Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Group Work Youth Work in a Homeless Offenders Hard-to-reach Hostel

I was about to run a session called Donut 
where we start the session with eating donuts whilst 
dipping them in a fondue filled with warm chocolate ..........

The day/evening previously only two Hostel Residents turned up for the  Donut group work session.
I am working in a Hostel and the aim is to 
build a sense of belonging amongst special humans with special needs.
Sometimes I am on my own.
Sometimes overcrowded.
Now .............
it was 10 minutes past starting time and I only had two turn up.

Then came ::

Here I was with a strange climate to conduct group work.
- new ones were sitting with arms folded.
- It is difficult to eat donuts, strawberries and chocolate with your arms folded!

We realxed as we dunked together and had a cup of tea ......
Then I did an exercise I had never done before.
I used a big box of matches.
I used a line of matches – I will walk through what I did and you can see the photo here.

1 the first match was placed down in full red headedness - an unused match.

2 the second I struck alight and blew out immediately.

3 the third I let burn half way before extinguishing.

4 the fifth was burned out completely.

5 the sixth was simply kept redheaded but broken almost in two

6 this one I split down the middle with my thumb nail.

Then I asked all to my question - ”which match is you?”
I started first.
I believe I must start with self revelation - 
otherwise it is unfair to ask them to do something 
which may open up their vulnerability.
I always want to share my own vulnerability first.
Model the level of sharing ……..
I started sharing how I had been battered in life, 
the half burned one was me, 
and yet that was a quality because 
I had been hurt and damaged by life – 
and have learned from the burning – the dark side of me.

Everyone joined in - everyone did it.
Each took their turn.
Even though a number were first timers to a group-work session.
And - there was a fantastic climate of 'listening'.
Fertile soil.

Tony said something special. 
He said he was two matches. 
One the used one before being extinguished, 
and the other because he feels sometimes/often – broken. 
Remarkable honesty. 
Good for him to ‘own’ that – and great for others 
who were not finding it that easy to reach out and touch their reality.

All was going well when ……..
Big Brian and Big Jeff stumbled in 
and joined us around the circle of comfy chairs.
Tattoos and all.
They were both big, in their thirties, straight from the pub …..
The vibe changed. 
(Afterwards a few group members said they felt scared - 
they are big mature men).

They came in when I was conducting the next phase. 
I gave everyone a new match and asked everyone 
to say how they wanted their match to be in the future. 
I said to Big Brian, as I threw him a match, 
“You can do what you want with it 
as long as you don’t burn the Hostel down”  
He scowled and asked did I know his 'previous’. 
(previous convictions)
A tense moment***.

Some deep and powerful answers then flowed 
as humans made flowers from their matches.
Bent and twisted their match - formed a smile with it.
Big Jeff fell asleep. Alcohol does that to you sometimes.
Imagination was rife – with a struggle.

Big Brian said, as he removed the red bit from his match,
”this is a cornerstone”.
This is the cornerstone for the future. 
He then asked (directed us all in real terms!) 
to all to stay as he left to go to his Hostel room…………………….

He returned in a few minutes with a most beautiful 
hand crafted picture frame with a photograph of his daughter in it. 
Looking closer at the picture frame – 
it was compiled completely out of many matches glued together. 
Lightly varnished.
He had made this work of art and beauty in Prison.
An object of no real value but valuable beyond measure to him…..
...... and to me with a depth of emotion.

The group stilled.

Time and Donut Group was finished. 
The group lingered on and talked more - on and on. 
Others came and hung out. 
Two more regulars strolled in late as usual.
And ........
Big Brian started trying to organise a session for the next day for eager humans. 
To be creative with matches. To teach us all how to be practice and create art.
He wanted to be the corner stone for them. 
He wanted to help us with his skill. 
He wanted to be, not just a Community Taker, 

It was well gone midnight and we were still playing music 
and drifting in and out of significant conversations.
Fertile soil.
Being and becoming.

Reflecting on this ::
It had been a poor start - few in number.
It had grown and become a wondrous developmental climate.
The group, having formed, was disrupted by outsiders - big and aggressive.
I had been threatened in it.
I had felt the aggression.
(I was visibly aggressively threatened when I took a photo of him.
I still have the photo of him pointing an aggressive finger at me - 
but I asked him to trust me - I settled him down ……)

I had never ever done this match group exercise before.
Big Brian had never ever been to the group before.
That evening he came to the Donut Group – and 
we used used the matches exercise on that very evening.
Big Brian and me recon it was God doing his stuff.
A miracle of small or large proportions – depending on your inclinations.
A positive step for individuals.
A positive step in terms of group, community, understanding, 
development, belonging and experiential extreme.

** Big Brian, in passing, told me afterwards 
that he had once burned his former school down - 
that is why he became threatening 
when I mentioned burning down the Hostel!

Two names have been changed.