There is something that I feel like I need to say, and I know that my words will not be perfect. I am not really completely sure how to address this issue. What I do know is that this is too important to continue to let my fear stand in my way.

Institutional racism, racial oppression, and racial inequalities continue to exist. Sure, we have made some strides. There are no longer separate bathrooms or water fountains and we have had Barack Obama as our president. There is still a long way to go.

In the last week I have heard young white men use the “N” word more times than I care to count, and recently one of my staff members was driving with a young person in the car who saw a young black man on the road and stated, “There’s a black kid. Run him over.”

Why do these things occur? Why are these kinds of things still happening? Why does anyone think that this kind of behavior is an anyway acceptable? I can no longer be silent and pretend that this is okay. I also know that I cannot solve this myself… but I can do one thing.

I recently had the opportunity to hear Marc Dones, associate director of Equity Initiatives at the Center for Social Innovation, talk about this very topic. He challenged us to continue to bear witness to the reality of racism in America. He stood on a stage in front of about 100 youth serving professionals with his big brown eyes shining and his million dollar smile and stated that our country has made progress “because my ancestors were on a stage because they were being lynched, and I am standing on a stage to speak to you all.”

With tears streaming down my face I looked at him from my seat in the audience and all I could think was “I’m sorry.”

So that is the one thing that I know that I can do. I am willing to stand up and say I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all the things that my ancestors did to create racism in this country and I vow that I am not going to let those things continue. If I don’t stand up for the youth we serve and show them something different from what they know, racial equity will never exist, and I refuse to live in a world where that is true. So here I am to bear witness to racism in America and to say I’m sorry.


Sometimes I have that overwhelming feeling that this work, combined with the normal struggles of life, is just too much. In those moments I allow myself to crash. Sometimes, that means that I crawl into my bed and sometimes it just means closing my office door. Most of the time, it also includes a good, full-body, emotional sob. Not just a cry but a sob – the kind that makes my back writhe and my nose run in disgusting ways.

This work is hard, and when kids die or relapse or drop-out of school, or continue to struggle with mental illness, it hurts. And when you add that to the challenges of personal life – relationships, families, parenting, finances – sometimes it can bring me to my knees. And I allow that to happen. I learned a long time ago that I have to allow myself to crash from time to time. It only takes a few minutes, but a good, solid cry can allow so much to be released.

So what does your crash look like? Do you allow yourself to do it from time to time? When you crash, do you tell yourself that you are not made for this work or that you should be able to deal with everything always?

I am going to let you in on a little secret ; being a human service professional does not make you a super hero. We are still human beings who feel real feelings, and sometimes in order to keep moving forward in both our work and our personal lives, we have to allow ourselves to stop and to crash.

Give yourself the permission and space to do that, then wipe your eyes and your snotty nose and reenter the world a little freer.


Sometimes doing this work feels like riding waves in the ocean.

Last week my staff team and I had some great opportunities to reflect on the work that we do and talk about the effects of trauma on the brain. The training and conversations were moments to recognize how hard this work is, how much our youth have experienced, and the opportunity we have to create a space for healing. The waves were rolling and we were riding them and being intentional about feeling the ups and downs that were occurring--not just about the work, but also about our own experiences of trauma and who we are in our hearts.

And then . . . we have to dive back into the space with our youth, and over the weekend, addiction claimed another life. The wave rose slowly but rushed in fast and knocked us off our footing for a minute. We had to catch our breath, take stock of ourselves, and dig our feet more firmly into the sand to make sure we were standing strong. We had to talk and to process. We had to plan and prepare. We had to be quiet and reflect. We had to seek strength in rejuvenation.

We had to make sure that we could stand and catch our youth in the wave because for them the waves never stop. We are their safety net that prevents them from drifting off to sea, reminding them that they are strong and that they, too, can stand and dig their feet into the sand. We can help them to look up and feel the sunshine on their faces.

So here we stand in the ocean waves, a human chain linked arm to arm, inviting others to join – all needing support, but also having strength to share, ready for the slow rolling waves or the white caps to come.


Time and gain I am reminded of the importance of relationships.

Recently I had the opportunity to watch the movie Paper Tigers with my staff. This movie brings to life a trauma informed approach with youth, and reminded me of the significant role and responsibility we have to the youth for whom we provide services. When we meet the young people we serve, they are walking in our doors with a lifetime of complex trauma. Brain science has proven that this trauma truly changes the structure and makeup of their brains. The good news in all of this is that so much of this damage can be reversed. Youth who have experienced trauma heal both their heart and their brain within the context of relationships.

This means that every time we are consistent, reliable, positive, respectful, nonjudgmental, and loving, we are providing youth the opportunity to heal. This also means that we are responsible to keep our hearts in our work. We can never see ourselves as just a social worker, therapist, case manager, or counselor.

We also have to remember that the thing that might be the most important part of the work we do is that we are also human beings. Human beings with our own feelings and hearts--and when we allow these to be a part of the work that we do, we connect with young people in true relationships and open up an opportunity for healing. Think about how amazing that is. When we show up and we believe that a young person has value and worth and we treat them as such, their brains are literally reshaping and rewiring to understand a world in which safety exists.

So, when we are learning this work and we are training others to be part of it, as important as it is to have professional boundaries and to understand our roles, it is just as important to know how to truly be in it with our whole hearts. Along with perfecting professionalism we also have to focus on perfecting how to show up for youth with love every day.


Sometimes, we are really in need of some good role models. This is one of those times. In the wider world we are seeing hate and violence, divisiveness and confusion, fear and distrust. And just when we might think there is no hope and no good left in this world, this happens:


Watch this video all the way to the end and you will see the coaches from the Venezuelan Little League team walk out to the pitcher’s mound and pick up the pitcher from the opposing team out of the dirt after a walk off homerun that won the World Series for the Venezuelan team. Those coaches could have walked away to celebrate with their own team and not looked back and no one would have criticized them for it. Instead, they recognized that there was a child laying face down in the dirt, crying from heartbreak because his dream of championship had slipped from his fingers and they walked out, picked him up, hugged him, and consoled him. And what happened next is what makes us know that these coaches are true role models who have consistently led their players in the right direction. Their players followed them out to the pitcher’s mound and joined in on the hug and consoling.

Imagine the lessons that those players learned in that moment. How many times a day do we have the opportunity in our work to pick someone up out of the dirt and bring them a sense of hope? Do we show up as the role models we have the opportunity to be? In the midst of our own celebrations, do we recognize the needs of another? If we followed the lead of these coaches, would the world feel like a different place?


About the Author...

EKleftside-street Webfade

I’m Erin, and I’ve used my 15+ years of human services experience working to understand youth who are on the fringes as an attempt to create services that have the potential to change their life trajectory. I get out of bed each morning with a renewed sense of purpose, and I go off to work to play my part. I believe that if we each do our small part, that collectively we have the potential to change the big picture.

To me, this is more than a job; it’s a journey, a mission, a calling, and an honor.

I don’t believe that I have all the answers, but with some regular meditation, a solid support network, and a commitment to this work--no matter how hard it gets, I believe that much can be accomplished.

I invite you along on this journey. Share what you have learned, what keeps you going, and what makes you crazy. None of us are in this world alone and I am grateful that we can walk beside each other even if only for a few moments.

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