Our Agency, Regesh Family and Child Services, recently had a gala event to celebrate 30 years of providing services to children, teens and families. One day before the event, someone asked me what seemed to be a simple question but, in reality, sent me back to the beginning. The question was, “What have you learned from all those years?” I couldn’t help but wonder where these thirty-plus years have gone and what I have accomplished as the founder and Executive Director. It also made me realize that I had been in the field for over thirty-seven years. I found myself not only reminiscing, but actually thinking about this journey.
As I look back, it is clear that I learned much as an administrator and therapist – and as an individual experiencing life. I hope you will stay with me as I reminisce.
In 1980 I was working as a child and adolescent psychologist in a Toronto hospital. It was a “good enough” job, but I realized I needed to be challenged. I had previously worked in a residential treatment program and felt I could make more of an impact on children’s lives if I returned to that environment. I came across an advertisement for a position in Calgary, Alberta. I was living in Toronto at the time and, to be honest, wasn’t really too sure where Calgary was. However, I went to the interview and was totally shocked when I was offered the job – on the spot.
What do I do? What do I say to my wife? Is there a Jewish community with proper schools for our two children? My wife and I visited the community and decided to accept. There were some adjustments to make, living in a very small religious community, a much colder climate and having more responsibilities – the challenge turned out to be wonderful! The job was exciting and I worked with a great director and some fabulous staff. Two years into the job, on a Friday morning, while my colleague, the director was on vacation, the executive director came in and fired us both.
I was too stunned to be angry, but what to do? I went home and sat with my wife, who was wonderful, and who in hind-sight must have been more stunned and scared than I was, to reassess.
While we began throwing around the idea of moving back to Toronto, Phil, the director I was fired with, suggested we start our own agency – a short-term residential program for teens.
Then just when we were almost ready with our implementation plan, Phil announced that he had accepted a new job with the Ontario government and would be moving to Toronto. Another major blow.
After many long days of soul searching, my wife and I decided to make the leap and open Regesh Family and Child Services.
I must say I have enjoyed almost every day of this journey, of being a positive catalyst in the lives of thousands. There were days when I actually wondered if I was enjoying myself too much! Of course, there were the other days where the stresses of the job, both therapeutically and administratively, seemed overwhelming. However, I have learned to take each day as it comes, trying not to let the larger challenges get to me while enjoying the satisfactions of the many successes. As I often tell clients, “Learn to accept what you cannot change.”
I also think that I should thank the thousands of individuals who I have helped as each new client taught me something new which, I hope, has helped me assist the next person. That’s a lot of accumulated learning and helping. I have been humbled by the realization that I can’t help everybody, even if I want to. I have learned to accept that there are some situations, problems, and personalities beyond the scope of my abilities.
I often think of Jessica, one of our first residents who came to us at the age of eight. She had been terribly abused and, together with her siblings, had been removed from her home. All of her previous placements were unsuccessful because of her severe behavioral problems. When we opened our first group home, her social worker felt Regesh could be a good opportunity.
There was something special about Jessica, it’s hard to describe and may have been wrapped up in pity for this small little girl so alone and so hurt – and so very difficult. Jessica became the child that almost everybody learned to dislike, both adults and other children. She was having major behavioral problems in the group home, school and community. Within the first year of her placement, the social worker wanted to move her as little progress had been made. Our response was simple: what would another agency do different than we were?
Long story short, Jessica stayed with the agency for six years and is now a mother and productive member of society. In fact, she still stays in touch with us twenty-seven years later. Jessica taught me a very important lesson that I use daily. Sometimes, when children are acting out, it is merely a reflection of the pain they are feeling. It’s not mischievous or malice but a lack of communication skills. As Jessica told me once, “I wanted people to hurt as much as I hurt inside.”
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