"Twila" was in many foster homes for the majority of her younger years and during that time, she fell victim to many instances of abuse. Around the Shelter, Twila often would dress in a manner that did not conform to our dress code (we ask youth to not wear reveling clothes, gang related items or drug and alcohol related items in our Shelter as we encourage our youth to leave the street behaviour on the street). The first time I had to speak to her about changing one of her more revealing tops she responded negatively to my request. I knew she was resistant and wanted to reach out, so I explained to her why we had the dress codes, but I figured that I would have to get creative in my approach, as her "wall of defense" made it difficult to speak without her shutting down.
I had observed her piecing puzzles together on more than one occasion and knew she particularly liked wolf puzzles, so I started to work on a puzzle one afternoon, hoping she would become interested and join me. I admit that I took a long time putting some of the basic pieces together and sure enough she grew exasperated watching me and sat down with a sigh saying "It's obvious you need help with this!" I smiled inside knowing I might have her attention for an hour or so. We sat across the table from each other in silence for a few minutes before I said to her, "You know why I asked you to change your shirt don't you?" She smiled and said "Because you care about me." From that point forward our conversation was one of trust and respect. Twila continued to help me with the puzzle—all the while entertaining the house by leading in Christmas carol sing-a-longs.
Today, Twila is leaving our shelter. With determination and some help from our housing workers, she has managed to find an apartment. Despite her difficult past, she has forged forward and has accomplished much in her young life. She says that she will drop by to see us, to say "Hi", and to remind us of how much our care and support has meant to her. I'm looking forward to the next time I get to see that beautiful smile of hers...it has been a privilege to walk with her in her journey to independence.