A Tribute!!

We arrived back from our trip to California yesterday (a day early) in time to attend the funeral of what most people around here considered “Mr Palmer Home”. Gordan Via, originally a houseparent, a 30 year employee of Palmer Home for Children passed away this week and will surely be missed.

Mr. Gordan was one of the kindest and most giving people I have ever met and was also one of the most dedicated to serving the children of our home. A testament to his service is what he sacrificed for serving children.

Prior to coming to Palmer Home he worked in a paper mill in Virginia. It was a very good position and he made a pretty good living, but he gave it up to work long hours, for little recognition, a very little pay. (My understanding of the pay in 1975 at a children’s home was laughable) I was visiting with him this last summer about his vacation back to Virginia. He told me about playing golf with his old buddies and how they were all retired from the mill and could play golf whenever they wanted. How they all asked when he was going to retire and his reply was, “probably never”, because he couldn’t afford to.

After he moved into a support position, he continued as a pseudo houseparent and took several children that aged out into his home, you could say he adopted them. As the thriftstore manager, he often gave out of his own pocket to help those in need that couldn’t afford something at the store. And though sometimes his methods would make you scratch your head and wonder, he would do anything that was asked of him any time of the day or night. In the seven years that I knew him, there were several days I would see him on weekends and holidays doing things at the home that most of us would have left till Monday.

His philosophy for planning out his daily schedule was this: He would see something that needed to be done and do it. When he was done, he would look for the next thing that needed to be done, and would do it, etc. etc. Though many of us would prefer more planning and structure to our day, not many of us accomplished more.

Mr Gordan we will miss you and I only hope that should I last as long as you did I will be respected half as much are you are. And that my procession can be nearly as long.

Some More Firsts

Yesterday we began our two week road-trip to California and back. We brought with us one of the children from our cottage who is six. We traveled almost 550 miles and considering it was the longest drive he had ever been on he did very well. Today we have to travel 700 and I am sure he will do well.

He also stayed in a hotel for the very first time and he was so excited. I sometimes forget that things we take for granted like traveling and vacations many of the children we work with never experience. More on that subject later.

We are getting ready to leave Sallisaw, Oklahoma en route to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hopefully we will be able to share more firsts with Johnnie(not his real name) today.

Vomit Fest III

It seems that our annual bought with a stomach virus has begun. 5 of our 10 children have come down with it this last week. Not a lot of fun especially considering all the things we have to do this time of the year and all the things they have to miss when they are sick.

Tonight our two youngest children had to miss a Christmas party for the second time this week. They will still get their gifts from the parties so there shouldn’t be too many ill effects from their absence. They were feeling much better this evening which was really good, but the best thing about the evening was that it was just the three us and I was able to give them some very good undivided attention. Capping off the evening with sitting close on the couch watching TV before sending them off to bed.

It sucks that they had to be sick, but it was nice to be able to spend some special time with them.

P.S. Everyone just got back from the party and now my wife can be added to the list of casualties. Hope I miss it this year like she did last year.

An Exercise In Teamwork

The other day all the housedads had to pick up leaves around campus to get ready for our Annual Open House that evening. It was while picking up leaves that I saw a parallel to what we do working with troubled children. Let me set the scene:

We had two crews of housedads working. One crew was made up of 3 housedads and the other crew was me and another housedad. Both crews were using pick-up trucks of the same size. The crew with three housedads were using leaf rakes and wide pitch fork type tools to put the leaves in the back of the pick-up. Though the housedads were working together, they were all working independently with their own tool, scooping up leaves and then carrying them over to the pick-up and putting them in. When the pick-up was full they would drive down to the pasture and each would use their own tool and push the leaves out of the back of the pick-up until it was empty.

The housedad that was working with me and I took a totally different approach. The first thing that we did was place a large tarp inside the bed of the pick-up as a liner. We tucked the edge of the tarp in the holes in the top of the bed to hold it in place. We then took a smaller tarp and placed it on the ground next to our leaf pile. Each of us would stand on opposite corners of the tarp and use our leaf rakes to pull leaves onto the tarp. When the small tarp was full we would each grab two corners, and together carry the tarp over to the pick-up and together dump it into the back. When the pick-up was full we would drive down to the pasture and each of us would grab a corner of the larger tarp and pull it onto the ground with the leaves in it. When the load was on the ground we would roll the leaves off the tarp by lifting one edge together and then start the process all over again.

Using our process, we were making three trips to the pasture for every one of theirs, yet if we had not been working together as a team and using the same tools our method would have not worked at all. Seeing the success we were having with our method didn’t inspire the other crew to start doing it our way and our method seemed like less physical work to us so we weren’t bothered that we were moving three times the leaves.

The parallel that I see with residential childcare is this: We can all be doing our own thing, using our own methods and not really worrying about how others are doing it. Not really worrying about what the administration or treatment team wants or empowering relief staff to continue what we are doing in our house or program. Not take into consideration the parents of the children, the schools, or numerous other people involved with the children we care for and still accomplish the task of caring for children.

Or

We can work together as a team – using the same tools. Consult with administration and treatment teams. Work with the parents and schools and counselors and pastors and others to come up with a plan with each person executing their part. When we do this, I think we will really be able to accomplish something in the lives of the children we care for.

I hope you see what I am saying. If not – I hope you discovered an easier way to move leaves.

Being Run Ragged!!

Postings on the Blog may be a little slim the next couple of weeks. I am currently being run ragged getting ready for open house and going to all the Christmas parties with the children as well as other Holiday preperations. If you would like a better idea as to what I am talking about here is an article I wrote a couple years ago about the “Month of Madness” Click Here

I am actually having a pretty good Holiday season. Compared to previous years, I have hardly been stressed and I am enjoying the parties with the youth. Open house preparations have been a piece of cake, and other than having to miss my relief this month, and being physically tired – life’s not bad. I will post as I have time, but if you don’t see any posts for a while – I’m probably not dead – it’s just the Holidays.

Weaned on Nachos!!

This is another entry that regresses all the way back to my foster parent training days, but has been confirmed many times as a houseparent. Children that come into care may have some very abnormal eating habits, the social workers that trained us referred to it as “Weaned on Nachos” they go from formula straight to junk food. I am not going to try and tell you how to help someone that has been weaned on nachos have better eating habits, but try and explain what it is and some of the examples I have seen. Dealing with the behavior is up the treatment team or facility policy.

Children that live in families where the focus is drugs and alcohol or living in poverty and just trying to survive are not likely to have parents and guardians that prepare meals according to the food pyramid. Their daily diets are often going to consist of things that are convenient and cheap. Ramon noodles, frozen convenience foods, deli foods from convenience stores, and children’s meals from fast food restaurants are staple foods. The children get so used to this diet that food you and I think of as normal – is foreign to them. That is: “Weaned on Nachos”

In the first group home we worked at, we had a girl that ate one of two things everyday before she was placed with us: either a “Cheeseburger Happy Meal” from McDonald’s or frozen burritos. At the time a 10 pack of frozen burritos could be purchased for about $2 and a “Happy Meal” was $1.99. We introduced her to several foods she had never eaten before: pot roast, meatloaf, green bean casserole, homemade lasagna, homemade mashed potatoes, and even rib-eye steak. She didn’t like any of it. She preferred frozen lasagna and instant mashed potatoes, never ate any vegetables, and didn’t at all appreciate the steak.

We currently have a girl that loves to eat ketchup sandwiches. When she was with her mother they would go around and collect ketchup packets from the fast food joints, buy a loaf of bread from the grocery store and go home and make ketchup sandwiches. They could eat for two or three days on a 75 cent loaf of bread.

We have had several children where Ramon Noodles made up the majority of their diet prior to placement. They would eat them cooked but often times would just crush them up and eat them like chips. Cold cereal (with or without milk) is also very popular.

I’m sure if you spend anytime at all working with children in placement you will have several of your own opportunities to care for a kid “Weaned on Nachos” Don’t get offended when they turn their nose up on your home cooked meal, to them it is very strange.

Melted Potato Stuff

The home that we work in has a food service that prepares several of our meals during the week. This time of the year we eat most of our meals in the cottage because we are busy doing things preparing for the Holidays. When we eat in the cottage the kitchen will put our food in foil pans and deliver it to the cottage.

Last evening’s meal was quite delicious, and I am not complaining in any way. But, when we opened it we found in one of the pans what we thought was white country gravy. After removing the plastic we quickly discovered that it was actually runny instant mashed potatoes. I didn’t have much of an appetite for it but most of the kids loved it.

One of the boys while spooning a large portion onto his plate looked at it for a while and said, “This stuff looks like melted potatoes.” A good number of the kids went back for seconds and thirds and each time they would ask, “Can I have some more of that melted potato stuff?” and then they would giggle. I not sure we will ever be able to eat regular mashed potatoes again.

It’s Not Really Free!!

One of the additional duties that I have at the Children’s Home I work at is managing the home’s website and about half of the computers on campus. I can spend anywhere from 10 to 15 hours a weeks cleaning out virus’, spyware and other malicious software from computers in the cottages. On top of repairing operating systems that have been damaged by people trying to circumvent the filtering software. One of the things I have come to realize is that there are very few things that are truly free on the internet.

Information for the most part can be had for free, but entertainment is going to cost you something. Either a subscription fee or the cost of removing malicious software and dealing with endless pop-ups. There are several places to play free games safely like yahoo, MSN and Candystand but there are also many sites that are more than happy to install malware onto your computer with their games. You may be able to find a place to download a free song, but most of those places will include spyware or ad-ware with it.

There are several decent free spyware removal tools Spybot Search & Destroy and Adaware are two very good ones. However, they won’t remove all spyware and to-date I have not found a product that will. One place not to get spyware removal tools is from a pop-up window from a free game site, it will only install more spyware. Your best defense against spyware is to avoid it. Don’t visit sites that are likely to pass on Spy-ware most free game & music sites, e-mail stationary sites, emoticon sites, Porn sites, bootleg software sites, gambling sites, etc. If a site asks you to download a program, don’t unless you are sure it is from a site you can trust.

Toolbars, there may be other safe ones but the only ones I trust are Google and Yahoo. In fact if you do online forums, blogs , chats, etc. I highly recommend the Google toolbar; it has a great spell checker that will save you a great deal of embarrassment online. Most of the other toolbars are spyware.

Finally, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER be without anti-virus software. There are some very good paid packages and I prefer the subscription services but there is also some decent free ones. AVG Anti-Virus is free for private use and is way better than nothing.

I have had several computers donated to the home because it was cheaper to buy a new one than pay a professional to remove all the spyware and virus’ from their system. That is where a lot of our college students get their computer after I have spent a few days with it. Protect yourself and you will save yourself a bunch of headaches.