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‘Mend the heart. All else will follow’: Creative Options Regina creates new life for many with disabilities

Pamela Cowan, Regina Leader-Post Pamela Cowan, Regina Leader-Post

In this season of giving, reporter Pamela Cowan is profiling some of the organizations and people working to make the lives of Reginans better. Watch for her stories for the rest of the year as we showcase the 12 Days of Difference-Makers.


Staff crowd around Andrew Ronnie and hug him as he blushes. It’s his 35th birthday.

One can feel the love inside the room.

Ronnie says softly: “Now I’m safe.”

It’s a feeling he hasn’t always felt. For many years, Ronnie didn’t feel loved and, in fact, was feared and shunned.

A number of years ago, he spent six months in the psychiatric unit at the Regina General Hospital. After his release, he was in and out of the emergency department.

No one could deal with the violent outbursts he was prone to until a group of special people uncovered his giving heart and his desperate need to feel safe.

He was the catalyst for the development of Creative Options Regina (COR) — a non-profit organization that develops personalized supports for people with a wide range of intellectual disabilities, and often mental health issues.

“They care about me a lot,” says Ronnie, the first person to receive COR services.

“What’s really important to understand is that these aren’t bad people,” says Michael Lavis, executive director of COR. “It’s just the system wasn’t flexible to be able to meet the needs of these folks to provide them with the care they required.”

And so, Lavis Says, COR started working with people “nobody else wanted.”

Andrew Ronnie and executive director Michael Lavis, right, play foosball at the Creative Options Regina office. Michael Bell / Regina Leader-Post

COR was created in partnership with the Ministry of Social Services in 2009.

A year before its creation, the provincial government identified 448 Saskatchewan people with intellectual disabilities and other complex needs who couldn’t access services — many from around Regina.

“We’ve seen families say, ‘We can’t do this anymore’ and they cut ties and that’s hard,” Lavis says. “I can only imagine how painful it is to drop their loved one off at the emergency room and abandon them. That’s happening all of the time.”

So COR, working with others in the community, connects individuals and their families with whatever services are required.

“Ultimately we’re providing support to everyone who is connected to that person’s life,” Lavis says.

The government gathered community-based organizations to discuss who required specialized services and how to provide them. Many were homeless, living in psychiatric units, shelters or hotels and two-thirds had a mental health diagnosis.

Complicating matters was that many were involved with multiple government departments.

“What happens to the people that touch two, three or four of those government departments?” Lavis asks. “What we know to be true is often they fall into these huge gaps that exist in our service delivery system.”

For example, people with mental health issues are the responsibility of the Ministry of Health. Those with intellectual disabilities deal with Social Services. Aboriginal people receive federal supports through Indian Northern Affairs Canada. Those under 21 fall under the Education Ministry and people in trouble with the law are involved with Justice and Corrections.

A number of adults connected to COR endured significant trauma while growing up in foster homes or group homes.

“Trauma that was inflicted upon them by the very people that were intended to protect them,” Lavis says.

Foster and group homes aren’t equipped to provide the supports these kids need, so they’re bounced around in the child and family system, he says. When they reach adulthood, they’re bounced around some more.

Supports through COR are tailored to each individual’s dreams.

Services range from daytime, recreational, supported living and employment supports. Depending on an individual’s needs, home supports might be provided for a few hours a day to 24/7 care.

Based on a companionship model, staff promote each individual’s independence.

“They might help them get up and get ready, grocery shop, prepare meals, do medication management and then help them connect with the broader community, both socially and recreationally,” Lavis says.

Many under the care of COR are society’s most disenfranchised.

When Ronnie moved to a home, he required two-on-one support around the clock. He couldn’t have a roommate because of his violent history.

“(He) came with case file after case file of all the horrific things he’s ever done in life,” Lavis says.

Candidly Ronnie confides he’s “had lots of temper and anger.”

But gradually Ronnie’s life was transformed. In 2012, he moved into a new home with a roommate and now receives one-on-one care.

“I’m working on no self harm and I’m working on not trashing the house — that was in the past,” Ronnie says proudly.

He hasn’t been to the hospital for more than a year, which Lavis credits to COR’s “gentle teaching” philosophy.

When dealing with behavioural issues, staff are taught: “Go for the centre. Mend the heart. All else will follow.”

Among those they had to mend was Gerald, a man with cerebral palsy who was unable to speak.

The first time Lavis met Gerald he was trussed tightly in his wheelchair with restraint upon restraint upon restraint. Boxing gloves and a helmet with face mask prevented the young man from hitting, pinching and biting those around him.

Gerald’s wheelchair was bolted to plywood to prevent him from toppling because of his constant thrusting.

“I remember looking at Gerald and thinking, ‘This is horrifying — straight out of a movie.’ Imagine, in 2009, that this exists in our own community,” Lavis says.

When COR staff started caring for Gerald the first thing they did was remove his restraints. There were ongoing struggles as he continued to pinch and bite.

“He couldn’t walk because he’d been in this wheelchair for so long that he had zero muscle capacity in his legs,” Lavis says.

While the team tried to build trust with Gerald, they gained a champion in the health-care system who discovered he had a bowel obstruction and dental issues.

“When we dealt with those underlying health conditions, the pain stopped and the hitting of the head stopped,” Lavis says. “Some of that violence that we saw was him trying to tell us, ‘I’m in pain. I hurt.’ ”

Eventually Gerald moved into a home with a roommate and has learned to walk unassisted.

“He has to hang on to the railings in the home, but there’s no helmet, no gloves, no restraints,” Lavis says.

***

Over eight years, the non-profit organization has grown to 170-plus employees who support more than 50 high-needs people.

“If there was a blanket diagnosis that I could give to everyone that we provide services to, I would say that it is a deep sense of loneliness,” Lavis says. “A deep sense of disconnect. These are folks who have very few, if any, true friends — unpaid, natural supports in their lives.”

In Saskatchewan, 170 community-based organizations provide services to roughly 5,500 adults with disabilities.

Within that group of people, approximately 100 have been identified as having complex and challenging support needs. COR supports 19 of the 100 people.

Funded by the provincial and federal governments, COR has an operating budget of $7.8 million.

A number of COR participants have had lengthy stays in the mental health unit — the shortest being three months, the longest being 19 months.

“When you sit down and evaluate the cost of daily police interventions and all of the emergency room visits that happen weekly and the stints in the acute care settings — this is a fraction of the cost,” Lavis says.

To meet a growing need, Rory McCorriston, director of people and culture at COR, hired 30 employees in the past year.

“The majority of our organization is made up of support people,” he says.

The average age of staff is 28 — a good fit for the people they serve who are, on average, in their 30s.

Rory McCorriston, director of people and culture at Creative Options Regina. Michael Bell / Regina Leader-Post

It’s not uncommon for COR to hire people without previous disability experience.

“In some situations, it’s almost preferred because often if you have people who have done this type of work in a more traditional setting or have done it for a long time, they come in with their own set of ideas about caregiving,” McCorriston says.

Staff turnover is low and jobs aren’t posted because people send in unsolicited resumes after hearing COR’s story.

“In this industry of disability work, it’s common for an organization to have high staff turnover,” McCorriston says. “But when the basis of our philosophy of caregiving is building relationships, it’s hard to build a relationship if you’re only there for under a year.”

Staff help people gain abilities and return power to those who have felt helpless for years.

“Every day we’re hoping to come in — not to dress them, but to help them pick out the right outfit,” McCorriston says. “It’s not cooking and cleaning for that person, but doing it together.”

***

Chris, another young man, was a conduit for great change in Saskatchewan.

“He fell victim to that trap of living in the psychiatric ward for 19 months,” Lavis says. “Can you imagine, at a cost of $2,000 a day? He was there because there was no place for him to go.”

COR worked with Social Services and Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region’s Mental Health and Addictions Services to create supports for him. Provincial funding was used to hire a psychiatric nurse. Together they provide proactive mental health supports.

“Much better than queuing up at the emergency room and waiting for a six-month appointment with a psychiatrist, which is the norm,” Lavis says.

Another initiative rolled out two years ago after COR was asked to help a 14-year-old boy with autism who had significant behavioural challenges.

Executive director Michael Lavis. Michael Bell / Regina Leader-Post

“The system was really challenged to provide supports to him,” Lavis said. “Through that process, we changed our mandate to include youths and get involved earlier with these kids so we can put an end to that revolving door and they don’t fall off that cliff when they graduate to adulthood.”

Now COR supports youths who have intellectual developmental disabilities and mental health issues.

“Our hope — and I say hope because it hasn’t happened yet in the province — is that these kids are going to be able to transition from Child and Family programs to Community Living — the department within Social Services for disabilities — and the transition doesn’t disrupt their lives,” Lavis says.

This summer, COR opened its second youth home and currently provides 24-hour support for three individuals.

“The plan is to add another one or two kids this winter, but we’re also providing support to children who are living in the family home,” Lavis says. “Often the system forces the families to the brink and they have no other option, but to hand their child over to the system.”

More avenues opened four years ago for those with disabilities when COR partnered with Campus for All, a unique program at the University of Regina.

Every year, 12 students with intellectual disabilities participate in the inclusive post-secondary education program and convocate after four years.

“Campus For All was doing a fantastic job of the academic and social piece, but where they were struggling was the employment part,” Lavis says. “We have a number of folks really starting to thrive in the community and they want to work. They want a paycheque and they want meaningful work.”

To address that need, COR and Campus for All partnered to create 4 to 40, funded through the Ministry of Economy.

The employment initiative connects individuals involved in Campus For All and COR with employers who provide a flexible four-to 40-hour work week.

“Community employers want to be inclusive, they want to have diverse work forces and they understand the importance and the value that diversity brings, but they don’t really quite know how to do it and they need help — particularly with the demographic that we’re serving,” Lavis said. “There’s a lot of fear and apprehension around what that looks like.”

Brittany Bechard, left, and Serena Bernges at Creative Options Regina. Michael Bell / Regina Leader-Post

COR participants work at individualized jobs at businesses including SeedMaster, SaskTel, Dutch Industries, Meyers Norris Penny and Farm Credit Canada.

Employers are not subsidized and the paid employment includes benefits and pension.

Job descriptions and work hours vary, but the benefits of a meaningful job are the same — greater self esteem and inclusion.

“We have a guy working at the SaskTel warehouse that went from a few hours and now he’s up to 30 hours a week,” Lavis said.

Job coaches from COR help individuals integrate into the workplace.

“It’s really helping to set that person up for success,” Lavis says. “When I talk about success, I mean developing not only their skills, but connecting them to the relationships that come with any place of employment.”

***

Lavis is passionate about his work.

“So many people that we serve have been given such horrific labels and diagnoses — this laundry list of all these bad things they’ve done and these are some pretty amazing people… How do you give them that opportunity to shine so others can see that value as well?”

Prior to becoming one of the founders of COR, Lavis spent 12 years working with marginalized children and women in post-conflict zones around the world.

The 38-year-old worked on projects funded by the Canadian government, Oxfam in Great Britain and other international development organizations in places like northern Uganda and southeast Asia.

Back in Regina, Lavis insists he’s one of a team working to make a difference.

“We have this incredibly passionate young board made up of community professionals from varied backgrounds that are really committed to social change,” he says. “They don’t have a background in disability — most have zero connection, like myself, to disability. They’re very supportive of what we’re doing because they believe in the vision.”

When Serena Bernges, one of the younger residents of Valley View Centre in Moose Jaw, moved to COR in 2016 she was adamant she didn’t want to live with roommates or a group of people.

She wanted her own place in Regina.

Bernges has a soft spot for Valley View where she had friends throughout the institution, but she has new-found freedom in Regina.

The 43-year-old lives in a self-contained suite in a small bungalow with another woman. No longer does she share a bedroom and best of all, she gets to cook her own meals.

“I make stuffed mushrooms, lasagna and sausage and hot dogs,” Bernges says. “I live in the best house in the world.”

pcowan@postmedia.com

Read the article on the Leader-post website here.

 

Gentle Teaching isn’t about trying to change behaviour…

Through my 3 and a half years of experience with COR and the philosophy of Gentle Teaching, I have attained a wealth of knowledge and an everlasting impact on my life. When I first started with COR, just like most people, I was a bit skeptical of the whole ideology of unconditional love. In latent terms, I perceived it as ‘give them whatever they want’ or ‘they can do whatever they want without consequences’. At the time, I failed to realize it was so much more than that. The whole basis of Gentle Teaching isn’t trying to change the individual’s behaviour, but rather changing our approach on how we serve the individuals.

My ability to use Gentle Teaching had never really been challenged until I began supporting at a new home and more specifically supporting one individual at that home. When I began, to be 100 percent honest, I was quite nervous. I had heard all the stories that this was the hardest team to support on. To my surprise, it really wasn’t! I got off to a good start with two of the guys. The only one I hadn’t connected with was one of the guys. Every time I would enter his space or try to interact with him, he would completely shut me down. This really bugged me personally. I am the type of person who really likes to get along with everybody, and at times, will over step boundaries to be liked by that person. This happened one day when I was supporting him. I came in that day with what I thought was a solid game plan. I was going to force myself to stay with him, we were really going to joke around and have an awesome time together. I also had the idea to take him to a Rider practice that day thinking it was going to be an amazing experience. I was completely wrong. Sure, he enjoyed the idea of going to Rider practice and seeing all his favourite players, but he still didn’t feel safe around me. I struggled to interpret what he was saying numerous times throughout the day and it led to numerous negative moments, the worst being at the Rider practice where he hit me. After that day, I came to realize that by forcing myself to be in his space, I had removed one of the most fundamental and most important pillars of Gentle Teaching; feeling safe.

They have taught me if I adjust how I provide care and unconditionally love them, rather than force them to be who they are not, that they will reciprocate it back in their way

In order to fix this, I needed to change how I provided care, while also trying to encompass the tools of Gentle Teaching to build the four pillars. For the next couple of months, I took a step back and really focused on observing, rather than forcing myself into situations for my own personal reasons. I was selective and patient in choosing the times that were appropriate to help strengthen his sense of feeling safe around me. Most of these interactions were focused around watching sports games or going out to grab a drink from 7/11. I tried keeping the interactions short and consistent allowing him to become comfortable around me. As time passed, I was able to get him to feel safe by changing how I provided for him. Once I had the sense of feeling safe around me, the other three pillars (feeling loved, feel loving towards others, and feeling engaged) came much more naturally.

Through my experience with all the individuals I support, they have had an everlasting impact on my life. They have taught me if I adjust how I provide care and unconditionally love them, rather than force them to be who they are not, that they will reciprocate it back in their way.

 

Brydon, COR Family Member

We all want the same things: to feel safe, to love, and to be loved.

I am so thankful for the training and knowledge I have received from COR. At the time I was hired I was simply looking for employment that was person centred in which I would be able to work closely with people. When I think about other agencies I could have worked for, I am truly happy I chose the path that I did. I understand that social work can be a very difficult job in which I may be required to follow strict policies which do not appear to better the individuals I am serving. At COR, I always feel that I am doing right by the individuals I work with and value the strong relationships I have been able to develop in such a short period of time. I owe this to the gentle teaching training I have received.
I believe we should be viewed as equal to those we support at COR; this is why I love the terminology of “support person” or even better a “friend”. I enter someone’s life and learn so much about them- their fears, their dreams, their hobbies, their family, their past and so on. I partly create my culture of gentleness by allowing them glimpses into my own life to be viewed as an equal. Having them over for lunch, allowing them to meet my family, and opening up about myself. I believe this allows people to feel more comfortable with you and that they will then feel safe opening up to you. Additionally, I always ensure I do not pass judgement. If someone opens up and tells me something about themselves or confesses something that has been bothering them, I ensure to be conscious of my facial expression, body language and tone when I respond. This allows for an open conversation in which they will come to me in the future and feel that they can talk and open up without judgement. COR has taught me about the power of my tools- my hands, my eyes, my tone… these can all have such a huge effect on your ability to make someone feel safe with you.

I always feel that I am doing right by the individuals I work with

In my eyes, a culture of gentleness can be broken down to simply mean what do we all deem to be valuable and important in our lives?

We are all individuals and yet, at a basic level, we all want the same things. To feel safe, to love, and to be loved. I have had the privilege of feeling safe in my life and it requires empathy to understand even the tiniest glimpse of what some of the individual’s supported at COR have gone through and what can change in your life when you no longer have to fight for basic needs. I have witnessed firsthand how much it means to someone to be able to give- to show love. For those I support to be able to teach me about something, to make me lunch or buy me a coffee; this means that they view me as a friend and care about me just as I care about them. I am proud to be a member of COR and proud of the strong relationships and friendships I have developed.

 

Shandrea, COR Support

Unconditional Value

“Our experiences with Gentle Teaching have taught us that change needs to start with us–our warmth, tolerance and the translation of values into relationships based on companionship. Our interactions need to reflect warm caring and a spirit of oneness in spite of even intense rejection or rebellion. They need to begin to signal feelings of empathy and the understanding that the relationship will evolve into an authentic friendship even though initially it is quite lop-sided.

Our interactions need to centre themselves on love the person with unconditional respect during the best moments and the most difficult ones. We have to care about the other and express the feeling that we are with and for the person. Spit can be running down our face or slaps stinging on our arms, but we need to unconditionally value the other. We are asked to transmit this feeling through dialogue and sharing our life experiences with the other. Our task is to initiate this process in a spirit of human solidarity.

Warmth can be felt

Warmth can be felt in the tone of our voice, the sincerity of our gaze, and the serenity of our movements.

Tolerance is conveyed through patience in the face of aggression, respect in the face of rejection, and perseverance in the face of entrenched rebellion. Our values are the impetus within this process, and they need to be constantly questioned and deepened. It is this spirit that we have learned in our gentle teaching experiences–to break away from emotional homelessness, to rupture the cold grip of loneliness, and to center ourselves  on unconditional love.

The challenge is not to find non-aversive behavioural techniques, but to formulate and put into practise a psychology of interdependence that goes against the grain of modifying the other and asks for mutual change. This presents a major challenge to parents, professionals, and advocates. It requires an awakening of our values and putting them into practice in the most difficult situations.”

 

-John McGee

The Caring Moment

In the beginning we must always be in the moment with two bits of knowledge focused on giving a feeling of being safe and loved. We should avoid lengthy case histories and cleanly typed plans. If need be, do these requirements. However, our task is to be in the moment; it is not to change anyone’s behavior, but to teach the person to feel safe with us and loved by us.

The present is a series of moments that tumble into the future. Yet, we should not worry about the future, only the present moment. The here-and-now becomes the future with each ticking second. Our encounters transpire in the moment and then transform the next moment.

The-joy-is-in-the-moments

Whether a mother, father, grandparent, or a person whom we are supporting, the most important variable is the moment, not the future, not a projected plan with outcomes, not behavioral change. No, it is our being present in this very moment and all the person sees, hears, touches, and feels in this mutual coming together. It is the tiniest amount of time, perhaps two or three seconds. Then, these moments are linked together with other moments and it is these moments that become new moments; it is the evolving chain of moments that creates our moral memory in us as well as a memory in the other person.

Caregiving’s simplification involves teaching caregivers to be in the moment:

  • In bad moments this equates with forgiveness rather than control;
  • In all the good moments this involves a series of accidental and intentional encounters throughout the day focused on safe and loved;
  • The accidental encounters are merely brief moments of passing by and encompass a wave, a wink, a smile, a name, a thumbs up, maybe a hug if there is time, a whispering of “You are so good.”
  • The intentional encounters are a bit more planned and involve a chunk of caregiving time—from a minute or two or a half hour or more. The time depends. It should be structured in the day with the only purpose being to give a memory that the person is safe when with us.
  • The key is to stay in the moment. Joy is found in the moment.

Our task is simple, just being in the moment with the gift of helping the person to feel safe and loved:

  • Not a moment before,
  • Not a moment after,
  • Just in the now.”

-John J. McGee, PhD

Teaching Feelings of Safety and Security

“If we want to teach feelings of safety and security, we need to question what we are doing and how we are doing it. The key is to look at ourselves and ask, ‘ What do we represent to the person–love or domination?’ If we see the person as our equal and if we define our relationship as one of brotherhood and sisterhood, then the answer becomes more obvious. We commit ourselves to making certain that our presence signifies feelings of safety and security. Yet, we need to deal with the irony of representing these feelings while face to face with rejection, disruption, or even violence.

Our interactions have to signal warmth, serenity and tolerance.

Our interactions have to signal warmth, serenity and tolerance. From the first instance, we need to make sure that the person interprets our presence as representing nonviolence. Warmth emanates from a strong desire to be one-with-the other. We have to put in check many customary reactions–demands, harshness, and objectivity. Care giving is a very personal process that needs to summon forth feelings of friendship. At first, we should not expect acceptance since all of the person’s history says control is the rule. But, in time, the person will begin to see us as representing safety and security.”

 

-John McGee

Our Approach is Based on Moral Development

“Our approach is based on moral development. This is not a church thing. It is an internal feeling that we develop over time about what is good, who we are, and why we are on this earth. It is an inner change, a change of the heart. It is what most children learn early in their life about feeling safe and loved. It is what many of us have to re-learn when we are crushed by life’s sorrows.

So, we have to develop an understanding of basic moral values and teach these in an authoritative manner, not coming down on the person, but patiently and repeatedly teaching them. Morality is the way we feel and view our role in life. It is made up of our basic beliefs that are learned through our own life-experiences and ongoing reflection on our place in the world. It is formed deep down in our memories over time and with many experiences. Morality is on the fringe of our consciousness. We often do not have to stop and think, “Should I do this or not do that?” Our life-decisions come out of deep, deep memories. A spirit of gentleness focuses on teaching deep moral memories to people whose hearts are broken. Our primary strategy is repeated acts of love.

The first moral rule is found in a feeling of companionship– safe, loved, loving, and engaged. We know, without even thinking about it, that we need to feel safe and loved on this earth. We gravitate toward those who fulfill this sense and move away from those who make us fearful. Yet, many people whom we support are filled with fear of themselves and of others. We look for meaning in our lives and find it in our relationships with others other family, our children, our friends. Many whom we serve do not have this type of meaning.

The second is found in community– the goodness of being with others, engagement with others, and reaching out to others, and a sense of connectedness with others. It is a feeling of being collectively safe, loved, loving, and engaged. It moves from a singular relationship with the caregiver to a collective relationship with a circle of friends.

Companionship and community occur in a spiral. The initial relationship is at the center, but slowly spins outward to others. Everyone needs the feeling of being safe and loved to also feel loving and engaged. This evolves with one person, then two, then many.”

 

-John McGee, ‘Mending Broken Hearts’

Mentoring a Spirit of Gentleness

“Mentoring is a way to help teach others about gentle care giving, to enter into terrifying spaces and teach others to feel safe and loved.” Mentoring is an approach to do this. It is a way to share with others a spirit of gentleness and justice.

A mentors role is to define the empty and sometimes violent spaces that exist between caregivers and marginalized individuals in institutions, shelters, homes, prisons, nursing homes, schools and wherever we happen to serve. These places have to be filled up with the caregivers’ laces of affection–their loving touch, warm words, and kind gazes. Caregivers need to stop and reflect on the formation of companionship and community and the role of helping individuals feel safe, engaged, loved and loving. From this foundation, caregivers can then create communities of caring. Mentoring is a process for teaching caregivers to establish companionship and community.

Mentoring is a way to teach others

Mentoring is an ever-deepening task that calls for the development of trust among caregivers and the formation of a sense of companionship and community. This trust starts by the Mentor entering into the caregivers’ space with a deep sense of humility and justice and helping each caregiver feel safe and respected. It is the informal coming together of the Mentor and caregiver around the kitchen table and the sharing of the meaning of companionship and community. It is working together and finding ways to teach marginalized people these feelings.”

-John McGee

Reverse Effects

“We keep trying to establish feelings of companionship and forming community among those who are marginalized. Yet, we struggle to create a sense of connectedness in a culture that demands independence and self-reliance. We listen to newscasts that announce this. We hear newscasts tell us the strong must control the weak. We read newspaper stories that trumpet the glory of the self. These cultural attitudes become part of our care giving. We have been trained to seek compliance and control. We demand that those whom we serve choose what is right and good when they do not trust us, in fact, often fear us. We live in a world that places the individual above the community.

As care givers, we have to reverse this trend and begin to question what the other needs — to feel safe with us and loved by us. A psychology of interdependence assumes that we find ourselves in others and in the strength of our connectedness to others. It is the foundation of who we are and what we are becoming. It leads us to develop a sense of companionship with those who distance themselves from us. We have to move from a culture of self-reliance to one of human connectedness and from a culture of self to one of otherness. As we do this, we are slowly moving toward the formation of community where we will feel collectively safe, loved, loving and engaged.

Interdependence is based on our shared values — the wholeness and inherent goodness of each person in spite of violent behavior and the thirst that we all have for a feeling of being one-with-one-another in spite of paradoxical behaviors that push others away. These values are difficult to maintain, but are necessary if we are to help those who cling onto the slippery edge of family and community life.”

John McGee,
Mending Broken Hearts: Companionship and Community

Feeling Fearful…Feeling Safe

“In the list that follows, compare how a person whom you serve struggles with fear and is distanced from a feeling of being safe. Reflect on the subtle interactions that the person expresses that show “I am safe with you” but always remember that we are not blaming ourselves. Yet, we need to gain insight into the fear that envelops those we serve. Look at each factor in the list and check those that apply. If fearful outweighs safe, then we know how important it is to teach the person a feeling of, “With us, you are safe!” Decide what major areas indicate fear. But, beware! We are not interested in focusing on behavior. They are only signs of a deeper anguish that is driven by deep fear and meaninglessness. Our full focus will be on dealing with fear. For now, get a sense of the fear that pervades the people we serve.

Feels fearful . . .

• Runs away
• Cries a lot
• Expressionless
• Sad appearance
• Slovenly
• Hits self
• Hits others
• Sleeps poorly
• Complains
• Refuses to participate
• Eats poorly
• Self-stimulates
• Curses
• Hordes
• Flinches

Feels safe . . .

Stays with others
• Expresses joy
• Relaxed
• Contented appearance
• Well-cared for
• Respects body
• Respects others
• Sleeps well
• Expresses love
• Enjoys participating
• Eats well
• Enjoys hobbies
• Uplifts others
• Shares
• Appears content

This initial analysis is a critical step for us since we often think that we do nothing to produce fear. We feel that the person is really “pretty happy.” Indeed, this may generally be the case. Yet, we have to look more closely. We might think that we do not do anything directly to cause fear. We might see the person as simply manipulative or seeking attention. We have to probe more deeply.

Our purpose is different. We choose not to control people. We choose to help them liberate themselves from fear and meaninglessness. We are not satisfied with, “Leave well enough alone!” We have to concern ourselves with the community of people whom we serve and teach all to live together. At school, home, work, or play, our task is to teach marginalized children and adults to feel safe with us and loved by us.”

John McGee
“Mending Broken Hearts: Companionship and Community”