those youth we know are easiest to help. Or, the ones “I like best.” Although we know all youth are different and wonderful and filled with goodness, these characteristics are often hidden underneath a shell that is difficult to crack with squeezing a bit. Metaphorically, we squeeze youth with our intake processes, our rules, our assessments and our interviews. Sometimes, we see a youth start to crack open – and much too late – we may realize we didn’t need to squeeze so hard and once cracked, no one else may be willing to give helping this youth a try. Why? Because sometimes it is only when we can see the inside of a youth that we are willing to make a commitment.

As we enter a month that celebrates love and the sharing of hearts, think about how to best share your heart with the youth you serve and with your colleagues. What do we love about our work and why does it make us feel special? Remember, it began way back in grade school. Do you like me? Yes or no? Youth come to us wanting to be liked. Remember to check “yes.”