Inn From the Cold hosted a symposium style event ‘Circles of Hope’ inviting 20 stories of compassion, hope and innovation. Marilyn Dyck, our founder was invited to share. Please listen to ‘Are We Asking the Right Questions.’
In the 1980’s a little girl in Ontario walked into a social services office she knew well and said: “I need a new family.”
In the 90’s she came to Calgary as part of the streets … found The Back Door (now TheDoorway) and used our business planning process for all 24 months to build her steps off the street.
Later, she wrote about her life experiences. She called her personal story:
‘When a Child Decides’
AND She challenged us ALL with a bigger question: ‘Who Will Tell the Story?’
Today I bring you the story and context of my learning.
For 30 years I have been a witness, engaging every day with young people who have lived a long time in the culture of the street.
I am a mom of 2 daughters and Nana to 4 grandsons.
The world is precious to me.
I was born in Calgary and I love the mountains.
I was raised on a farm and was taught that life is managed best by holding to certainties.
The geography of my story is small.
The magnitude of my world is beyond measure.
I come today with a profound story of possibility and potential in change
My personhood grew the day I realized that truth is not in the tail of the elephant, but in the whole. I have seen past the tail, but will never discover the whole.
But I know the whole as possibility – and that is foundational for the opportunity I have every day to learn from and support young people making change.
In 1987 I was invited to an opportunity to imagine a different approach to offer young people who were entrenched in life on the street, felt stuck there, but unable to sustain their own efforts to leave.
The stories of their lives are much more complex than my story.
I came to the task with optimism about what I could offer them.
I learned that they had a great deal to teach me.
Our ideas developed as we listened.
They were skilled in their own survival and pragmatic about the necessary choices to achieve it.
They were capable and articulate. They had “knowledge of the world’. They discussed and debated. They knew ‘life’.
They confirmed and reinforced that street culture was indeed the correct language to represent their experience. Understanding that simple recognition gave a whole new conversation to the expression they heard so often, that getting off the street is just ‘get off your ass and get a job’.
We learned from them.
Society assumes that a baby born will be cared for by responsible adults, taught the rules and perspectives of navigating the world, will be loved and encouraged, and have adult guidance – – – and allies – to explain the puzzles and challenges and motivate forward.
For young people who do not experience this sequence of care, their first loss is TRUST in the world.
Left with their own resources to pull their lives forward, thousands of children experience lack of positive adult intervention and support.
They must decide on their own terms – with the limited information they have gained in whatever ways, what their next choice must be.
And so the systems of society become operative in assisting their lives forward.
Now there is documented data to record any non-compliance, straying from expectations, not fitting current options for school and play, not enough food, no adults to suggest bedtimes and engage in conversations about things that do not work, or appear to be a departure from what is expected of all children… and so on …
The SELF that develops is built by the child over time. Sometimes there is a temporary intercept of kindness and a different way of seeing. But every mark of being crushed, ignored, punished, excluded, condemned, becomes part of their concept of themselves.
The Sociology is socialization. It is very clear that people develop their sense of who they are, and need to be, from the information they receive from other people.
Labels begin to accumulate in files of professionals called to intervene in behaviors and situations. Changing place happens often. The file accompanies each move.
Eventually it is probable that the individual young person is well known in several systems with an ever growing set of assessments, and documents to prove their need for greater management and containment.
Many run away from this untenable judgement and confinement.
Society still largely believes that the problem is in the young person and that the role of society is to fix them.
The Doorway was created to challenge this belief.
We were asked to be an alternative to traditional thinking.
A book I read in Sociology became important and insightful to process the experience of our young people. “The Making of Blind Men” presents an indisputable conclusion that people become how they are treated.
They adapt to the information given to them by other human beings.
We believe that young people universally are impacted by this effect.
Our society has embraced academics and research and believed perspectives there would inform excellent outcomes for young people.
Young people have taught us that the critical gap for them is a human process of relationship. Our humanity is the essential process. This cannot be learned in textbooks.
Systems and policy and methods cannot deliver the core piece of nurturing a human being.
The Doorway is relational. Engagement is through respect, acceptance, a first name and no file.
Importantly that means no labels. Just the person.
The welcome is framed in terms of their statement that they want to get off the street.
The starting point is a conversation to explain our business planning process, and to understand the simplicity of making YOUR OWN PERSONAL plan to start changing where you are now to where you want be in that area of your life.
They name and pursue their own goals for change.
Self determination is KEY.
Each Plan creates one step of strategy at a time, named and completed by their own thinking.
I am sure most people in this room can identify Maslow’s hierarchy triangle
The bottom layer is about survival: food,water,warmth,rest
The Top Layer is : self-actualization
The Doorway Approach turns the pyramid upside-down.
We start with the opportunity to believe in yourself.
Every time you build a plan you are showing yourself that you have a great brain, you know stuff, and that you can do what you planned because it is your ideas and you know yourself – and your life – and what is possible.
Each time you do this exercise you have increased in a small measure your belief in yourself and your capability.
Over 24 months this adds up to over 200 of own goals planned and hundreds of conversations with community people in the room.
We understand this as cross-cultural learning between two distinct cultures, street and mainstream.
Community people in the space recognize your credibility in the plan you have written.
For young people, The Doorway is a consistent environment with people who listen well, accept who you are, see your possibility and offer positive encouragement.
The success of the Doorway is the individual success of each young person who persists in challenging themselves toward accomplishment of their own goals.
The goal is to nurture individual self-determination and learning to stand on your own …
We have learned that
They do not NEED US to move their lives forward.
They need THEMSELVES.
Young people have learned on the street that they are responsible for their own survival.
Restoring their sense of themselves and belief in themselves is the driver of their persistence to continue and thrive.
They believe in themselves as community people believe in them.
Just as the messages of society have damaged their sense of SELF, that self is rebuilt by the positive impact of being given self-determination as a process that restores their confidence in their own agency to power their own lives.
7 out of 10 persist to build their lives to stable participation in mainstream and to problem solve life as it happens.
We have also witnessed that there is risk in our current strategies of society to ‘help’.
When we do things FOR people, we take away their opportunity to learn and do it themselves.
Over the years, this builds dependence on our charities – and on our systems –
without giving people THEMSELVES – to own their own lives.
Are we asking the right questions?
Nanette J. Davis, a courageous and insightful sociologist in the early 90’s published … her book YOUTH CRISIS growing up in the high-risk society.
Her research challenges the way our systems and policies see young people and demonstrates
that The story of our young people is also the story of US as a SOCIETY.
The most difficult question we face as the adults responsible for the welfare of OUR children is:
How do we turn ‘service’ into ‘relationship’?
Young people have shown us the impact of services to fix without building relationships that could heal.
As the young woman from Ontario asked:
WHO will tell THIS story?
Do we have the courage to ask the questions about how our society and our efforts to help really impact young people in their growth and development to adult?
What if we ask them if and how what we are doing to help works for them?
What if leadership for our thinking began with their answers?
What if we could speak their truth to community and funders?
What if we were invited to ASK these questions out loud?
For 30 years The Doorway has witnessed community people LISTEN and LEARN and RESPOND to almost 1200 individual young people integrating back into our society.
These are our Circles of Hope.
Over the years, ‘young people growing older’ have called or stopped by to report about their families, their education goals, their experiences with work, a business started, – one now has a net worth of $1 million, post secondary education achieved, at least 2 PhD’s, … restored relationships …. And so on …
HOPE is a consistent thank you from these young people who believe they live because they found HOPE in a way to build their own life forward.
TONIGHT – I have been invited to dinner with a graduate from 1988.
She is a chef now and lives in Victoria BC. She lives her life out loud and has taught me a lot.
It will be a great evening!!