Nelson Urena works at The Sanctuary Institute at ANDRUS.
A few weeks ago, as I sat diligently typing away at a bustling coffee shop, a toddler momentarily distracted me from my work. Puzzled as I am to see him crying and in agony at the door of a busy New York City coffee shop, my eyes leave the computer screen and park themselves directly in front of the distressed child.
I guess it is part of my own vicarious trauma to automatically turn my attention to children in distress…
I look around for a parent. I look at every single face — buried in their laptops, tablets, cell phones — in the coffee shop in search of familial resemblance to the child. As I sit unable to locate a parent I find myself beginning to feel distressed. The child’s distress somehow permeates my person. Emotional contagion. Distress that I am the only person in this shop paying any attention to this child, not my child… but our child! Social responsibility! I look through the store front windows and count the 15 or so steps the child could take in the safety of a sidewalk before reaching the rapids of a New York City street. I look again and see his fragile, cute, and dexterous little fingers as he cups one hand in the other and leans his body in the very direction of where the door meets the wall — creating a crevice just small enough for him to squeeze those precious little fingers through…
Distress turns into mild panic as I whip my head around one more time in search of a guardian… Impulsively my legs shoot back, knocking over the chair from under me, and begin to take a first step toward the child when suddenly I hear a calm soothing voice, “Ok… it’s ok… it’s ok… it’s ok…” I notice a gray haired middle-aged man sporting a t-shirt that reads “Proud parent of a rescue cat,” and the familial resemblance to that child for which I had so desperately searched. At that moment both the child’s and my own distress are simultaneously calmed. My anxiety level plummets and calm begins to ease its way back into my body as I watched the child embracing the man’s leg with a certain familiarity that can only exist between guardian and child…
So much of our voluntary behavior is dictated by our histories…histories in which we may or may not have had voluntary choice, thus bringing to mind the question of free will. We are free to act, yet our freedom to respond is in some ways bound and, for some people, held captive by our histories, traumatic experiences, learned responses, other people’s actions, or simply put, things outside of our control.
It has been about a month since I left my role as a full time Milieu Therapist to work in other capacities at ANDRUS and this episode was my first chance to reflect upon my experience at Griffith Hall. This episode highlighted for me the cumulative effect that my work as a direct care staff has had on me. The continuous and repetitive need for me, as a Milieu Therapist, to be hyperaware of the safety (physical, emotional, social, and moral) of the children around me (headcounts, safety checks, baseline recognition, emotional first aid, engaging in activity, etc.) has become a learned behavior which I now find difficult to turn off. And so as I continue on my quest to help make the world a better place, I am challenged to understand my responsibility to the community around me. Crises and people in distress will surround me everywhere I turn and this incident in the coffee shop calls me to think about how and when it would be socially appropriate for me to intervene. The challenge I face is to not allow my learned intervention techniques to become maladaptive and dictate how I interact with my community. So I return to my work, wrap up for the day and as I walk away from my self proclaimed office I spot another toddler reaching the end of the sidewalk as the parent meanders distractedly about 15 feet behind with her head buried in her iPhone and I think to myself, “to rescue, or not to rescue?”
Alexandria Connally, MS Ed, is the Assistant Principal of The Orchard School at ANDRUS.
I am writing this three days after the east coast was hit by Superstorm Sandy. As I sit in the cafeteria on my iPad, I am surrounded by teachers on their laptops, extension cords, wireless cards and the sound of tapping on computer keys. The Orchard School and many of the staff members are still without power. Trees block roads, the NYC subway is still not working and entire neighborhoods have been washed away. In the last four days I’ve received numerous phone calls, emails and texts from parents, colleagues and leadership. There is an unspoken expectation that we will all take care of one another because it is built into our culture.
In the midst of the storm we continue to create a therapeutic community. Today 95%, of the staff were able to come to work, some from as far away as Long Island and Middletown. Today , while most schools were closed we taught 100% of our children. In the midst of the storm we nurtured 100% of our children.
This morning, while visiting an English Language Arts class, I heard a student explaining how to rebuild after the storm. He said, “Although our community was devastated by Sandy, we have to persevere. Even when things are really terrible we have to understand that things will get better. We just need to help one another through this difficult time.” As I walked away beaming with pride I understood that it is just as important to teach students to be socially responsible as it to teach them the 3Rs. We have taught this generation of students to carry the beacon of hope in the midst of the storm.
Sarah Yanosy is the Director of the Sanctuary Institute at ANDRUS.
Today was not my day. I had three different conversations with three different people who felt compelled to let me know they were dissatisfied, disappointed or disillusioned with some part of how the Sanctuary Institute had managed things. As its leader, I take these conversations both very seriously and very personally. Each of the three conversations referenced completely different situations, so I did not even find the luxury of resolving one big problem with several different people. Oh, no. Each conversation brought a new wave of knowledge about the tenderness of feelings and the ease with which they can be injured…and a new wave of nausea along with that knowledge.
Part way through my third difficult conversation today, I had a bit of a revelation. At first I thought that I had simply lost my marbles, but dismissed that in favor of the belief that I had gained some insight. Here was said insight: I realized that the initiators of each of these conversations had actually given me a gift by calling to tell me their complaints.
Yes, that’s it. You may now also be questioning the location of my marbles, but here is why I think it was an insight: Rather than holding on to feelings that could fester into toxicity, these three people reached out for repair. Rather than stifling emotions that could become quick fodder for reenactment, they offered me the chance to create a new foundation of understanding by giving me the chance to share another viewpoint, missing information or an apology in one case. I know that the stories they brought to me about their experiences were radically different from the stories that I had constructed about the exact same events. By sharing their stories and giving me the opportunity to share mine, we were able to create an appreciation for the complexity we may have missed and a shared vision for the future.
I have found that many times, going a few rounds with another person over something we both feel strongly about can result in deeper respect, enhanced communication and a sturdier platform for the next time we don’t see eye to eye. That is certainly how I feel about the three people I spoke with today. I hope they feel the same about me.
I first came to ANDRUS as a direct-care worker in October of 2010. Andrus had already fully implemented the Sanctuary Model, and I was introduced to it very quickly at my new employee orientation. I was thrust right into the toolkit, with constant community meetings, team meetings, and safety plan updates. I had worked with children before, for several years all around the globe. But this was a different job, a fresh environment, so everything was new to me. Looking back, I see just how quickly things were moving. I took a lot of time to get to know each child, and I was able to learn about them at an incredibly rapid pace because of the distinct communication lines created during team meetings and daily evening talks with my team. I also took a lot of time to meet my co-workers, and ask the older veterans constant questions to become a better hand and to learn different techniques to use with the children. I spent so much time focusing on the moment that I don’t think I ever fully realized just how different this organization was from the places I had previously been.
A year later, I began working at the Sanctuary Institute where our team spreads information about the model to other agencies. I quickly noticed just how many people were interested in bringing this model to their agency. I witnessed people coming over to our campus for our 5-day trainings. They were all so excited and clamoring for information. They would leave on the final day with an incredibly upbeat outlook on the future; thanking the trainers for all that they had shown them. I would receive regular phone calls from all across the country from people that wanted to learn all that they could. Groups were coming over to the Andrus campus for Sanctuary Field Visits to see just how Andrus uses the model on a daily basis. I never saw a single group leave unsatisfied. I remember wondering to myself what the big deal was. Sanctuary is so simple, and conducting its practices is very fluid. I remember adapting to the model very easily when I first started working in direct care. It was not until I had the opportunity to visit another site during their “Sanctuary Introduction Party” that it all started to make sense.
When I came to Andrus, it already had a fully developed trauma-informed culture. The core themes of teamwork and open communication were put into place well before I arrived. I realized that I had taken all of this for granted. Not every childcare agency has these nearly faultless outlets. Sanctuary may be simple at its core, but being fully trauma-informed is not. Everybody experiences trauma in their life at different degrees of intensity, and it certainly happens to entire organizations as well. The Sanctuary Model and its seven commitments give an organization and its workers the straightforward guidelines and methods to ensure that all problems are dealt with in the best possible ways, and there is always a daily goal for improvement. Dr. Sandy Bloom and the founders put so much educated thought and research into human nature, the brain, and organizational culture that every possible passage is covered. Sometimes organizations experience vicarious trauma, and its workers deal with extreme stress. The Sanctuary Model gives them the tools to positively cope and grow, bringing about a renewed outlook towards success. Not every agency comes fully equipped with these tools as Andrus did when I first arrived here. Now I see people leaving our trainings with massive smiles on their faces. I have nothing but confidence in the renewed energy that they will bring back home.
Recently Lorelei Vargas and I had the opportunity to do a presentation on the Sanctuary Model at a conference in Memphis sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The conference ended at noon on Friday and our return flight was not until 7:00 pm. We decided we would visit the Civil Rights Museum (http://www.civilrightsmuseum.org/) before heading back to the airport.
The museum is located at the Lorraine Motel, the site of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King over 40 years ago. The visit was both inspiring and troubling. It is almost unbearable to walk through those halls and look at the devastation wrought by centuries of racism and hate. At the same time one cannot help but be inspired by the bravery of generations of people who have struggled for justice.
The experience of doing a presentation on the Sanctuary Model and then being confronted with how an entire race of people have been denied sanctuary for centuries, is a tough transition to make. It is a reminder that creating Sanctuary is exceedingly hard work. How do we engage around values like democracy and social justice when so many of our children, families and staff have grown up with experiences that are so contrary to these values? We know now that unless we can really grapple with the issues of racism and inequity, we will not fully realize our ambition of Creating Sanctuary. We are fortunate to have the help of many committed staff here at ANDRUS as we struggle with these issues.
We have come a long way, but we have a very long way to go, as a country and as an organization. We have some hard conversations coming and some tough lessons to learn in the month and years that lie ahead. It is quite obvious that our ability to realize our full potential as an organization depends on our ability to create a culture in which equity, justice and democracy are at the core. It may be hard for us to imagine this is possible after centuries of experience that suggest the contrary. We know from our experiences in Sanctuary that change is possible when we continue to believe in and hope for a better future. I believe our best days are ahead of us and I know there are many others here who share that belief and are brave enough to make difficult changes required to secure that better future.
To read part 1 of this blog, click here.
Why all the animals? There is a plethora of research that suggests the benefits of animals of all types in therapeutic environments. Therapeutic work with animals can assist in decreasing aggression and negative self image, and can help increase cooperative behavior, empathy and social relatedness. Research has shown that in the presence of animals children and adolescents talk more openly with therapists and that children on the autistic spectrum display more social relatedness and less self stimulation. There are a number of theories on why this is the case, but here are a few thoughts:
- Animals don’t talk. For many of the children in treatment, language has been a challenge! Some of them have had hurtful words directed at them and many of them have difficulty understanding the nuances of language and expressing themselves. Animals are creatures with thought and an emotional life. They are animate. They have reactions. Each animal has its own habits, preferences, and “personality”. They live in communities and are social. They are a bit like people without words and this can make them less threatening.
- Animals are less threatening and confusing– not only because they don’t use language, but for lots of reasons. Their cues are fairly straight forward and they mean what they do. When dogs walk up to you and lick your hand, it is because they want to be closer. They probably want you to pet them. If they run away they are asking to be left alone. They give cues about what they think and how they are feeling but they are not as difficult to understand as humans. They “mean what they say”.
- Animals ask to be cared for. They need food, water and a roof over their heads. They have to be taken care of. You can’t turn them off or leave them unattended for long periods of time. But the care they need is basic and provides an easy place for kids to develop self-esteem. Caring for an animal gives them something to be proud of. It doesn’t feel good to always be the one who has needs or feels unsuccessful. Many of our kids depend heavily on others for their well-being. They spend their days in school and, for many, school isn’t a place where they feel very successful. With the animals, the children not only care for the animals, but they in turn provide nourishment for themselves.
If you haven’t had the chance to see our animals yet, ask to do so next time you are on campus!
Over the last year, Andrus has significantly increased the presence of animals on our campus. About a year ago one of the cottages (Foster Hall) acquired 15 Rhode Island Red chickens! Since then the number of chickens on campus has grown and the campus program acquired 3 goats. The number of therapy dogs on campus has also been increasing with a current total of 9 approved dogs
The chickens at Foster Hall are doing well and some of the kids have taken their role as caregivers quite seriously. As chicks and young birds the animals enjoy being handled and the kids spend a good deal of time inside the pen. The rooster is a favorite – he is easy to pick out and has quite the personality! As the chickens have reached the age where they lay eggs, the rooster has taken on the role of protector. While preventing the boys from spending quite as much time in the pen, it has provided an entre into important social emotional conversations. The rooster is the only one of the chickens to receive a name – Taco George. In addition to taking care of the chickens, the Foster Hall boys collect eggs daily. Each of the hens should lay between 200 and 250 eggs a year which gives us LOTS OF FRESH EGGS! Most of the eggs are used at Foster Hall, some eggs make it home to families and others are given away.
The goats are the newest addition to the Andrus animal kingdom. Hickory, Birch and Maggie were a gift to Andrus and moved to campus in May. A fast hit, the goats have become part of both our school and residential programs. One classroom in the STARS building has committed to the morning feeding and taking the goats out for a walk from time to time (Yes, you can walk goats on a leash just like a pet dog.) Another cottage has taken responsibility for the evening feeding and lock up. In addition, classrooms and other cottages visit often and give the goats treats.
The P.A.W.S. (Pets Assisting With Sanctuary) program started with two dogs several years ago and has been growing since. The dogs are all personally owned by staff at Andrus and go through a screening process in order to become a part of the program. You can now find canine companions in three classrooms, two cottages and in the offices of three clinicians. Most days you will find children walking the dogs around campus and taking responsibility for their care. There are a number of children that request one of the dogs as a part of their clinical session or earn time with a campus dog as part of a behavior plan.
Come back next week to learn why animals are so successful with our children…..
Landa Harrison is the Senior Project Manager at the Sanctuary Institute at ANDRUS.
I’ve been struck lately by my need to reconnect with people from my past and the desire to broaden my community of professional and personal relationships. Call it age, call it wisdom or call it the ability to identify a need that is not being met. Whatever the case, I am continually reminded just how powerful the lenses are in my Sanctuary Glasses. Daily I am reminded how thinking “I wonder what has happened?” vs “Dang, what is wrong with him/her” has impacted my view of myself and that of the world. I feel like I have gained both intelligence and optimism as a result of my own personal journey. So I began to wonder, “Have others changed their view of their work, their world as I have?” How could I ever explain what it is that I mean so that people would get it? And then it came to me…Bizzarro World Redux!
It seems to me that Batman approaches the world hurt. His own past, his story so to speak, fills him with anger and a need to seek reprisal for all those past injuries , and as a result, his mission in life is to right that which is wrong. Some people suggest that Batman-types in our culture, see the world as “us vs. them”, and battles are either won or lost.
Conversely, Superman presents to the world as an Intelligent Optimist and sees his life as an opportunity and with a high sense of social responsibility. He holds true to these values in everything that we see him do. Superman is unwilling to resolve conflicts by overtly using his power. Though he could surely use his brute force to wipe out the bad guy, he simply cannot. In my opinion, and a few others, Superman is the trauma informed hero. He views each barrier and obstacle as an opportunity to create an environment of healing and recovery. And, it appears from all observation, that there is a simple joy for him in helping others. Much like many of our Sanctuary Network members
I have shared just two that quickly come to mind given our young son’s current interest with the Justice League in American Comics. And, I am sure there are many others that come to mind for some of you. So, with whom do you identify? Have you changed your worldview since become a member of the Sanctuary Network? I have. Now it’s your turn to share.
Nina Esaki is the Director of Research at the Sanctuary Institute.
I’ve been with ANDRUS for close to two years and attended a workshop recently in which we discussed organizational culture. The discussion reminded me of some experiences in the corporate world – a world in which I spent close to 20 years in my first career, specifically, in Human Resources. In many of the corporations in which I was employed, it was all about efficiency and getting the most out of employees. I remember one meeting in which employees were represented as dots on a quadrant chart, with one axis representing current performance and the other representing potential. This corporation relentlessly pushed people to perform, focusing on the “dots” in the quadrant of low performance and poor potential. These employees were deemed no longer worthy of further investment.
I was appalled by this approach and questioned how my colleagues could, in good conscience, relegate/diminish people to “dots” on a quadrant chart? I was new to the corporation and was shocked by the meeting. I quickly found a way to exit the company and, eventually, the corporate world altogether.
Fast forward 15 years. I’m back in the recent workshop with 20 or so ANDRUS colleagues struggling with how to address issues of race and power within our organization. There were folks from all different backgrounds and positions within ANDRUS speaking openly and freely about challenges they felt needed to be tackled. Although the issues are formidable, the process felt somewhat healing to me. Perhaps we’re not a lean, mean, well-oiled corporate machine, but we’re an organization in which we can be human and demonstrate the positive, embracing side of humanity, rather than its destructive side. As we, individually, can shape culture, so too does culture shape each of us. Although we have our work cut out for us, I left the meeting feeling grateful that I have finally found an organizational culture in line with my values, and one in which I feel proud to be a member.
Joseph Benamati is a Senior Faculty Member at The Sanctuary Institute at ANDRUS.
He was orphaned as a youngster and went to live with his uncle who was in the military. His uncle was strict, demanding that he study science and mathematics, but the boy loved history. He thought that one day he could write about all the wonderful and exciting things happening around him. Maybe he would become famous, or at the very least, write about famous people. Writing was a way for him to replace the sadness he felt about losing his parents. It was his therapy and so he kept his journal secret but never far from his side. One day there was a terrible rumbling and a disturbing, smelly smoke erupting from the mountain across the bay from his home. He and his aunt watched in fascinated horror as the rumbling and smoke grew in intensity. His uncle was summoned to prepare the military for possible evacuation which only led to the boy’s anxiety. Then, right after lunch, the mountain exploded in a fury that truly frightened everyone. The boy thought the smoke rising from the volcano looked like a pine tree. Even though they lived many miles from the explosion the boy and his aunt were terrified about what would happen to them. The boy did what he always did, he wrote about what he was witnessing. It made him feel a little better but deep down he thought he was going to die. The eruption continued for many hours. Finally, it was over. Vesuvius was spent and Pompeii was destroyed.
The little boy’s name was Pliny the Younger. He became the most important historian of ancient Rome. In a letter to a friend he wrote, “happy are those who write for it is a great comfort”. Talking therapy is but one way of helping someone who has been traumatized. Expression or the ability to demonstrate one’s feeling is also a way by which we can help children who have been exposed to traumatic events. Dr. van der Kolk says that “trauma resides in the body” and expression is a great way of helping youth connect their feelings with what happened to them. Expression can include singing, dancing, journaling, painting, yoga, meditating, or a variety of other activities.