One of the most common questions I get from my friends and family is this, “What is the most important work you do for the youth at Covenant House?” And, to be honest, my response is always, “Anything and everything!”
But it’s true. We spend all day with them – talking, interacting, and caring for them. They notice everything we say and how we act, or react, in any situation. And you never know when an action, whether big or small, might have a profound impact.
Kathy’s story is a great example.
She was a young girl when she arrived at our doors after running away from a home of violence and abuse. She grew up never knowing what a nurturing and loving home looked like. At a young age she was already diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
In the early days of her stay in our Crisis Program shelter, her anxiety was very clear. We’d often have to remind her to use the various skills she learned to cope with overwhelming feelings of distress.
One day, a group of us all went downtown to watch a parade. Very quickly, amidst the crowds of people, Kathy started to feel overwhelmed – her body started shaking and she refused to look anywhere except the ground. I guided her up to a quieter street and sat with her on a park bench. We were there for at least ten minutes, sitting in silence and slowly letting the calmer, quieter atmosphere soak in.
Kathy finally started up a conversation, asking to walk along the outskirts of the parade where there were less people. I was glad to accompany her.
The very next day, Kathy came up to me with a simple, “Thank you.” At the time, I was actually a bit confused. She explained, “Thanks for being there with me, away from the crowds. It really helped.”
Although I really felt like I didn’t do anything, it turns out I did. Sure, to me, Kathy had used the skills she learned to overcome her anxiety. But in her eyes, by simply being there I was an important source of support and love.
So yes, every interaction with every youth is important. You never know when even the smallest gesture can have a huge impact.