– Cottage Training
In my time at The Ranches, I cannot possibly count the number of times that a young person has exclaimed to a staff member, “you don’t understand!” While usually uttered out of frustration, the statement is true. I don’t and most people who work with kids who’ve spent time out of their home, DON’T understand. Most equate it to summer camp. I assure you, it isn’t. Summer camp is an experience that most parents pay for in hopes that their child will have an adventure and, to be perfectly honest, allow the parents a week of adult conversations and relative peace in the storm that is raising kids. I assure you, The Ranches isn’t that.
So, about 13 years ago, we started a training program that checks our staff into our program for a few days. While our hope has always been to give adults a glimpse of what children in our program feel, it is just a glimpse. No cell phones, restrictions on time on the phone, chores, being graded every day, working around our campus and going to “school” (training) for a few days. In addition, cramped showers, varying degrees of “hot” water, a roommate and “Ranch bacon” for a few days. While never meant as arduous or punishment, it does allow for us to give staff a glimpse of what it feels like to surrender control for a short time.
This week, we are doing it again in hopes that it will help our staff to better deal with the challenges of assisting in the raising of other people’s kids. Please pray for me as I am a houseparent for adults this week. The adults have always been more of a challenge for me than the kids in this regard. But, with a little grace and a little planning, we are headed into a week of training, encouraging, confronting and building our staff.
In the past, we have found that the experience helps the staff to be a little less reactive, a little slower to judgement and a bit more aware of the power of grace.
As someone who has been a little too eager to confront negative behavior and a little bit prone to doing whatever is necessary to get the attention of someone who will benefit from a change in behavior, I will have to keep in mind the advice of a resident from the very first cottage training. He said, “treat them the way you want them to treat us. Show them how to do this. If you try to push too hard, you’ll give them permission to push us too hard.” I’ve never forgotten that conversation or that advice.
As any kid that’s come to The Ranches in my time can tell you, I am a work in progress. I don’t always get it right and I have a tendency to place a higher value on results than empathy. I hope that they all realize that I acted out of respect and hope for their future, but I do owe a few apologies from the times I didn’t get it right. I hope the kids I’ve served will someday understand this as it is a challenge to work at helping kids who’ve struggled in their adolescent years and get it right more often than I get it wrong.
For every kid who’s spent time in a program like The Ranches, please know that we do this training in an effort to get it right and, hopefully, to help the helpers understand the power and pain in this work.