Saturday, December 4, 2010

This is How We Do.

Saturdays in program (like earlier today) are fairly quiet. I realize this means nothing to a lot of you, since you have no idea what I mean by quiet, or just how loud it can get here. After several months on the job, allow me to give some more detail as to what I actually do and how a "normal" day looks...just understand that people work here for years without experiencing a "normal" day.

Daley Home now includes seven youth between the ages of 13-17. All of them but one (who is still in eighth grade) attend high schools throughout the Chicagoland area, and thanks to generous donations and scholarships the guys have earned, most attend private schools. This gives them greater support due to smaller class sizes and more college-focused curriculum.

A typical day for me starts at 2, when I walk downstairs to the time clock, then down the hall and over to program. My commute is literally one minute. The guys are all still in school, so I have some time to check my work email and read the communication log to see what has happened in program since I worked last. From 3-5 the guys arrive from school. I say hi and ask how their days went, if they have lots of homework, what's new and exciting in their lives. Like the teenagers they are, they answer quickly and give few details. Some of the guys will start their homework early (or we ask them to if they are struggling in classes), but most will grab something to eat first. Those waiting to do their homework during structured study time spend pre-dinner hanging out in the milieu (common gathering area of program), on the computers in the back, napping in their rooms, or down in the gym with staff.

All the guys prep for study time before we head down to the (brand new!) cafeteria for dinner at 5:15. We eat dinner with several other programs and I again ask about the guys' days. Now, with food in front of them, they talk my ear off. "Rach," they say, "do you like to play sports?" "Where did you go to school?" "What was your favorite thing to do in high school?" I guess because staff members know so much about their upbringing and lives in general, they too are curious about us. I also learn lots of new slang words in the cafeteria and I get to see how the guys interact with other youth. Some treat each other like brothers--and it might feel just that way to those who grow up at Mercy Home with each other--while others are more private about any interaction.

Back in program, study time starts. This is where things get a little tough, because it is rare that the guys actually want to study. I spend this hour to hour and a half redirecting them from listening to music or watching youtube videos, goofing around with each other, or in general dragging their heels about getting work done. When we have outside tutors this helps them to focus, otherwise the other staff and myself might sit with one youth to keep him on task and show him that he can finish his homework if he just applies himself. I really do enjoy this time, despite feeling like I'm pulling teeth. I love when they want to show me something they are working on (a paper on alternative energy, a map of Chicago streets, Spanish verb worksheets), knowing that they trust me enough for this.

After study time comes chore time, which for me seems like less fun than homework, but for the guys is less stressful than anything school related. We let them turn the stereo on loud and goof around a little, provided they aren't horseplaying and are actually getting their chore done. The chore rotation gives them practice at cleaning a little of everything--from vacuuming and dusting to sweeping and mopping. It's good for the guys to have some responsibility for keeping their living space orderly.

Once chores are done, the guys have free time for the rest of the night. Some will continue homework while others beg us to take them to the gym. Some go for walks or down the block to the 7-11 for a snack. They watch TV or play video games, use the phone to talk to their parents, and hang out with staff. Typical teenager stuff. A few might have an early bedtime as a behavior consequence, otherwise they are still up when I leave at around 10.

Then I make the short walk back to my apartment--all without leaving the building. Most of the guys know I live on campus, which can be funny since they sometimes think I am in program like they are, with study and chore time as well. My roommates get home around the time I do and we spend the next several hours debriefing and processing our hectic days over a hodgepodge of food. On paper things go smoothly, with schedules and structure, but in reality we work with teenagers so something is always coming up to throw things off or disrupt the flow of the day: youth not coming back from school, detentions, doctor appointments, or special events at school can effect the entire night.

Hopefully this leaves you a little less confused about what I'm actually doing down here. As a residential facility providing educational and career resources as well as therapeutic treatment and basic structure, Mercy Home does a little bit of everything (even housing 14 crazy post-grads who have snowball fights in the parking lot...).

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