Team Leader Mark David shares what it takes to work with high-risk youth
May 22, 2015
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to tour the Wood’s Homes Evergreen Program with Team Leader Mark David in hopes to learn more about the work of the program and help communicate this with our community.
The tour was memorable for me and I hope reading about Mark’s experience of working at Evergreen inspires you too as we continue to help youth and families who need our support.
“I told myself I would never work at the Evergreen program,” says Mark David, now the proud Team Leader of Evergreen.
When Mark started with Wood’s Homes in 2011 as a front line youth support counsellor at the Phoenix program, he remembers looking up the hill toward Cottage 2 – home of the Evergreen program. Hearing about some of the youth and their life experiences, he just didn’t know if he had what it took to work there.
Evergreen, the name referring to commitment and growth, is a live-in program for young people ages 12-17 with Child Welfare status. They struggle with substance abuse, violence and running, and typically they have a history of placement breakdowns.
Their behaviour often stems from neglect or abuse.
As a result, the youth often have missed important developmental milestones such as healthy attachment, managing emotions, success in school and positive relationships. This can cause serious problems like running away, sexual acting out, self-harm and drug or alcohol abuse.
The goal of the program is to help clients develop positive ways of functioning within their families and in their environments as they move into young adulthood.
“OUR TEAM'S PHILOSOPHY IS IF YOU CAN'T CARRY THE HOPE FOR YOURSELF RIGHT NOW, WE'LL CARRY IT."
For the front line counsellors and team leader who work with these vulnerable youth, there are big challenges every day. If a young person has an outburst of anger, it is up to the staff to deal with the incident in the best way possible for the client.
Although Mark was initially unsure about his ability to do this, as he became more familiar with Wood’s Homes and gained experience in a variety of roles, he began to really understand the program and see it differently.
Understanding goals, big and small
Evergreen staff try to help young people better deal with their emotions, improve school grades and their social skills, explains Mark.
The youth in the program attend George Wood Learning Centre, a specialized education centre on the campus. The program provides structure in order to help to reduce harm. All steps, big or small, are recognized.
Mark tells the story of a young male who used to constantly run away from the program. The first step was to have him write down the program’s phone number in case he needed staff to come get him, and for him to be able to call to let them know that he was safe.
The boy started to keep in touch with the program, and the staff recognized that as a small but positive step.
Often for young people who come to this program, having someone who is always there is something they have not had before. Showing them that, is an important part of the treatment process.
Being there, always
Mark recalls that when he first started, one of the youth in his program would swear at him every morning.
He would still respond with a pleasant “good morning” every day no matter what, even if he felt upset by it. But she continued to swear at Mark every day, for an entire month.
“NO MATTER WHAT THE DAY INVOLVES, WE GET THROUGH IT."
One morning however, she said: “Good Morning, Mark.” When he asked her why she said it, she told him that it was because he always responded in the same way – no matter what! He always stayed the same.
“Being consistent is a part of the tone and culture we try to set at Evergreen.”
He helps to set this tone at the start of every day by walking around the house and making sure anything that has been misplaced or even broken is fixed right away and the incident has been addressed. They want to show the youth that all of their life choices do matter, in hopes that they start to realize that they matter.
“Our team’s philosophy is if you can’t carry the hope for yourself right now, we’ll carry it.”
During the tour, Mark and I stopped by the staff office upstairs where one of the staff was working.
The two of them shared a conversation about the youth who skipped school that morning. The staff member said he wasn’t able to motivate her to go but she decided she would still go to her interview for a part-time job and she was in the washroom getting ready.
The honest communication with one another, as Mark shared later, is about always having each other’s back.
“No matter what the day involves, we get through it,” says Mark. “We are always better for it, and I am proud of the staff.”
As the tour ended, Mark shared with me that many former clients call back after their time spent at Evergreen to say they miss it.
One recently told Mark, “You stuck with me as long as I needed.”
Evergreen is an 8-bed program and youth are referred to the program by Calgary and Area Child and Family Services (CFSA). Click Here to learn more about the Evergreen program.