Each year in the annual report there are charts and lists that help tell Epworth’s story for the last year. However, the real stories are from the 181 children who called Epworth home this year. These children are given the opportunity to break the destructive cycle in their lives. Children like Emily.*
Emily’s home as a young child was nothing short of chaotic. Her family support system did not resemble anything of what most people consider a “traditional” family. Her father was in and out of her life and her mother struggled to care for her, a result of a downward spiral fueled by extreme poverty and substance abuse. She bounced around to various family members, eventually living with her step-mother most of the time.
As Emily grew up, the severe neglect began to take its toll on her development. The instability of her childhood left her developmentally behind other children her age. She attended school sporadically and her delays only intensified with every passing year. By the time she entered her teenage years, her delays became even more apparent. Then, as if her young life were not already tragic enough, she was abused by her step-mother’s boyfriend. The abuse was reported, and Emily was placed into Epworth’s care shortly after her 17th birthday.
When she arrived at Epworth, her delays were quickly identified by Epworth’s clinical staff as being as many as 10 years behind her peers in some areas. This 17 year old young lady was functioning as a seven year old child. Her care team developed an individualized comprehensive care plan to provide the extra support and attention she needed. She received special accommodations at school and through Epworth’s academic tutoring program; therapy with licensed counselors and staff to help her process and manage her emotions; physical care from the Epworth nurse to promote positive hygiene and health; and spiritual care from the Epworth pastor through personal and small group visits as well as activities such as worship and youth group.
Within the first few weeks, however, another component of her care at Epworth began to take shape. Her cottagemates, other teenage girls, began to step up to help her. Her new friends made sure she was always a part of the group walking to and from school each day. During lunch at school they made sure she did not eat lunch alone. A few of the girls volunteered to help Emily with reading skills in the cottage in the evenings. Her peer group in the cottage provided a sense of belonging and self-worth she had never before experienced.
Two years after arriving at Epworth, Emily is growing into a delightful young lady. She still has a number of developmental delays, some of which will always be present on some level, but she is learning to overcome many of the obstacles that once stood in her way. In the last year in particular, she has made tremendous strides.
Emily performs quite well in school and is on pace to complete her high school studies this summer. When she completes high school, she plans to enter Epworth’s Independent Living Program. The program enables residents to continue to call Epworth “home” as long as they are in school and/or actively seeking to enter the job market. Emily is making plans to continue her education in a local life-skills and job-training program so she can further develop her skills and abilities for adulthood.
Outside of school, Emily is thriving as well. She has taken on a leadership role in the cottage. She is one of the older residents in the cottage and she often takes the lead to make sure the other girls are taking care of their chores and sticking to the cottage’s schedule. If another girl starts to stray from the group or act out, Emily does all she can to bring the group back together and maintain the family feeling that she has helped create among the girls.
The Epworth staff created the space for Emily to follow through on a natural instinct to be a peer mentor to a new Epworth resident, Stephen.* Stephen, like Emily, is a teenager overcoming severe neglect in his childhood that created developmental delays. At youth group activities and other places where the older cottages are together, Emily watches out for Stephen to make sure he stays on task and remains a part of the group. When the Epworth students are hanging out at school, she checks to make sure Stephen is a part of the group. In large part through Emily’s actions, Stephen is developing the Epworth bond that residents have with each other.
Emily’s life now reflects the same care that others at Epworth have modeled for her over the last two years. The cycle of neglect and abuse from her childhood has been replaced with a cycle of care and love. As Emily takes the next steps in her life by completing high school and moving forward with her education and life skills, her life will continue to be transformed. Epworth has given Emily the opportunity for a better life, not just during her stay here but for the years and decades that follow.
From The Record (Issue 1, 2015). To view the entire newsletter and archive copies click here.