Posts tagged ‘counselling’

September 8, 2016

Mascot at large!


Unconditional Love!



The Street Youth Ministry personality seen most often in the photographs we take is not the lead missionary, Terry Cole. It’s Rosie, Terry’s counseling dog, who seems to know exactly when to find her way into the frame before a shutter release is pushed. She provides untold comfort and companionship to clients and volunteers alike.

When Terry started the ministry, he studied a book on fundraising. There was literally a chapter in the book called “Don’t Buy a Dog.” It was about not intentionally increasing your cost of living when raising support. Lol!

About that time, Terry’s daughter chose a dog breed that would be perfect for the household. Non-allergenic, small, non-shedding, hardy, friendly. But Terry said, “No way. Now is not the time to buy a dog!” 
Within a couple weeks, we found ourselves on a family vacation together and riding one of those little tourist trains. The ride owner had two dogs that loved to ride with passengers and one of them hopped into Terry’s lap. Low and behold it was the type selected by Terry’s daughter. After the ride, the whole family was musing over this “coincidence” when the ride owner came up and said, “We have puppies for sale.” The whole family was shouting, “Please, please, please!” Terry kept to his mantra, “Now is not the time to buy a dog. And who buys a dog on vacation, anyway?”
A few days later on the trip, Terry called a family meeting. He shared that if the family would chip in to pay the purchase price, Terry would raise the funds for the medical bills for shots, spaying, etc. Everyone was quickly in accord and we cut short our trip to go pick up our sweet Rosie! Here she is on her ride home from Arkansas!

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April 30, 2009

Hurts of the Heart


I met “Abel” this week. He was with a group of new folks. They were very friendly and all seemed to be having fun, or so it seemed. However, he hung back and then sat down. He obviously was not having fun.

Abel has travelled for some time. However, during that time he found stable work in an profession that he is really gifted and passionate about. He saved money and returned to Texas. However, he’s bringing more back to Texas than a new profession and some money.
While travelling, Able got very addicted to a common street drug. he has overdosed and required medical attention a dozen or more times. The last time was Father’s Day of last year. He stayed clean since then. This is a great achievement for him!
However, Abel wasn’t happy today. He was obviously worried. I asked him to share and he confessed, “I used today. I so pissed at myself. I can’t believe I did this. My girlfriend is going to freak out.” But the fact was he had used, and he was thinking of using again. I assured him that his actions today didn’t take away all that he had accomplished in the last 9 months. “What you choose to do next is critical. Will you use again and again, or will you walk away from it today?” He simply didn’t know the answer to this question.
I asked, “Is faith something that can help you through this?” He stated , “I was raised as an atheist.” I assured him that didn’t matter, “We are all raised as something, but we can become something else.” I asked him if he felt there was any higher power? “I don’t know. I don’t see evidence for anything. Christians are just brainwashed. They say one thing and act another way. There’s the whole anti-gay thing. I just can’t do any of that.” I explained that we all fall short. We all do things we shouldn’t. “The important thing is to make a relationship with the God of Christianity. The rules, ‘do’s‘ and ‘don’ts‘ are only a small part of Christianity. The big part is so want a relationship with the creator of the universe and to accept him as real and personal.” Abel had many concerns and doubts.
I wondered what was going on that had brought Abel to this crisis. “What have you noticed about your feelings? Is something going on?” “My friend overdosed yesterday. A close friend in [another Texas city.] I just can’t deal with it. It has left me feeling like a hole has been ripped out of me.” I told him, “We all have a hole in us. And you’re trying to fill it with [drugs]. Some try to fill it with money, some with other things. But this is where Christianity comes in. You can make a relationship with the God of Christianity and he can fill this void. The evidence you seek for God will be how changed you feel when you let that happen.”
Abel had a lot to think about. He told me honestly that he wanted to feel the rush of [drugs] and that he still desperately wanted to use right now. But maybe he would just go home. I asked if I could pray for him, and he said yes.
I pray that Able fails to find [drugs] today. I pray that Able remains safe today. I pray that Able asks God to fill the hole he finds in his life… to fix the hurt of the emptiness of living without God. I pray that Able will return to me or other Christians able to help him make a connection with Jesus. Amen.
April 3, 2009

Art Therapy


I recently had the privilege of leading an art therapy group of street kids yesterday. It was impromptu but oh such a blessing to me and (I hope) to them. This was a group of street youth with whom I have been building trust for some time, although there were youth in the group that I didn’t know at all.

I began by handing out a sheet of blank paper and some pencils and markers. They are familiar with art sessions, so some were eager. Often they have free art or assignments, but I told them today would be different. I wasn’t going to tell them what to draw, but I was going to tell them what to think. Naturally, they were skeptical and a few popped off with jokes. However, the trust level was high enough that they waited for instruction.

I asked them to think of themselves and then think of another person. It should be someone they have a relationship with… past, present, or future. It could be someone specific, or it could be someone they want to have a relationship with. Some blurted out past friends and other blurted out the names of sexy superstars.

I told them their assignment was to think hard about the relationship between themselves and the person. What did it look like? What color was it? What did it make them think of? How did it make them feel? While they were still thinking of all these things, I wanted them to draw whatever came to mind. Surprisingly (to me) they each got this abstract assignment right away and started drawing.

A group of street youth are like most groups of people… some have great drawing talent and some don’t have as much developed talent. One youth started drawing like a savant in the movies… his hand never stopped and his picture just became more and more detailed… although it had a great cartoon-like characteristic. Some youth (and me) drew very primitive drawings in 2-D. Some youth were totally abstract and drew images based on the relationship. Some were very concrete and drew great depictions of themselves and the person and the type of things they held in common.

As each youth finished, I asked the group to stop and listen to the youth describe the relationship. Confidentiality prevents me from sharing the drawings or stories with you, but it was very moving. Some youth talked about current significant others. Some talked about a future life. Some talked about damaging relationships and how they hoped to heal from them someday. Some talked about supportive relationships with people they had lost contact with or people who had died.

This exercise left me amazed at how complex we all are. We experience this life in connection with others no matter whether we embrace relationships or whether we avoid them. Relationships come from all sorts of sources (relatives, friends, family, fantasy) and with all sorts of intentions (loving, hurtful, supportive, damaging, healing). We attribute many of our struggles to difficult relationships and perhaps we are totally right about that.

After doing this for 5 years (and one of my mentors has been doing this for more like 25 years so I know that I’m still a “newbie”), I’m totally convinced that the one characteristic that all homeless share (or come the closest to sharing) is the lack of an effective support network. They aren’t connected anymore. And I’m convinced that relief is great, but healing won’t occur and their life won’t be full until they are able to form and maintain an effective support network.

The greatest relationship of all that waits for most of the street youth is a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ. Some have this relationship already, but it’s quite rare, I would say. The majority have encountered and evaluated the concepts of a relationship with God (through the eyes of family members, friends, or Christians they have encountered along their journey) and rejected them. (And I would say the two top reasons for rejection are that they youth judged the person to be hypocritical or the youth felt judged by the person who was conveying the Christian message.) However, my calling is to reintroduce them one more time to a restoring and life transforming relationship with God. And I know the youth yearn for this relationship. About 25% of the pictures drawn had an element that included a restored relationship with the “universe”, with God, or that mourned a lost relationship with someone who had brought order into their life. In most cases, religion and church were directly mentioned as characteristics of the person who had once anchored their life but who had been lost to them through death or separation.

Let us pray that continued planting of seeds, continued patience, and continued love by the body of Christ will eventually enable a restored relationship! Amen.

March 28, 2009

Plain Talk


I am often asked what do I do when I’m on the street. I have been keeping track of my activities for the last couple of months so I could better answer that.

In a typical week during the winter (our “busy” season), I spoke with between 60 and 70 people in a week. While my target is on young people in the 17 to 27 age range, this number includes all homeless people I meet. However, about 90% of it is in the target range. And every week I meet between 10 and 15 new people. So that means in the last 3 months of winter (13 weeks) I have met and spoke with between 190 and 250 people! That might seem like a lot, but you have to remember that Austin data conservatively shows there to be between 900 and 1000 homeless people not in shelters under the age of 25.

I speak with a person an average of twice a week. So I’ve had the privilege of about 500 conversations in the last 3 months.

Now what does “speak with” mean. What’s in a conversation with Street Youth Ministry? I don’t want to mislead you and think that I have a 30 minute in depth session with each person, but I do have that with some. To further think about my ministry and what I do, I have divided my conversations into types: introduction, follow-up, witness, discipleship, counselling, and employment. I actually see far more than the number I count, but if I don’t at least have one of these types of conversations, I don’t include it in the count.

The first time I meet someone, it’s an introduction. I typically just meet them, focus on learning their name and something that will help me remember their name. Often I learn their dog’s name because the pair is easier to remember than just the one name alone. I try to find out where they are from and where they are travelling from most recently. I try to find out if they are staying for a while or just passing through.

The subsequent times I meet them, it’s typically a follow-up. Follow-up can be quick and is by far the most common type of conversation. I recall their name (or get help so I can remember it better next time). Then I ask how they are. Then I go into follow-up by guiding the conversation around to whatever they said was going on with them last time. For example, if they had lost their ID last time, I ask how it’s going in terms of planning to get a new one and in terms of problems caused by that. If possible, I try to guide them to forming a simple next step in their plan or process. This includes things like drinking, drugs, needing clothing, a job, emotional issues, relationship issues, etc.

When a person is truly working on something and I can make space and time to work with them, I call this counselling. This is typically 10 to 30 minutes in duration. In that time, I used techniques like harm reduction, the change model, and strengths based conversation to help them work toward a plan of their own to improve or better deal with some aspect of their life. It can be reduction of drinking, reduction of drug use, reduction of violent behavior, having safer sex. It can be figuring out their resources that are relevant to getting things they needs like clothing, medical care, dental care, food, transportation, ID. Sometimes it working specifically toward employment. I do this often enough that I consider that a special category. If I work on resumes, job interests, practice interviewing, or sources of jobs with folks, I call that an employment conversation.

Occasionally, a youth presents in crisis. The working definition for crisis that I use is the state where a person cannot form plans of their own. Solutions that are in their head are simply not accessible to them in the crisis state. In such a case, I help them remain calm, assess the situation, and even decide on an initial course of action. Helping them to recall how they have dealt with problems like this in the past is very helpful. Helping them identify resources and relationships they have that can help is useful. Guiding them to not be a harm to themselves or others is crucial. Typically a crisis state doesn’t last too long because these kids are very resilient and respond well to crisis counselling. Because I work in a team environment, I can often pass along severe situations to licensed social workers or to professional emergency services in Austin. However, I handle mild to medium crisis quite often. This means helping someone realize they cannot afford to ignore a health problem any longer. This means helping someone through the initial shock of being fired from a job. This means helping someone through the initial shock from a change in a significant relationship. This means helping someone who has reached the end of their rope in terms of faith.

The conversations that I covet the most are conversations of witness and discipleship. I never force these conversations, but I pray for and open the door to them daily. I often ask groups of kids to tell religious jokes. This almost always leads to one of them asking a serious question about faith. I am greeted by “You’re a Christian, right?” at least once a week by someone who has been thinking about a faith question for some time and finally comes forward. Sometimes these are not too serious and I take them as an opportunity to plan a seed. Other times, it question is very sincere and I try to make sure I take time and energy to water seeds already planted by other workers. And sometimes the questions come from a brother and sister in Christ who is in need of support and assurance.

Often I end conversations with the question of “What can I be praying for you about?” Quite often I get “Nothing. I’m good” answer but when I continue to look at them, they usually change their answer. Whenever I can, we pray together for this. Sometimes this is very heart warming and emotional. Sometimes they return to tell of amazing answers to prayer.

So I hope I have given insight into what it looks like to work on the street. It is a privilege. Almost every day is filled with finding new people, finding out new things, and discovering cool things about really interesting people. They are good folks, but they need help. And most of all, they need to know Jesus Christ and have the chance to grow in the presence of His love and mercy.