Fancy Pants Foodie is proud to be the Official Blog Partner for The Next Course, a cooking-themed fundraiser event on October 3 to raise funds for a generator to power the Youth Home, Inc. campus in the event of a power emergency. The event will feature local chefs teaching attendees how to prepare the gourmet courses they will serve at the event. Tickets are available here for purchase. More information on our previous post here.
As you may know, I have been heavily involved with Cooking Matters over the past couple years, mostly teaching their class for childcare professionals. One of the biggest themes in the class is to encourage routine, especially surrounding mealtimes. This creates a sense of security and structure that translates almost immediately to other areas of a child’s life.
Mealtimes and routines matter.
Now, imagine that you are one of the 70 children living at Youth Home, Inc., a residential and day-treatment center in Little Rock for young people ages 12 to 17 with psychological disorders. It’s the winter of 2012-13, and Christmas brought a couple feet of snow (and a resulting power outage) that Arkansas just wasn’t ready for.
If you’re a boy, you were moved into the one room of the campus’ school building that had a small working generator. If a girl, you were sent to a nearby church which graciously offered its facilities. The usual structure of the day, engineered to the minute by the center’s caring and able staff, was completely disrupted.
The Youth Home kitchen, usually a bustling hub of comfort and nourishment, was cold and dark, without power for several days. All the perishable food there was lost, and the emergency food in the center’s houses was soon depleted. The earlier mentioned church saved the day by preparing and delivering daily meals.
Stephanie Jonasson, development assistant for Youth Home, recalled how the extended power outage affected the children.
“There was no privacy and their regular day structure was completely changed,” Jonasson said. “We also couldn’t have our normal school classes to occupy them. It was a major shakeup and stressor.”
She said that the leadership and routine of the campus helped most of the children continue as normally as possible, but because of the nature of their conditions, some children had a very hard time.
“Some kids are more sensitive than others,” she said. “Once [before the storm], I was driving a girl patient to an appointment. I took a detour that was not the way she was used to, and it really sent her into a panic. It’s just that way with many of our patients; they need structure and predictability. You can imagine how the storm challenged some of them.”
I had the opportunity to tour Youth Home this week, and I am overwhelmed with the facility, their staff, and the success of their work.
Most impressive is Youth Home’s commitment to lovingly empower these youth to take responsibility for their own lives. Again and again, throughout every element of the program, the child must intentionally make decisions and understand the consequences, good or bad.
In the residence halls, where 12 boys or girls live under the care of four direct care staff (as well as medical and psychiatric care staff), rules are clearly posted. Some infractions get smaller punishments, such as staying at a desk to write about your decision. Others are met more severely, with isolation or reduction of “transition level.” Each resident works weekly toward the next transition level, offering more freedom and privileges.
In Youth Home’s Siebert Educational Center, students are empowered to believe they can learn and are expected to do their best. We saw small-ratio classrooms with SMART Boards plowing away at math, language and keyboarding. Honestly, I was amazed to find out that some of the calm, attentive students I saw had been violent and unruly in other environments.
Brenda Griffin, program manager for Youth Home and leader of our tour, explained the system of trust they have with the children to achieve this change.
“That’s one of the main things I love about this place,” Griffin explained. “We have an amazing staff, and an administration who believes in what we’re doing. Our main goal: The kids will take 100 percent responsibility for their actions. I had a child here say to a therapist recently, ‘You don’t play, do you?’
“If you make the environment predictable, with rules and consequences, they will respond,” she added.
It’s not all rules and hard lines at Youth Home. The staff offers love and hope to the children in their care, many of whom had never received such hope before.
Many of the kids coming into the facility are in crisis. Some may be engaged in self-mutilation (cutting or other physically destructive behavior). A good number are suffering from some form of depression.
“We start with the physician, who sees every kid at least once a week,” Griffin said. “He gives them a good 15-minute visit, at the least, and stays on top of issues like mutilation and depression.”
The staff not only builds up each child, but they also help the kids to encourage each other. A residence hall director told us about her girls’ “Encouraging Words” time, held after every group session. During this time, the girls take turns saying nice things about each other, whether it’s a compliment about her hair or a shout-out for reaching her personal goals for that day or week.
So, what does all this have to do with you?
I hope you have a tiny glimpse of what good Youth Home is doing, and how important it is that we help them continue their work free of disruptions. Last winter’s storm revealed an emergent need for a generator large enough to power the entire campus if needed.
On Thursday, October 3, Youth Home will partner with Ben E. Keith and the Clinton Presidential Center for The Next Course, a fundraising event to purchase this generator. Join us and you will enjoy a seated dinner with several courses of seasonal deliciousness, and chefs from the partner organizations will demonstrate to the attendees how to make the food at home. You’ll even get a set of snazzy recipe cards in case you forget anything you learned.
Please click here to buy tickets to this exciting and important event. Help Youth Home continue to empower the children in their care, no matter what the weather brings.