Being a Veteran in the RHY Field

By: TC Cassidy, MPA, M.Div., CYC-P, Director of Technical Assistance / HTR3 Project Director, RHYTTAC / National Safe Place Network

When I was asked to write this blog as a veteran of the United States military and the RHY field, I struggled to find a balance between recognizing military veterans and recognizing veterans of the RHY field.

In recognition of military veterans I can think of no better words than those spoken by President Barack Obama:

“For their service and sacrifice, warm words of thanks from a grateful nation are more than warranted, but they aren’t nearly enough. We also owe our veterans the care they were promised and the benefits that they have earned. We have a sacred trust with those who wear the uniform of the United States of America.” 

In recognition of “veterans” of the RHY field I have tried to string together some words that address your service with one of our country’s most vulnerable populations. I believe the reason many of us are “veterans” of the field is our core belief in the truth found in the words of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower:

“Fortunately for us and our world, young people are not easily discouraged. The hopes of the world rest on the fresh outlook of young people.”

Our service in the child and youth care field, with runaway and homeless youth, provides opportunities for children, youth and young adults accessing our services to “change the world” just as our 2015 National RHY Grantees Conference tagline states. Our service also gives us the opportunity to become “veterans” of the RHY field and to honor the service of “veterans” that have gone before us to guide our work.

Some of the veterans that come to mind for me are people the field has lost in recent years: Pamela Johnson, Mark Krueger, and Ron Mortenson. I was fortunate to know and learn from each of these “veterans”; I was fortunate to call them colleagues, mentors, and friends. I could write pages about the impact Pam, Mark, and Ron had on me and my work.

Other “veterans” of the field are going to be sitting in a room at the 2015 Runaway and Homeless Youth Grantees Conference in a few days. I am fortunate to call you colleagues, mentors, and friends. I look forward to meeting you there to continue our work to end youth homelessness and provide opportunities for youth to change the world.

I hope each of you find an opportunity to connect with a “veteran” of the field that has impacted your work – at conference, by phone, email, Skype, Twitter, Facebook – to let them know how they have influenced your work with children, youth, young adults and families.

Reflecting back on the 2014 National RHY Grantees Conference

Often times we have a moment that we find ourselves reflecting upon the furthest and most recent moments of our lives.  These moments can make us smile, laugh, cry… but most of all, they can remind us of our gratitude towards someone. Each year, we (the NSPN/RHYTTAC staff) have such a blast planning and hosting the National RHY Grantees conference for you.  As the time grows closer, we become very eager to see the hard work come to fruition.  The thing we are most excited for however, is seeing and connecting with each of you.  We see you arrive to the conference, excited to be in a new place, excited to see old friends and meet new colleagues, and exited to learn!  During the first day we see it… the SPARK. It’s a contagious spark that spreads like wildfire through each and every one of you. This SPARK is INSPIRATION.  During the end of the conference, yes, you are tired from all the great activities and intriguing training workshops, but during the end of the conference you can’t help but to see, hear, and FEEL the inspiration that flows through you.  What you take back to your fellow staff, organization, and community is something that can change lives. Yes, our friends – what we look forward to the most is you and your inspiration to make a difference in the RHY world!  Thank you for allowing us to be a part of the difference you make in so many lives.  

If you missed the conference or would like a reminder of how much fun we had… here are a few videos created during the conference, including our Video Blog from the night of the RHYA Anniversary Celebration! 

Opening Session:
Native American Welcome Ceremony – Phoenix Oyate Singers http://youtu.be/1t6LIrywMRg  
Native American Welcome Ceremony – Dance:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShH8cLcnX1g 

40th RHYA Anniversary Celebration:
Video Blog:  http://youtu.be/P2UdILm2Ncs
Thank You Video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPwuhT-gYU4

Want to see more from the conference?  Check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rhyttac where we posted live!  Posts include photos, videos, and quotes from the keynote sessions.  In the mean time, we’re getting preparing for the 2015 National RHY Grantees Conference where we hope to see you inspired even more!

Conference Logo

Celebrating 40 Years of “Looks”

The Look

You know the look. If you have been around a while you have seen it hundreds if not thousands of times. You are meeting someone new and you are asked what it is that you do. Struggling to find the simplest, most straightforward answer, you might say…”I work with youth”. The person might ask for more…perhaps, “Are you a teacher?” and while the answer is yes, you are – you may probably say – no, I work in a shelter (substitute group home, residential treatment center, outpatient counseling, wilderness camp, after school program or…) and then, wait for it….the look.

The look is one filled with first bemusement, then questions and then the moment of “oh, that must be rewarding – I couldn’t do it” or “these kids today – they just need discipline” or maybe even “you must be a saint to deal with those little terrors”.

You may take time to explain but often you find it isn’t worth it. The people who respond in this way may never recognize, understand or feel what we do. It is an honor. It is a privilege and it is an enormous responsibility to stand in front of any other individual and say “give me your best shot – I can take it. I believe in you and I am not backing down, running away or giving up on you.” You see their minds working quickly to regain position. “Oh yeah, we’ll see” and then the tests begin. You are ready. You have studied. You have back-up and better yet, you have faith. And, after one or maybe many struggles – you see the other look. The one we anticipate. The one we hope to see. The one we love.

This look is filled with wonder and questions and a glimmer of confidence and self esteem that was hard to see. This look is filled with “don’t you watch the news? We are trouble. There is no point in trying. We will end up making sure that everything negative that was ever said about us is true because that may be the only way we don’t disappoint  our families, the system or anyone else that cares to pay any attention.”

Your look in response might be first filled with frustration, and a deep sigh and maybe even an unshed tear says “I know. I know who you are. I see your creativity, your energy, your resilience, your love for the other youth and the dreams that you swallow rather than let anyone hear them out loud. I know. You have made mistakes. You followed the leader or you led others into harm.  But we learn. We change. We grow. It starts here and I am by your side.”

The media, the system, the community and sometimes even our own families have a hard time understanding and embracing the youth we serve. It is easier to assign them a label and move on – hoping for better news with the next youth that crosses their paths. As we celebrate 40 years of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, take a moment to think about the youth that called, asked for help, walked into a shelter, received a hygiene kit or accepted a hug. Each one defied the odds, the expectations and took a step toward something different. Your look helped them know whether it was safe to keep moving in the right direction or if it was better to retreat.

Recently, Robin Williams – a comic genius and gifted actor – took his own life. In the film “Dead Poet’s Society” he portrays Professor Keating and he shares the following quote with the boys he is teaching. When speaking about life as a play he says “and that the powerful play goes on, and that you might contribute a verse.” What is the verse you contribute to the lives of youth? How do we support them in creating and sharing their own verses so that their stories blend with ours to continue this powerful play?

Remember that looks reflect what we see, feel and believe inside. Look at our youth with hope even when they push us further than we thought we could be pushed. Look at our youth in partnership. Even when they refuse every offer of assistance that comes their way. Look at our youth with acceptance. Even when who they are challenges every fiber of who you are.  Then, wait for it….

Author: Anonymous – Someone who has dedicated their life to serving youth; someone who has dedicated their life  to receiving “The Look”.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act and we invite RHY Grantees to celebrate with us. Learn how at www.rhyttac.net/news/celebrate-40th-anniversary-runaway-and-homeless-youth-act-us

All entries must be received no later than Monday, September 22, 2014.