What is the Sequoia project?
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Sent a letter of thanks.
It does matter.
Social workers often deal with defining moments in other lives. The pay is low, the thank you few. There was one that made a huge impact in my life, many years ago. I wanted to do something to show others in this field that the work they do matters. This was an open letter sent to 80 different state and county agencies. As I read the letter to my wife we had to take a few breaks for emotions to settle. Perhaps you know a person asking themeslves if what they are doing matters. This will assure them that it does.
Dear Social Workers,
The work you do matters. On the days when you are burnt out, and questioning if it does, take a few moments to read this letter.
I was 12-years old when I first met Dale. I was lost in a world of institutions and dormitories for the last few years. The reasons why I did not understand. At the time I thought I was broken and no good. I later learned it was because of my real home that was broken. My father was an abusive alcoholic and kept his entire family in a constant state of fear. My mother ran out on the family when I was 3. The county became involved when schools noticed behavior problems. A decision was made to put me into the institutions that could maybe help.
Dale explained to me that he was a social worker, and that he promised to help find a regular home and family for me. I liked that idea! I had no clue what a ‘social worker’ was but he seemed really kind. I also didn’t know what a regular home or family was like either. There was a side of me that wished him luck in finding this home. I was convince that nobody really cared.
Dale kept his word. It took a little while but I’ll never forget our driving away from the huge and cold institution I had been at. The place meant well but it was no place to grow up. I remember, to this day, how much faith and trust I had in Dale. I didn’t want to show him these things because I was use to disappointment and rejection. I played the tough kid role and acted like it didn’t matter. It did though. The ‘tough’ kid act was a defensive wall I had learned to put up, so I could pretend nothing could hurt me.
The foster home he introduced me to became the home he promised. I wish I could say that life suddenly became easier but it didn’t. I, again, had trouble in school and in this new home. What I did have though were people around me who really cared. I pushed the envelope all the way too. I was convinced that if I acted up bad enough Dale would give up on me and the family would send me away. It was my way of testing and seeing if these things would happen.
Let me tell you, I put this man through some challenges! I was one of his first cases when he became a social worker. I tested him on just about everything. He kept telling me that he cared and I would not be able to push him out of my life. I was one of his kids and he did not give up on any of them. The stories I could share about making his job rough would fill a book. I was a little troublemaker! Once, while sitting in his car, I opened up a small fire extinguisher to see what it would do. He thought he could trust me 2 minutes while he made a quick stop for something. Wrong. When he came back the entire inside of his car looked like it had snowed in it!
I was expecting a loud voice screaming at me, saying how stupid and dumb I was. I was prepared to keep my eyes on his arms and hands. I had been smacked around enough to know what to keep my eyes on, and was good at ducking. Dale was never mean but I knew he would not be thrilled about my little experiment with his car fire extinguisher. I was use to quick changes in personalities.
The look on his face, when he returned told me I had nothing to fear. He took a deep breath and shook his head side to side. I also looked like a snowman. I had tried to quickly clean things up but it only made things worse. What we did next was clean the car. He was not happy about what had happened but took the time to talk with me about mistakes being made and correcting them. When we were done he even thanked me for helping clean the mess up.
I had this illusion in my head that once I found my mom that she would be there to love me and make my problems disappear. She lived somewhere out west. I knew nothing of her, not even remembering what she looked like. When I was about 14 I ran away in search of her. I took a bus to one of the largest cities in the world, with about $20. Dale was the person I called when I became lost and scared. It the middle of the night and I refused to tell him where I was. After about an hour on the phone he convinced me to find a police officer and that they would help me return. He traveled to this huge city and we talked about this desire to find my mom. He explained that she did love me but she had a different life. He asked me to trust him and talk about what I was feeling as he drove us to our home state.
These stories are just one of many I could share about this social worker named Dale. He was the kindest man I had ever met in my life.
This was over 35 years ago. I just talked with him on the phone a few weeks back. He has retired and was preparing to move to a new town. His wife and he wanted to be closer to a daughter (who was soon to have twins). He called simply to share what his new address was and phone number. I know his wife and have watched his children have little ones of their own. Never in personal ways but always being kept up to date on their lives. I hope they will someday read this and know it is their father I am writing about.
The next time you are questioning whether your work matters believe that it does. He never judged me or was mean. His voice was the only compassionate sound I heard, during some of my darkest and confusing hours of my young life. We did not always get along and agree on things either. When I became an adult he helped guide me as a friend. I did not understand, at 18, why he could no longer have the same contact with me, but as the years passed we simply became friends. So the next time little Johnny has you pulling your hair out, questioning everything, read this simple letter. You do make a difference. Please forward this to every social worker you know.
A once lost child.
Hopefully this will reach thousands of people who do this work each day. This also was submitted to large media outlets to pass along.
Posted by Mike and Bobbi Stouffer