"On your tables, each group has a large sheet of paper, writing paper, pens and markers, yes?" asked Marty, the team building and Adventure Ed. leader. The girls sort of half smiled at each other. "What are you making us do?" asked Julia,
"Well, that's what I'm here to tell you. We're going to do something that will be easy for some and not so easy for some of you, and that may be where the team building comes in."
"It's not going to embarrass us, will it?"
"I hope not. It's competitive too Julia, so you'll like it! So here's what you're doing. In your groups of four, you're going to share each other's strengths and all the hundreds of positive things about yourselves that you feel will make your team the best." She observed a mixed response to the activity. "Good, so far?"
"Yep...yup...fine...whatever", answered some.
"You're going to write these strengths and positive attributes down and once you have all these incredible things down about each other, your job is to combine them to create one imaginary, "Ultimate Team Member".
The girls seemed to brighten up and start to talk to their team mates. "Wait, wait", Marty interrupted them. "There's more. This "person" should also have a name, a picture drawn of them..."
"Oh man", sighed Val. "What if we really can not draw to save our lives?"
"Well, then you'll have an awesome imaginary person who's a little funky looking!" The girls laughed. "Do the best you can. So you'll draw and label all the different attributes on the large sheet, then,..."
"There's more?", asked Julia.
"There's more." Marty smiled as she nodded. "Then, your group will write a story about this person where you emphasize all the amazing things this person can do with all their - your-amazing characteristics."
"And then share?"
"You're a clever one, Val. Yes. You'll share your "Ultimate Team Member with the group and read the story.
Marty was in her mid sixties and had worked at Springs, a therapeutic residential program for twenty years. The girls, between thirteen and eighteen years old were there for similar reasons. Most, but not all had experienced trauma. Most, but not all were adopted. Most, but not all, had families that loved them. And most, but not all, wanted to heal.
The girls involved themselves easily in the activity, talking over each other, laughing while one would eventually emerge as the leader and organize the group.
Nichole, a milieu counselor had come to join them in the dining hall.
"Hi Nichole!", a couple of the girls shouted across the room.
"Hi-i-i", she answered, waving to them with an encouraging smile.
While Marty and Nichole spoke and watched the groups working, Nichole motioned to Marty to look over at Hailey, who was not participating. They watched as the other girls in the group tried to get her to rally, but she wouldn't even look up. Hailey pushed her chair back and crossed the room, slumping down against the wall.
"I got her", Nichole said to Marty.
Nichole casually made her way over to Hailey and slumped down onto the floor next to her. She stayed quiet for about a minute.
"What's up?" She noticed Hailey anxiously bouncing her leg."You're freakin' out, huh?"
Hailey nodded. She had arrived at Springs earlier that same day and was clearly scared and uncomfortable.
"That's okay", Nichole assured her. "It's pretty much a thing when you first come. Hell, it's scary and lonely and new. That's enough to make anyone anxious, you know?"
Hailey stared straight ahead. Her eyes began to well up. "Can I call my mom?"
"Not for three days, sorry."
"But I don't want to stay here."
I just want her to come get me."
"Why can't she?"
"She can, but Hailey, I can guarantee you that she won't."
"Yes, she will."
"Nope. You wanna know how I know that?"
"Because she loves you and she wants you to get better."
"I can get better at home."
"Nope. Your family tried that."
Hailey began to cry.
"Come on", Nichole said as she got up. She turned and offered Hailey both hands to help her up, which Hailey allowed. "Let's get some fresh air", Nichole said and holding on to one of Hailey's hands, left the room. The girls at Springs needed attention and human contact as much as any four year old would, whether they got it at home or not. She took Hailey back to Burnham House to have some one on one time with her.
"So that was hard for you, Hailey. Tell me, what were you thinking about?"
"I don't know. just how I don't know anyone and I can never do anything right, anyway. I mean, the only strength I have is swimming.Like that would help in team building. It's so stupid."
"What's stupid, honey?", Nichole prodded her.
"It's stupid that I have nothing to offer so what's the point?"
"Well, I think there may be a point-or even a few, let's think. So, while you were sitting there with your group, did any of them sort of struggle to just blurt out a bunch of great things about themselves?"
"Oh, okay. What about the opposite?"
"What do you mean?", Hailey asked, somewhat agitated by where she thought Nichole was headed with this question.
"Tell me what you heard."
"I don't know."
"Oh, ya do so."
"Like, Sam was saying she's too loud and impulsive, and -I think her name was Kelly-said she's so tall she's a spaz at everything."
"Which made them all laugh, right?"
"No, wait, you don't get to say, 'yeah, but..."
"You don't get to say 'no, but' either."
Now Hailey was smiling.
"But no, listen..."
"ohhh, there's that 'no, but again, but backwards!"
"Oh my God, you're so frustrating, Nichole!", Hailey said trying not to giggle. "I know what you were going to say."
"Okay, smartypants, what was I going to say?"
"That they were talking about stuff they were bad at."
"Hm. So, are you bad at stuff?"
“But you don’t even know me. Anyway, I don’t even swim anymore.”
“A-ha. But I know about you.”
Hailey looked down. She wondered what that meant. Did she know what happened to her with the swim coach?
“I know you’re caring and considerate.” Nichole said as she sat up to face Hailey on the couch they were sitting on.
“My mom told you that?”
“Mother knows best! So, are you?”
“I guess”, Hailey said shyly.
“And you’re not half bad at Art.”
Hailey continued to look down. She took a deep breath.
“And you can sing and you like to do plays and stuff.”
“So?”, Hailey muttered.
“So, these are strengths, dude!”
“That make the “Ultimate Team Member”? You’re funny.”
“I am funny sometimes , but this isn’t one of those times. I’m perfectly serious.”
“They need people who are good at sports and really strong and like, fast runners.”
“Now you’re the funny one. What if the team had to come up with a skit and paint a background. Remind you of anyone good at that stuff? Eh, Hailey?”
“Okay, okay, I get your point.”
“Well, good, because I’ve been working pretty hard here to reveal to you who you are, ya know. Which is a kid with “strengths and positive attributes”.
“You’re not used to hearing that.”
“Or, feeling that any of that matters?”
“You still want to go home?”
“Oh, come on, you’re killin’ me “Smalls”!
With a sense of relief, Hailey looked up at Nichole. “Okay, I’ll stay.”
“Woo-hoo”, yelled Nichole, smiling at Hailey.
“You bet, kid. Anytime.”
"What a great job you're all doing. I can't wait to see these awesome imaginary people!", Marty said as she walked around the dining room. "Cool, cool, cool, as Sara would say."
"Mart-eeey!", answered Sara, blushing.
Once the girls were done creating their "Ultimate Team Member", Marty debriefed them. "So, what did you think?"
"It was fun", Sara chimed in. "But it wasn't that easy."
"Because we're pretty used to seeing ourselves as kind of damaged, you know?"
"And so coming up with strengths was hard?"
"Really hard", added Kelsi.
"Well it kind of depends on how long you've been here though", added Abby. "If you just got here, forget it!" They all laughed.
"Yeah, poor Hailey", echoed Lexi. "Is she okay?"
"She will be", said Marty. "What else?"
"Well, it was kind of nice because we were also coming up with strengths that we saw in each other that the person didn't really think of as a strength." said Abby.
"And so, you all did come up with a bunch of strengths. What else was hard about that?"
"Well", Lexi began. "Like Sara said, we're so used to seeing so many faults and things, like, the whole fact that all of us are even here!
"And what did you find out as a group when you thought about your flaws or things you don't like about yourselves?"
"It kinda didn't matter", Val volunteered. Because, it's like, when we had to put our strengths together to make the person, we obviously came up with more as a group than we could ourselves. So they just didn't really matter that much anymore."
"So as a group, you are capable of more than you would be working solo". Marty offered.
"Yeah", the girls agreed.
But Marty, wait. Who is the "Ultimate Team Member"? asked Val.
"Looks like a four way tie, doesn't it? Let's see, who did we have? We have Esmerelda, TippyToes, Winifred and Georgette. Yup, all of them!"
"Cool", said Sara, "Cool, cool".
Hailey was playing cards in the kitchen with Nichole when the girls returned from team building. Marty approached her. "How're you doing, Hailey?"
"Better, thanks. I'm really sorry."
“Nope. Don’t have to be. We're all just figuring it out."
“It will get easier, I promise. Have a good night, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yup, thank you, Marty.”
“You’re very welcome.”
“Good night, girls”, Marty said to the rest of the girls who were now busy getting their snacks.
“Good night, Marty! Thank-you!”, they said in unison.
It had been twelve years since Hailey had been at Springs, or, “the Springs”, as the kids liked to call it. She was now twenty-seven, married and pregnant with her first child. She sat down in her favorite leather recliner and pulled out a journal from an end table. It was a tradition at Springs that when you left, you had a “good-bye book”. Hailey thought she hadn’t even looked at it in ten or so years. She slowly opened it, remembering everything she had learned about herself, about her perceptions and about relationships. She opened it to a random page.
“Dear Hailey,” it read. “I’m so proud of you. You finally get to go home and you so deserve it. When I first met you, I can remember how you said you fought your mother tooth and nail about coming here, and now you’ve been crying for a week because you have to leave. Don’t worry. Me too! You’ve learned a lot here, Hailey. You’re now able to see other people’s points of view and think about how things affect them, not just you. And you’ve worked through so much, Sophia said you were even thinking about getting back into swimming! I’m so happy for you. Hey, remember in last year’s production you were singing that song and the mike just freaking fell right off the stand? That was so funny. And you just casually picked it up, kept singing and put it back. You could never have done that before Springs, you would have freaked out and never recovered! LOL. It’s been so great to watch your progress in the last eighteen months, Hailey. You’ve not only allowed yourself to feel competent, you’re actually confident, too. Remember your first night here when I said I was working hard to reveal to you who you are? Well, it’s been hard I know but you totally did it. You’ve revealed the person you always were, and I know it feels good. And let me tell you, it definitely looks good on you, ya little hot shit!
Take what you’ve learned and stay you. You will trip and fall on occasion, we all do, but you know how to handle it now. Keep in touch, Hails.
I love you kid!