- By Vicki Murphy, Chief Advancement Officer and Director of Transitional Services
As we look back over the holiday season just celebrated here on our Lewis Road campus, we are awed by the generosity of our community. From the volunteers who transformed our gym into a winter wonderland filled with beautifully decorated trees and a cozy corner for Santa to sit and visit with the children/youth to the plethora of gifts community members donated for all the children and families. We celebrated the season with three different holiday parties - one for our school children and their families, one for our campus residents, and another celebration with our alumni and their families.
As we prepared for the alumni party, where more than 150 alumni and their children were in attendance, the word “redemption” kept coming to my mind. I realized that this party, though it resembled the other parties of the week, was different. This gathering held a much more profound experience for everyone there. For me, I was overcome with a sense of something so much greater than a turkey dinner and gifts. These young people for whom we provided a home and family-type of experience in the past were in their own way coming “home” for the holidays. We are the keepers of their childhood memories, some tragic, but so many more capturing the good times we all had together. We have assumed the role of aunties, uncles, or grandparents for many of these now young adults. We are the elders who can remember when, “You were so little, so cute.” “You were an amazing athlete.” The alumni love to reminisce with one another and with the many longtime staff members who also come to the event to reconnect with the youth, now adults, and hear of their progress.
One difficult element of spending time in the child welfare system is often the inability to “redeem” your mistakes. In the system, when a child makes a mistake, depending on the severity of it, often they are given a 7-day notice to move. This can and does happen far too often, thus robbing these children of the opportunity to make things right. Webster’s defines redemption as “an act of redeeming or atoning for a fault or mistake, atonement for guilt.” Coming back to Casa Pacifica’s campus - where at an earlier time so much was not right with them - and being not only accepted back, but welcomed with embracing arms and genuine, joyful excitement to see them, is in itself extremely healing.
The shame and guilt these individuals have carried for the behaviors they exhibited as children and youth can at times be overwhelming. Brene Brown says for shame to exist it requires three things, “secrecy, silence and judgement.” Coming back and seeing face-to-face those who saw them at their most challenged and sometimes worst selves – other youth and staff members alike – brings the ‘secrets’ the alumni hold of their past behaviors out into the light through the shared memories they all have; their silence is broken by unsure voices tinged with embarrassment, but often laughter too, sharing their memories and being met with the acknowledgment of their struggling hearts at that time; and their fear of judgment is quickly dispelled - evaporated through the smiles, hugs, and love poured forth to them, melted by the genuine interest in their current lives and hopes for the future, with little focus on their past.
Just the presence of these precious young people at our alumni party offers them the chance for redemption. It gives them the opportunity to see that their ‘faults’ and ‘mistakes’ from the past are acknowledged and forgiven by others, helping them see they have the right to acknowledge their mistakes, release their guilt and shame, and forgive themselves for their past mistakes. What a precious holiday gift that is!
Casa Pacifica truly is a special place. Its work and mission of the greatest importance. The children and youth we serve of the greatest value. I am proud that we show them each year through this amazing party how valuable they are and that they continue to matter to us. And, I am proud that we continue to care for them by embracing them as our alumni, as our friends, and as our family.