Stories

Caprice – For Intuition Magazine, DesMoines, Iowa

Posted by on Dec 1, 2012 in Featured, Stories | Comments Off

Caprice – For Intuition Magazine, DesMoines, Iowa

The note at the bottom of her sixth grade English paper said “Don’t feel sorry for me, just adopt me!”

Later that day I met the writer; a girl with deep brown eyes.

“What’s your story?” I asked.

That question began a conversation which continued for many years.

Her name was Caprice. I was the school counselor in the small Iowa town where she lived with her dad.

“Ordinary story, no problems,” she answered.

Instinct said otherwise. She told me the notes on her school papers asking to be adopted were from her dream to have a mom, dad and siblings. She said the bruises were the result of her hustling on the ball field. And she explained that she arrived at school before most teachers even came through the door because she didn’t want to walk the mile to school, so Dad dropped her off on his way to work. Reports to the Department of Human Services (DHS) were returned as ‘unfounded’.

Four years later she wore a swimsuit without her usual t-shirt cover up during the swimming unit in PE class. The coach saw the bruises on her back.

“What’s your story?” I asked again.

This time the answer was different. “I lied before,” Caprice said. “Home isn’t safe, but at least I know what to expect. Years ago I was scared of what would happen if I told the truth. But I can’t keep living this way.”

The police and DHS arrived. Caprice needed a safe place to stay. The few foster-care families in this rural area were full. There were only two places with a free bed; a nearby juvenile detention center, and the guest room of my home. It was an easy choice.

We each took a chance, but it paid off. We seemed to fill some empty spaces in each other’s lives: for her, a maternal presence she could count on, and for me the daughter I never had. Two weeks passed quickly but it became a significant point in each of our lives. Eventually she was bounced through a series of foster homes, and since this was before cell phones and Facebook, we lost touch. Years later I was delighted to receive an email from her:

Hi Mary – do you remember me? I’ve been thinking about you for a long time. The last time I heard or spoke to you seems like forever ago. But I feel like God keeps you in my head. Call it crazy, call it weird, but I’m almost 20 years old, almost done with college (to be a social worker and work with kids in foster

care), almost married. Almost everything. I wish you could see where I am today. If you feel it in your heart, please reply or call. But if not, just let it be known that you changed my life. You put something in my heart that inspired me to succeed and become close with God. You cared when no one else did. You made a difference in my life. Thank you. Caprice.

Caprice and I were glad to find each other again, and we continue to stay in touch. It’s easy to think only ‘important people’ create change, but we never know the impact we can have in the lives of those we touch, or their impact on us. Without children of my own, I never expected the same children who call Caprice “Mom” to also call me “Grandma.” When we help others create change in their lives, we must also be willing to be changed.

Caprice is now a social worker and motivational speaker who has appeared before Congress regarding foster care. She is also in the process of writing a book about her teenage years, but as a busy mom, she doesn’t get much free time to write. Caprice is the center of a few chapters in my book Teachable Moments, sharing experiences about school counseling, to be published in 2013 by Golden Tree Communications.

Nothing like a special place to take one far away.

Posted by on Sep 7, 2008 in Featured, Stories | Comments Off

Nothing like a special place to take one far away.

Choosing my steps carefully, I walked barefoot down the old dirt path filled with rocks and ruts. One hand held a library book; the other clutched a bag of Cheetos. Usually my dog, Tramp, followed me, but today he was nowhere to be found.

Beads of sweat formed on my forehead as I walked, while purple martins caught mosquitoes in the blue sky. The air was filled with the tang of freshly turned soil from the fields on both sides of me.

A cottonwood tree stood alone like a lighthouse near the creek south of Storm Lake, but the tree wasn’t my destination. It took my 9-year-old footsteps about 20 minutes to reach a large, sun-drenched rock lodged in the middle of the creek, downstream from the cottonwood’s shadow. I perched there for most of the afternoon, splashing my feet in the cool water while reading the latest “Encyclopedia Brown” mystery or “Little House on the Prairie” episode. Red-winged blackbirds called to one another, while clouds occasionally provided shade from the Iowa summer heat. Minnows brushed up against my feet or snapped at the stray Cheeto that fell from the bag.

An orange explosion was created with each crunching bite. Sometimes I tried to let one melt in my mouth, but I rarely succeeded, just like I had never been able to lick my way to the center of a Tootsie Pop.

I easily got lost in reading, but when I took a break after an hour or so, I realized the creek was as busy as the characters in my book!

Closing my eyes, I could hear the breeze rustling through the cottonwood branches and feel it brush back the bangs of my pixie haircut. If I was lucky, I could hear the subtle movement made by a beaver or muskrat out for a swim.

Opening my eyes, I saw the tall grass sway in the breeze like dancers moving to a tune only they could hear. Glancing down, I noticed the colored pebbles made smooth by the constantly running water. On the shoreline were dens dug by fox, turtle and probably a few skunks. The beaver slide was visible if you knew where to look.

Returning to my book, I realized my orange fingertips had created a unique bookmark. I read a few more pages, but soon my skin began to cool, a sign that it was time to head for home. Rinsing my orange hands in the water caused me to shiver, but I had learned to wait until my feet were dry before returning to the dirt path.

That’s my special place. What’s yours?

Solutions: Career Guidance for Middle Schools

Posted by on Dec 15, 1997 in Featured, Stories | Comments Off

Solutions: Career Guidance for Middle Schools

As the global economy continues to expand and become increasingly complex, as industries develop more and more specialization, a response to that age old question asked so often of youth ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ can seem perplexingly impossible, especially if they have not had adequate academic preparation.

Many STW systems ask students on entering high school to quickly pick a ‘career path’ or career major for their studies so that they can get a head start on preparing for adult careers. But before students can choose they must have a good understanding of the choices available. At a middle school in a small town in the nation’s heartland, administrators are making sure students begin career exploration before they walk through the doors of their high school. Each eighth grader at La Mars Community Middle School in La Mars, Iowa, must take a special “Career Program” course.

During each four and a half week session Mary Snyder, the school’s guidance counselor, engages 16 to 30 students in a variety of activities designed to help them begin considering different types of career opportunities and help them assess their own strengths and interests. One of those activities, according to Snyder, is that students all spend some time playing the “Real Game.” This game is a kit modeled after common role playing games. In this one though, students must choose a profession based on an assessment of their own talents and interests. An annual income is assigned to each participant based on their chosen occupation. Students learn about deductions and net income. They must prepare a monthly budget including expenses for a home and transportation costs and even make plans for a vacation.

“Some kids are employed full time, some own their own businesses, some are seasonal workers. It’s a mix of different kinds of occupations,” said Snyder. “I continually compare it to their neighborhood at home. You don’t have all doctors in your neighborhood. You have a little bit of everything and people are going to work at different times. I think it gives them a hands-on experience of life in the adult work world. They are pretty surprised by a lot things.” Job shadow The students also do a brief job shadow with a nearby business. The shadowing is short, lasting for no more than one day and often only a half a day. It’s designed mainly to give students a brief taste of daily routine at a job.

Most students pick the work site they want to visit although some require a little more help than others in determining an occupation in which they are interested, said Snyder. “Ideally they come with ideas of their own,” she explained. If not “we just talk about what are things that you are already interested in? What kinds of things do you like to do at home or out of school? Then we try to make some connections.” Students must do research in the library before their shadow and bring with them a list of questions to gather additional information.