Monthly Archives: March 2019

Traumatic past turns to strength and guidance

“Who knew from concrete a flower could grow?”

I faced every type of horror imaginable as a child, but I have overcome that trauma and turned it into strength. But I didn’t always recognize that ability.

From the time I was 12 until I was 18 years old, I was in and out of foster homes, placements, residential programs and shelters. Separated from my siblings and my home, I was constantly looking for a place to plant my feet.

One of the first stops was a month-long wilderness challenge-based experience for troubled adolescents with Diakon Youth Services.

Transported to South Carolina with several counselors, we were expected to hike the whole way back to Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, I was homesick, dealing with anger and not emotionally ready for the experience, so on day 16, I decided I was done. I set my backpack down and refused to move. As a ward of the state, I felt I had nothing to lose. Eventually, they would call my case worker and send me back on a plane.

Years later, with time and a different perspective, I was able to see the value of that experience. But at the time, all I understood was that if I allowed myself to feel, bad things would happen.

For the next six years, I bounced from placement to placement. Just before my 18th birthday, I met the first foster parents who, despite my resistance, would not give up on me and encouraged me to do the right thing. They became a huge part of my life. With their encouragement, I spent the next few years figuring out who I was and what I wanted, enjoying life and making my own choices.

After two years living in Arizona, I returned to the area and threw myself into work as a server and cook. When I was 26 years old, I struck a conversation with a couple about my career goals that would set me on my current path. The woman invited me to visit her at the Diakon Wilderness Center, where she worked. When I arrived on the mountainous campus, it immediately took me back to my first wilderness experience. This time, however, I was ready.

The program director encouraged me to stay the weekend, shadow the counselors, work with the kids and see if the work would interest me. Of course, it did! What better place than here to show these youths that there are people who care. Being able to make a positive experience for other kids has made me realize why I went through all the trauma I did as a child.

If I hadn’t experienced it, how would I connect with these kids and help them get past their trauma?

I have been with Diakon Youth Services a little more than four years, and I still feel strongly that my work here as a counselor has purpose. Working with youths is not always easy, but when you experience those moments when a kid truly opens up, it is all worth it. We get to show them there are people who care, who want them to succeed and who see the better part of them.

That has been especially true for me here at Diakon, where I have been supported and encouraged by people at all levels of the organization. Because of them and Diakon’s tuition assistance program, I recently enrolled in college and am pursuing a degree in psychology. They helped me realize that my passion and life experience, combined with a college education, will improve my work with the youths as well.

For most of my life, I felt I wasn’t doing anything for myself. I questioned the reason for the pain and trauma I had experienced and wondered what my purpose in life was. Now, I understand that I am able to give back by helping people, using what hurt me to inspire others. I want them to understand that while our pain does shape us, it is up to each of us to choose what that shape becomes.

Christina created this artwork to visualize what it is like to live with depression and anxiety.

By Christina Bowers
Counselor, Diakon Youth Services

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Why you deserve a time out!

You need a time out!

Well … not the type you might assign your child!

Your time out is from caregiving.

Caring for a loved one who requires daily support is a full-time job. No one doubts that.

And that job can be especially involving if your loved one has a chronic health condition such as Alzheimer’s disease. Often, providing care can take its toll on you as well, affecting physical and emotional well-being.

As with any job, you deserve an occasional timeout to rest, recharge and return to your role with renewed energy.
 
Unfortunately, many caregivers ignore the need for a break. Whether they feel fully responsible for meeting every one of their loved one’s needs—or they simply don’t know how to obtain help—caregivers can quickly burn out.

If that occurs, the situation can affect other aspects of your life, including not only your physical health but also emotional stability, family relationships and more.

Moreover, when you’re drained, it’s hard to give your best to the person depending on you for care.
 
Respite care is an ideal solution for busy caregivers hoping to avoid burnout and practice some necessary self-care.

Respite care is frequently offered by senior living communities, such as those within Diakon Senior Living Services, on a day-by-day basis, or by such programs as Diakon Adult Day Services, which has locations in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and Hagerstown, Maryland.

Using respite care for a few days or weeks can help you to take care of yourself, while knowing your loved one is being cared for by professionals in an environment that promotes socialization and engagement with others.
 
In “Respite Care for the Elderly Is Important for Family Caregivers,” author Shelley Webb, RN, describes the benefits of taking a time out:

Click here to read more.

Patient turned faithful volunteer

I volunteer two days a week at Frey Village, but it’s just not long enough.

After I spent several weeks recuperating from back surgery in the village’s health care and rehabilitation center, I knew I wanted to return. I sympathized with the patients and residents who didn’t have many visitors and jumped at the chance to volunteer when asked. My job is to help with activities, deliver mail and make visitations.

The part I like best is visiting with people. I ask how they are doing, talk about their hobbies, anything to break up their day a bit. I really enjoy the connections I have made and have found I have a lot in common with many of them. We get to talking, and it makes the time fly for both of us!

I know from personal experience that when you lie in bed all day with nothing to do, it makes for a long day. While I was recovering from my back surgery, I initially had difficulty walking. With the help of physical therapy, I improved to where I could use a walker. That was a game-changer and I soon was getting get out of bed and walking in my walker all over the building!

It was during those walks that I met some of the people I visit today now that I am fully recovered. One woman, for example, knows my sister-in-law. She would talk with her whenever she visited the grocery store where she worked. I know another man’s whole family—I went to school with one of them and lived down the street from the other. In fact, some of residents were surprised to see me come in—because they knew me as a patient!

I empathize with many of them who are struggling with physical challenges, and I sympathize with those who feel forgotten by family and friends. That is why at the end of my six- or seven-hour shift, I often feel as if that wasn’t enough time to do everything I wanted to do.

I’d go every day, if I could. In fact, I wish I had started volunteering sooner.

I’m retired so I have the time to give and the desire to help. But it is the big smiles that greet me every visit that motivate me to do more. They all ask me to return, but they don’t need to worry.

I’ll be back.

Frey Village Volunteer Gary Shomper is a retiree who lives in Highspire, Pennsylvania.

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