As someone who has worked in this field for only a few years, and at Covenant House as a Youth Worker for only a matter of months, I have already come to experience the difficulties of this line of work. I have also learned that it is the little moments that make my job so worthwhile and so fulfilling. While I spend a great deal of time each week in the shelter environment, I am still very much an outsider when it comes to truly knowing what it is like to live here.
We had a youth come to us recently who had never stayed at Covenant House before, not to mention never having stayed in any shelter. This youth arrived feeling fearful, anxious, and incredibly sad. As a team we tried to make the intake process and her first night in our Crisis Program as comfortable as possible. As I left work that night I could not help but wonder how we could best support this youth in addressing her challenges and how that would be impeded by her intense emotions about being in such a foreign environment.
The following morning as I returned to work, I saw the youth sitting at a table with another resident who has been staying with us for some time now. I was eager to check in with this new youth, who was still appearing quite fragile and sad. However, wanting to encourage her to spend time with some other residents, I decided to hold off for a bit to encourage their conversation. During that conversation and for the rest of the next two days I saw that it was the interactions with the other youth staying with us that really helped to make our new resident feel more safe and settled in our shelter space.
Of course having a supportive staff presence made a difference too, but it was the comfort of a peer group that really went the distance. By the end of the weekend I joined the group for dinner and was so happy to see the new youth and the rest of our group having a cheerful, supportive conversation over some food. I felt proud of our newcomer for her bravery in adapting to a new and scary situation. I felt proud of our other youth for taking the time out of their days to be supportive of others and show compassion. Most of all, I felt proud of the work we do here that provides the space and groundwork for such moments to take place.