Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Happiest of Days

The residents at Casa Youth Shelter received a unique surprise on August 17th. Dozens of chocolate cupcakes, a cluster of colorful balloons and a bounty of gifts showed up at the shelter in honor of a very special birthday, along with a card that read:

Dear Casa Kids, 
Today is my daughter’s 17th birthday. She’s not here to have a party, because she died when she was a baby. So I want to celebrate her birthday by using her memory for kindness. I have bought gifts for all of you that I hope you will enjoy and chocolate cupcakes and balloons to make it fun. I want you all to know that you are cared for. I think about all of you and I know that God loves you. I hope you have a fun night. 
Love, Kirsten

Kirsten Spreitzer honored her daughter’s memory in such a meaningful way. Birthdays are an important custom here at Casa Youth Shelter. Every resident here is celebrated on their birthday at the shelter, which is more than just an excuse to feast on cake, blow out candles and accept gifts. Wisdom, self-confidence and accomplishments come with age and we commemorate those things for our young men and women. We appreciate Kirsten for recognizing these things and for her kindness, especially the youth. They got to work right away on handmade cards to thank her for the thoughtful act. Kirsten received the box full of handwritten thank-you cards and notes and sent a heartwarming email to Robin, our Executive Director:
Well, my daughter passed away when she was just a baby, 17 years ago, and I have always wanted to do something like this to celebrate her birthday. But money was always so tight for my son and me; I could barely afford our basic needs. When my daughter's birthday came on Monday, and the idea just hit me suddenly, and I was so excited. I couldn't wait for the day to end. I got home, made a quick dinner for David and me, and told him what we had to do. We went shopping for the presents, then hit the dollar store for the gift bags and decorations, and we went to Ralph's to look for a cake. When I saw the chocolate cupcakes with purple butterflies on top, they just spoke to me. I have never felt that before (I had to focus very hard on the present, and not the loss-- never thinking about what she would like, what she would say, what she would do, etc.) but when I saw those cupcakes, I knew she would love them. It was really a fun moment for me! And I am so thankful that I have a wonderful job now that allows me to give a little to others! 
I have not cried in the last several years, because I really did finish my grieving, and I feel peace about her passing by now. It was just really special for me to get to bless the Casa kids on her birthday, and I didn't feel sad, other than feeling sad for the kids who can't be with their families. Anyway, I was thinking I would probably get an email from you afterward letting me know how the kids enjoyed the gifts. I was so pleasantly surprised when I opened my mail today and saw all those cards. But I barely got a glimpse of one, and I just started sobbing! I was a blubbering mess for a good 30 minutes. The cards from the kids just touched me so deeply. I really wasn't expecting that, and it was such an emotional experience.  
So, thank you for sending them to me. Please let them know it meant so much to me! I'm so glad I could take them gifts, and I just hope they know that I think about them and pray for them. Thank you!!!

Kirsten’s altruism is unmatched and is a shining example of the kinds of things that our volunteers and benefactors do to support the residents. We are truly touched and appreciative. She reminds us all that, like Casa Youth Shelter, birthdays are a new start, a fresh beginning, a time to pursue new endeavors with new goals and a chance to move forward with confidence and courage.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Case Study

Jorge, a name made up to protect the identity of the client and preserve confidentiality, is a 16-year-old Hispanic male who ran away from home at the age of 14. He is the eldest of nine children, all boys, with the exception of Jorges youngest sister. Jorge suffered physical abuse and neglect from his father throughout his entire childhood. His mother consistently worked two jobs to make ends meet and support the family, even during her pregnancies. Jorges father claimed that he was unable to seek employment due to a felony record.

The children lived in filth. The house was absent of furniture and toys. Jorges father reused soiled diapers on his infants and toddlers by emptying the fecal contents and using duct tape to secure the diapers around the childrens waists. The children attended school in dirty, torn clothing and shoes that were held together with tape. After school, they were ordered to clean and perform chores while their father watched television or played video games. He sent his children to buy food items such as tostadas from local restaurants while feeding them only soup. There were often times when he would abruptly awaken his older children at 3:00 AM to clean the house before going to school.

The elder boys were physically beaten regularly, with Jorge receiving the lions share of the abuse. At the age of 9, one of Jorges brothers reported the mistreatment to Social Services, however all allegations were denied upon interviewing the children as they were afraid of their father. This happened again when Jorge was 13, when his siblings covered for their father by lying once again. Finally, at the age of 14 Jorge ran away from home and spent three weeks sleeping in parks and on rooftops. For the subsequent two months, Jorge spent periods of time living with various relatives in Los Angeles and Fresno, interspersed with bouts of homelessness. Painfully, with every relative he stayed with, conflict inevitably ensued over limited food and lack of other resources. Jorge was forced to move on when there were disagreements.

Just before Jorge came to Casa Youth Shelter, he began to abuse drugs. Multiple Suspected Child Abuse Reports (SCAR) have been filed to Child Protective Services and a Social Worker is currently involved with Jorges case. As a result, his family has been willing to participate in Family Counseling sessions.

Jorges counselor treated him using empathy-based models of counseling in his individual sessions. Family based counseling for this client employs an experiential approach that focuses on validation and communication. Psycho-education was used to help normalize Jorges symptomatic response to trauma and preliminary trauma processing was introduced. Significant attention was paid to maintaining emotional safety for the client.

While receiving counseling, Jorge struggled with unbearable amounts of anger and pain, coupled with a tremendous fear of allowing negative emotions to take over. As he began to describe his childhood memories he became overwhelmed and experienced flashbacks of his traumatic experiences. His reaction to these emotions was a strong desire to run away.

As Jorges treatment progressed, he became more comfortable with personal disclosure, succeeded in regulating his anxiety and panic responses and was able to experience empathy, validation, acceptance and interpersonal connection with his counselor. Prior to his arrival at Casa Youth Shelter, Jorge interviewed for a residential placement at Job Corps, an organization that provides free education and training programs that help young people find a career path, earn a high school diploma or GED, and find employment. He performs well academically and has aspirations of earning his GED and receiving vocational training for a job in the construction industry. His family continues to hope he will change his mind and return home.

A Place to Call Their Own

After an entire day enjoying off-site activities, our residents eagerly returned in great anticipation. Roth Staffing Companies’ Marketing and IT Department personnel have been at Casa Youth Shelter since morning working diligently—painting, putting together furniture, crafting home d├ęcor pieces. Their hard work amalgamated into a wonderful revamp of all six of Casa Youth Shelter’s bedrooms to the wonder and amazement of our residents. 

They were ecstatic and delighted by the sight of newly decorated rooms. Residents beamed as they marveled at the themed bedspreads and decorations, all meticulously picked out by Roth Staffing associates and all perfect for our teenagers.

“I love it!” proclaimed one of our female residents, who admired the gold dot decals peppered all over her walls to complement the colorfully whimsical theme of her bedroom. 

“This is so cool,” declared a male resident when he feasted his eyes on the full-size surfboard that now hung above his bed in the surf and beach themed bedroom.

The residents’ reactions were priceless, but even more so were the reactions from the Roth staff who had altruistically spent their entire day to produce this gift. As they stood quietly and observed the youth gazing at their dream bedrooms, they could barely hold back their emotions. A few streaming tears and quivering lips showed how much this meant to our generous volunteers. The moment was priceless and reached far beyond the material goods that adorned the rooms. Their gift was more meaningful than many of us can even imagine. 

We often forget what it is like to be a teenager; your bedroom is one of the few places you have to call your own. It is a safe haven and a way to express yourself. For our residents this is a place to seek refuge and find solace, sometimes after an intensive counseling session. It is a place to lay their head down at night and reflect on their time at Casa Youth Shelter. 

We thank Roth Staffing Companies for their dedication and commitment to our shelter and to the residents who call it home. The rooms are beautiful and continue to dazzle more and more youth each day. The stigma of a “shelter” and the institutional perceptions of a group home, are removed immediately. This place is warm. This place is welcoming. This place is home.