Voices from the Frontlines—Wren Fallon
Twenty-twenty has brought with it some unexpected moments, but also a time for reflection and a chance for me to support my community in new ways. I came to Hoyleton in February as a Substance Abuse Prevention Specialist. However, by mid-March, COVID-19 had changed the landscape as churches, schools, and community centers began to close to lessen the spread of the virus. I needed a new pathway for supporting my community. My director, Kristen Shinn, had heard individuals were needed to help work at Hoyleton’s TLP (Transitional Living Program). I readily jumped at the opportunity to get out of the house and to help others.
I am a people person by nature, but this was a new experience for me. The TLP is the residence of high functioning young men with behavioral challenges who have experienced trauma. To write there was a steep learning curve is an understatement. The residents at the TLP have trust issues, and rightly so. I was a new person in their space during a time when individuals were scared and uncertain of what to expect. But little-by-little, they engaged with me, and we began to lay the foundation for trust in our relationship. This was important because the clients had started acting out due to being in extended confinement. I needed the residents to trust me to help them navigate their emotions and find positive ways to channel their feelings. Coping skills are essential in the middle of a crisis, but a learned response. I spent time engaging with the residents and letting them know their feelings were valid, and they were not alone. Individuals within the community were feeling the same sense of uncertainty and vulnerability. It was eye-opening for the young men to learn they were not alone in feeling overwhelmed by their circumstances.
COVID-19 pushed each of us to think outside the box when it came to our mental, emotional, and physical well-being. I reminded the residents of the power over the situation; they just had to think outside the box. Individuals acquire confidence from their appearance, and the same could be said for these young men. With barbershops closed, they were frustrated and beginning to feel unkempt. I let them know I had some experience in cutting hair and was willing to offer my services. Quite a few young men took me up on my offer. Just that simple act raised their confidence level and provided a brighter outlook on the situation. We began to apply the same logic to other areas of their lives. With physical fitness being limited, the residents made better dietary choices to limit unwanted weight gain. Or when each of them needed a change in scenery, we headed outdoors for a walk while practicing social distancing and wearing the appropriate PPE. And when those measures failed, it was time for introspection and a chance for them to understand why they were acting out. I would ask them three questions: Why are you angry? How can we fix this? And what can you do better next time? Each of these questions is grounded in understanding yourself, your surroundings, and what is in your control. I wanted each young man to know they are not powerless.
I enjoyed stepping outside my normal work duties. However, I am more cognizant of the emotional toll working this closely with clients can have on an individual. In our field, we speak openly and frequently about taking time for one’s emotional health. Working at the TLP taught me it is essential to carve out a space to process what I see and experience. Individuals in social services learn about compassion fatigue because we are a vessel for others’ emotional stress and trauma. I would not change this experience or my time with the residents at Hoyleton’s TLP. This is who I am, a person willing to walk beside another amid trauma so they can find a path to well-being.
We thank Wren Fallon for sharing his story. For more stories from Hoyleton’s frontlines, visit our blog at www.Hoyleton.org, or check out our Frontline Fridays on Facebook. Interested in being an agent of hope and renewal in your community? Call Meghan Murphy, Volunteer Coordinator, at 618.688.7092. Together, we can positively impact our communities.
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