The Impact of a Kind Word

“Kind words, kind looks, kind acts, and warm handshakes, these are means of grace when men in trouble are fighting their unseen battles.” — John Hall

On River Time provides life affirming programming, including fly fishing camps, to children of abuse and neglect through a partnership with children’s homes located in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas. The kids we serve come from unhealthy, sometimes dangerous environments, but when they arrive at Big Oak Ranch, Palmer Home, and Still Creek Ranch they gain a home to live in and house parents and siblings who become their new family. They are home.

But there are still around a half a million children in foster care every year.  Many of these kids are caught in the system, going from place to place, while the state seeks reunification with their biological family or adoption.

Just ten miles from our office in Birmingham is King’s Home, a special place that for 48 years has been a refuge for thousands of children and women seeking hope and help from domestic violence, neglect, abandonment, and abuse. Because these children are in DHR, the average stay at King’s Home is about 18 months. Their life is still very much in upheaval.

Recently, On River Time staff and six volunteers showed up at their beautiful facility to provide our SOAR programming, including scored speed interviews to help prepare the teens for real job interviews. We knew in advance we would have up to 22 youth. We planned rotations of fly fishing lessons with Mr. Steve, the speed interviews where each teen was able to practice 10 minute mock interviews with three volunteers, and finally we had two amazing women who shared from a hiring perspective, what an employer is looking for in a job candidate.

The plan was to provide support as well as important information to the kids to help prepare them for success in future job interviews. But it quickly become apparent this was about so much more. Some of the teens opened up in the interviews and shared the hardship they were experiencing and the unhealthy families they came from. Stories that would break your heart. Our volunteers were amazing, and compassionately conducted interviews, scoring the kids gently but giving them useful suggestions to work on.  One younger boy who appeared quiet, broken and often in a corner said after the interviews, “I got 4’s! That makes me feel really good.”  Later, one of the directors told us that a boy hung his score sheets in his room because he was so proud of them, they served as a reminder of his positive traits.

Research shows that abuse and neglect do not have to dictate the future of a child. On River Time leans into four protective factors that psychologists say are necessary to help a child overcome abuse: 1) build resilience and confidence, 2) express support, 3) build connections, 4) allow a child to express their feelings.

We left a piece of our heart at King’s Home. And we also left with a clear understanding that our time there was about so much more than interview practice. It was an opportunity for caring adults to demonstrate, ‘I see you. I hear you. I care. And you matter.’ Caring, encouraging, affirming.