By Justine Marengo, Wood’s Homes Clinician.
As someone originally from a much warmer climate now living in Calgary (I was born in South Africa), I am always excited at the prospect of Spring as it marks the end of the long winter and white landscapes as the nature around us begins to re-awaken. Many of the religious and cultural festivals around this time of the year also focus on themes of rebirth and are a celebration of remembrance and renewal. At William Taylor Learning Centre (WTLC), we have the added privilege of witnessing many of our youth prepare for a special type of rebirth, that is, into their lives as high school graduates, school leavers, or independent adults.
Every culture and religion has unique rites of passage and ways to celebrate youth coming of age, and at the Learning Centers, ours is focused on graduation. At WTLC for example, this rite of passage is particularly special as not only does it signal incredible successes and achievements for our youth, but it also symbolizes all the people who have had a privileged part to play in the support of these wonderful young people.
When I look back at my own life, I realize I had the fortune of having many of these milestones recognized throughout my youth and early adulthood. Whether those were annual school photos, (which we all dreaded at the time but now look back at fondly), or yearbooks that we were mentioned in, or special events that were marked by family and friends; they all marked celebration and achievements that often had a concrete memento or memories attached to them. The youth that we support across our programs may have very few of these markers in their lives, and it makes it even more important to create these rituals and rites of passage for them.
Further reflecting on our graduates this year at WTLC, several of the youth we are celebrating have had many years connected to the Wood’s Homes family. It is an opportunity for us to reflect, not only on the successes and long-term connection many of our students have had with Wood’s Homes, but it also highlights the importance of connection between our programs as some of our students started in one Wood’s Homes program, and later transitioned through various home placements and/or school placements.
Every interaction that we have had with these young people hopefully has had a positive influence or impact in some way. Unfortunately, there are many times where staff do not get the opportunity or privilege of fully witnessing the results these impacts have on clients’ future successes. It is therefore an important reminder of what we do and how the influence of this connection and care is sometimes only realized later in a young person’s journey with every staff contributing in some small way through their connection to these youth.
At WTLC’s graduation ceremonies, we strive to recognize and celebrate this collective process by asking current and former staff members and care providers to join in this celebration. Whether it is members of our Indigenous Services who have encouraged our young people to take pride in their culture, staff in live-in placements that have supported their rebuilding of trust and safety with adults, family members who have created greater connection, communication and support through our in-home and counselling services, or finally, teachers and counsellors who were able to offer a very different school experience for them; all have helped contribute to these successes.
In the everyday work we do with our youth, we often do not get a chance to step back, take a breath and marvel at the incredible work that these youth have done on their journey and reflect on the impact we have with the young people we work with.
The Oxford Dictionary defines graduation as “the successful completion of a course of study at a University, College, or School for which you receive a diploma.”
For our 8 WTLC graduates this year, it is so much more than this simple definition. We are celebrating connection, positive community interactions, friendships, the development of real-life work skills, mental health growth, stability, parenting skills, independence, academic success … and the list could go on!!
So, if you know some of the young people at WTLC who are graduating this year, or have been asked directly by them to attend, please find the time to join us, in this important celebration of connection and a coming of age.