By Punky Pletan-Cross
Featured in The Star Advertiser Editorial Section on Jan. 1, 2012
As the year ends, and in anticipation of the New Year, I normally reflect back on the past year, mindful of the lessons that it has to offer for the coming year. The past year has been a sobering one for people working in the social services, and for those receiving those services. Funding sources we have long counted on have shrunk or dried up, and some of our most successful programs have been forced to contract or close altogether.
But that is not the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the year, since for so many people, it has been an even more difficult time. I am awed by the courage of Gabby Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman nearly killed in a shooting massacre, and her efforts to reclaim and resume her life in the face of terrible adversity.
I am inspired by my brother-in-law who lost his wife and best friend to breast cancer after a long and terrible battle with disease, and some six months later courageously giving the eulogy at the funeral of his other best friend. Spending Christmas Day volunteering in a children’s orphanage, he attempts to move forward.
But mostly I think of the youth and families that we serve who on a daily basis are asked to make courageous commitments to do the really hard work necessary to overcome often profoundly traumatic and tragic circumstances and make the changes necessary to get their lives back on track. For them, every day — not just New Year’s — is a potential new beginning in their lives.
What continually impresses me is how incredibly tough and resilient they are. They have gone through — are going through — challenges on a daily basis that few of us can imagine, including emotional, physical and sexual abuse. And yet we see them pick themselves up and take another shot at life time and again.
Starting over is something many of them know all too well, not by choice, but by circumstance.
For example, the young woman who just graduated from high school who was put in foster care when she was 5 who always wanted to be part of a family and finally found it in a foster home. Or the adolescent girl who only wanted an adult to truly love her as a person.
Witnessing their courage first-hand does two things. First, it strengthens my resolve to do everything I can to keep resources flowing to Hawaii’s at-risk youth. Good programs delivered in the right way can alter the trajectory of their lives. Intervention programs can divert youth at risk from a life in and out of “the system.” Outreach programs can keep young people in our community as healthy individuals. Shelter and residential programs provide intensive supports in a safe place when there is nowhere else to go.
Secondly, the ability of Hale Kipa’s youth to rebound teaches us to be better people.
These are individuals who have known adversity, that have had to do with less — or without.
They know what it means to survive, to wait for better times, and to prepare themselves for the opportunities to come. They cannot focus on what they have lost or don’t have; they must work from their assets and strengths to build their futures. Their resiliency teaches us that circumstances can change, and things do get better if you confront the challenges in your life and do the work.
New beginnings in social services don’t just happen. They require the willingness to take the risk to trust someone, the courage to confront your weaknesses and build on your strengths, and a vision of the future that you want to create. If we ask that of those we serve, we can ask no less of ourselves.