There are many days at Outreach where being with the youth is fun. It’s a great thing to offer spaces for them to relax and enjoy safety. Smiles and laughter in moments of escape from the cruelty of the street world are precious to experience. I get to see those almost every day.
Then there are days when the reality of the street world hits hard. I was asked to write this on Monday morning and had an entirely different story in mind. By the end of the work day, God had given me a clear picture of how relationship, sustainability and advocacy have been woven into almost every interaction I have with a youth.
Two years ago, I worked closely with a young lady, Leslie*. As the street outreach worker, I was the first point of connection, attachment and trust of Outreach for her. We bonded immediately. She was bright and able to articulate her experiences and pain in a way few other people are. The hardest thing for me to do at Outreach is maintain that line between professionalism and friendship. The love that I developed for Leslie made that line even harder to stick to.
As with all of the female youth I’ve gotten close to (my caseload has been over 40 at a time in moments) she shared about a family that was broken, a system that put her through ‘programs’ but ultimately a childhood lacking care. She had landed on the side of “more mature than her age” due to the story of her childhood. I got close with her and was able to be there for great moments. I watched as DCS returned her children to her permanently. I snuggled her babies and brought her pizza after she had her most recent little one. These relational moments happen with all of my girls, reinforcing that I care for them and being present for special moments.
Leslie eventually transitioned to a different case manager, as she settled into a home and was working to provide for her children. She established a steady routine and was doing well the last I heard from her, until Monday afternoon.
This is where my highlighting of the core values comes into light. She rang our doorbell and came into the Outreach house where I was thankfully there to greet her. She has lost about 70 pounds since the last time I saw her. Her babies were not with her. I took her to the table and cooked up some burritos. She shared about how she had been abducted about two months ago, and kept in a basement. They released her when they realized that her mental illness would be inconvenient and she didn’t have her medication. It became so clear to me that she saw myself and Outreach Inc. as a safe place because of our RELATIONSHIP. She hadn’t been willing to leave her house since she returned from the kidnapping until someone told her to come see me. She has always been low trust, but on Monday, she once again let me onto sacred ground as she shared about what happened to her.
Eric and the leadership at Outreach have done a great job supporting me as I have cared for her this week. With a deep desire to see the men that exploited her are stopped from doing this to other women, our team hopes for Leslie to be open with her story to the authorities. Due to our core value of ADVOCACY, we have been able to reach out to member of the IMPD who specializes in trafficking cases. His understanding of the situation and introduction to our work with Leslie allowed her the space to prepare. So that once she is ready, she can pursue the resources in a way that will go for the long term. Had she been forced to be questioned without Outreach support and protection of her, her mental illness would most likely have caused her to run. Her plan until meeting with us was to run. Thankfully now, she is willing to stay and consider and prepare interacting with law enforcement. I see this piece as how SUSTAINABILITY is woven into the story. We don’t want to just calm Leslie in the present. Yes, that was a crucial piece of when she showed up on Monday. But as a team, we want to make sure that the next steps she takes are with wisdom and careful timing so that she doesn’t fall apart and fall back into old habits. This precious balance has been crucial in helping Leslie feel safe. Offering her safety and fighting for her at the same time.
So we will wait and see how this story unfolds. Hopefully Leslie steps forward in courage and allows me to support her in talking with the police. We shall see. The point of me sharing all these details isn’t to give you an emotionally intense moment from working at Outreach. It’s to give you a real moment. EVERY WEEK I hear stories from my girls, of not just past trauma, but present moments of deep harm. I have heard the phrase several times that “rape happens all the time, it’s not that big of a deal.” There is an entirely different world happening in the alleys of our own country and most of us are unaware of how crazy it really is.
To sustain employment here, to love deeply the girls that walk through these doors, to navigate the many broken ‘social service’ systems in the city and to hear how the abuse keep happening….to keep going, I have had to have a deep battle within myself to continue believing that God is both good and sovereign. To come to that conclusion and the trust Him ultimately with the stories, not in trite way, but in a deep, guttural way, has been my sustainability. That has come from conversations within deep relationship with other staff and utilization of spiritual formation days to realign my spirit to trusting the Father. Leslie is HIS. Outreach is His. And I am His.
*name changed to protect the privacy of our client