The research is clear; caring adults who ensure a student feels seen, heard, valued, and respected each day have the power to re-engage a discouraged and unmotivated student. These caring adults are in a unique position to help students build the skills they need to successfully navigate their chosen path. (Search Institute, 2020).
I witnessed the power of an abundance of care first-hand when I started as a high school counselor many years ago. One of my first students was a smart, young woman named Kristy. She was a senior in high school who had left her unstable home in an extremely poor county in Mississippi to come to live with her half-brother in Minnesota. She was determined to attend the best public school she could, knowing that a strong education was the key to becoming the first in her family to graduate from college and break a cycle of poverty.
Two months into the school year, her brother’s stepdad was evicted, and she found herself living in a homeless shelter in downtown Minneapolis. It was November and cold. She was rising each morning at 6 am to take two different buses to get to school by 8:15, only to take another bus after school to her job at a fast-food restaurant. After closing, weary and tired, she would take the fourth bus of the day back to the homeless shelter. Understandably, she was lonely, discouraged, and depressed. And although she was really bright, she started to fall behind in her classes.
We started to check in daily. Those first few meetings she was very quiet. But she kept showing up. I did the best I could to let her know how much I cared about her. Every day. I told her that I was inspired by her courage—and I was. I did my best to SEE her, HEAR her, VALUE her, and RESPECT her. As trust built over time, she began to tell me more about her situation and trauma. As much as I wanted to fix so many things for her, I knew that shared power was key. She needed to be in the driver’s seat of her next step.
With the holidays approaching, I asked her if she would consider living with one of the families in the community who could be a “host” home for the school year. I made it clear that it was her choice but encouraged her to be open to the abundance of care a lovely family wanted to share. While she was relieved that she would no longer have to worry about shelter, food, or transportation, she was reluctant and scared. She also knew, however, that without help, she may not make it. She had come so far — and by leaning in and grabbing hold of available help, her dreams were within reach.
I watched over the year as she bravely accepted the care of a community and a family that wrapped her in a blanket of love. And while the road was not always easy for her, those important developmental relationships—and more importantly her ability to receive the care with an open heart—brought her back to social and emotional health. She graduated high school and went onto graduate college. A dream realized – with plenty more bumps and hardship. But she always came back with resilience and grace, leaning into the care from those key relationships and bestowing that same care back on those in her life. It truly was transformative.
A developmental relationship is defined as a close connection between a young person and a caring adult that positively helps the young person develop a thriving mindset and strong social-emotional resilience. With one in three students struggling with a fearful, anxious or depressed mindset, developmental relationships in our schools are more important than ever for student success. This can be hard right now when our educators are feeling depleted and need an abundance of care themselves.
EmpowerU is dedicated to delivering that transformational social-emotional support to educators and students through daily skill building lessons and 1:1 support by trained coaches who check-in each day — with an abundance of care. I often think of Kristy as our EmpowerU coaches hear the stories of students who have found motivation, resilience, and confidence after receiving our daily support. Having a caring adult in their corner holds so much power for students in a world where they often feel alone and discouraged.
We all hold that power — to make a difference for a young person. February is the month of love and care. And instead of chocolates or a card this Valentines Day, perhaps we all need to think of someone in our sphere who simply needs to be seen and accepted fully. With an abundance of care. The sheer force of that much care could change the world. Abundantly.
Katie Dorn, MA, LSC, MFT: Chief Executive Officer/Co-Founder of EmpowerU
Katie is a highly experienced licensed K-12 School Counselor and therapist. After serving as a high school counselor in the western suburbs of Minneapolis, Katie opened a private practice as a therapist and also worked at Adler Graduate school as adjunct faculty and a program director in the school counseling graduate program. She helped align curriculum with state standards as well as gathered data to measure program effectiveness and outcomes. A mother of seven grown children and a successful entrepreneur and author, Katie is a strategic thinker with an ability to connect and build functional and productive teams. Her passion for finding effective ways to help students and families with mental health obstacles fueled the beginning concept of EmpowerU in 2015.