That’s one of the first things my supervisor at the Children’s Home said to me when I met her for orientation. See, at the Home there are fifty or so kids who have little to no self-worth, most have had no positive adult role model in their lives, who have been abused verbally, physically, sexually, or more, kids who have been assaulted by peers or who have assaulted others, some are violent, some are quiet, but nearly all of them feel they have no purpose or value in this world. Now I haven’t met many of the kids one on one, and the ones I have chatted or hung out with haven’t talked about their past or why they are being treated. But I’ve heard the stories. Everyone I’ve met has told me one story or another about a particular child, their problems, their history or their treatment. Some of the things I hear are haunting. I suppose the staff here share everything because who could possibly carry all of that burden, shame and suffering? It’s like everyone helps each other to carry their “crosses”, which is lovely. I doubt they’d be sane if they didn’t. It’s tempting to take all these stories home and let whatever compassion or pity I have turn into unhealthy dwelling, so my supervisor warned me to “keep my backyard in order”, that is, not let my mind be overrun with too much emotion about the kids or their stories. So far, so good.

A little on what I do: I work part-time with Youth Ministry (…I’ll talk about this dozy later), and part time with Experiential Learning, where we organize group activities to engage the kids with art, rock climbing, horses, whatever. Soon, they say, I will be organizing my own group sessions and lesson plans. Yikes. Considering I came into this position with no experience with children, special needs, recreational therapy, sociology or psychology, this is just icing on the cake. More things I’m not skilled to do or knowledgeable about. It’s intimidating (to say the least). More so than the horses, which are dang intimidating. But this is supposed to be an intentional year of growth and development for me, in all sorts of areas, and I’m desperate to keep that attitude.

To help, what I’m doing now is just getting to know the kids, slapping out clay with one, taking walks and playing cards with another. When I’m with them one on one, it amazes me that they even have issues that would merit a long stay at the Children’s Home. Many are sweet, polite, open and responsive. It’s still uncomfortable for me to be around so many people, let alone kids who are so needy, but it’s getting easier by the day.

Also, as much as I want to come home and blog about the children after an exhausting day, I can’t, no more than what I’ve described above. There are strict rules about confidentiality, even about what goes on at the Home.

Soon when my camera gets some new batteries, I’ll take some photos of the place and post them here. The home itself is almost a century old, and was historically an orphanage started by the Franciscan Sisters. The “Orphan Train” would come into town, and if families didn’t pick some kids up, they were sent to the home and cared for by the Sisters. It became a residential treatment facility about thirty years ago officially, I think. It’s fairly large, brick, with many wings and little cottages connected by drafty hallways. The chapel bell tower is one of the most recognizable landmarks in St. Cloud and everyone is familiar with it, even though the chapel isn’t used anymore except for a few ecumenical services for Thanksgiving and Easter.

Hopefully, I’ll get to split my time with the kids and just working around the place, cleaning the classrooms, dusting off the pews, weeding the pretty gardens outside, to indulge that pesky introversion of mine…

Yesterday was my 22nd birthday, and it was one of the best I’ve ever had. Not gonna lie, my 21st was a crap shoot, so the bar wasn’t very high anyway. But the Sisters and Yadira, the Mexican girl living with us, stood outside my door at 7am singing “Happy Birthday” to me! I just popped out of bed kind of dazed, hair messed, and creaked the door open. There they were, of course all showered and dressed and already done with morning prayer. Cordy clipped some roses from her garden and they all signed a card… not many people can say they’ve started out their birthday with a bunch of nuns singing to them! After work Loretta set up a BLT spread and we ate outside, was visited by another sweet lady named Sister Joyce who gave me a cute cactus plant for my windowsill. We chatted and enjoyed each other’s company and they treated me to Dairy Queen. Love those gals.