Entry written by Ms. Kandace; DASE Administrator
I tell each young man we work with during intake, “You may not be best friends with everyone here, but we require you to show a level of respect towards everyone – staff, residents, and yourself.” Respect for staff is a given in most cases, and respect for “self” is something we address and build on an individual basis; what can be most challenging at times is figuring out how to get the young men to have respect for one another.
We are naturally more comfortable around who and what we’re used to. Most of us are drawn to those who have similar backgrounds. Initially, we often see what we want to see in others and are too scared to associate with someone who appears to be too far out of our comfort zone. Especially at an age when social status is valued so much, it’s understandable that there will sometimes be tension, judgements, and issues among the young men.
Daily, we do activities, work, and have discussions that are group oriented. We monitor conversations to make sure everyone gets a chance and everyone feels comfortable being open. We encourage coping skills when our residents are upset with each other, and it’s a norm at DASE to have them sit down and “talk it out” as adults would when they’re having issues. Our staff model the importance of treating everyone equally, giving everyone a chance, and finding the good in others.
Months ago when we would play simple games, there were constant arguments. Teammates would yell at each other in anger and the opposing teams always let their competitiveness get out of hand. They would also use this time to take their personal problems out on one another.
Today, I observed them closely as they played football in the backyard. Residents who were once “enemies” were playing on the same team. Everyone laughed when mistakes were made instead of arguing. I heard players on both teams tell their opponents, “nice job” and “nice throw”. One of the older residents even gave tips to a younger resident so he could improve his “game” in the future. When I called them in, they gave each other high fives and no one cared who won or lost.
This is one of the most rewarding things about the work I do. I regularly get to see progress being made and transformations occurring. I see residents who start with little respect for each other grow to be civil and friendly associates. Of course, they all have their moments, but we’re generally able to keep the peace at home and everyone’s experience here is improved because of it. As I told them before, they may not be best friends, but each of them show me in the way they treat each other that they understand the level of respect we all have for the bonds we have formed as members of the DASE family.