In our fifteenth year of service, Challengers is reminded that “It’s A Challenge, not a problem”. We should remember this quote, because it speaks to an attitude that determines whether you are going to fight or take flight when times get tough. Will you give into adversities as opposed to facing them head on? Just survive or thrive? “It’s A Challenge, not a problem” also speaks to our resilience and our resolve. No matter what challenge is before me today, I am enough to overcome it. This is the attitude of winners, leaders, self-made millionaires, champions, Olympians, and children in foster care.
When I founded Challengers Independent Living program, I did so from a single premise. In an environment where foster care childrens' needs are met on a consistent basis, older adolescents can successfully learn, practice, and develop life skills. Thus, children living in foster care can live independently and sufficiently post-discharge from the foster care system.
Of course that premise nearly prevented us from ever existing because it speaks to a weakness as opposed to a strength. It taps into society’s guilt regarding the past mishandling of this youth population and fear of future mismanagement. However, what is originally viewed as a negative situation can be transformed into a wonderful success story.
Children in foster care are there for one of three reasons: neglect, abandonment or abuse. Each reason carries a silent yet heavy sentence that can plague a child long after they age out of the system. The sentence of insecurity, condemnation, guilt or low self-esteem affects how they perceive themselves in the world. The way young adults view themselves post-foster care varies greatly from their pre-foster care perceptions. It’s easy to understand why our Participants may initially suffer from a lack of motivation.
However, I must stress that these adverse conditions do not constitute a death sentence: It’s a Challenge. It’s no different than the challenges faced by a child of divorced parents or someone who has suffered abuse in a romantic relationship. It’s a challenge for all of us to overcome our negative past experiences and not allow them to improperly affect how we interact today. In these extraordinary cases, a foster care adolescent must be taught that they hold the key to their freedom. They are their own judge and jury and have the power to release themselves. However, this is easier said than done.
Such a process takes time and time is not on the side of our Participants. Therefore, this process has to be microwaved to be completed by their 21st birthdays. The lack of motivation that we often encounter does not speak to their individual frailties but to their impaired circumstances. When a compassionate professional can step in, offering multiple ways to productively engage these youth, the circumstances can make a decided turn for the better. This is a population with tremendous character and resolve – a population where change can happen and on a regular basis.
The unmotivated attitude plaguing many of these young people keeps us grounded to the ever present and arduous task. That task is to prepare a young adult, who has suffered from neglect, abandonment and abuse to live self-sufficiently, post discharge from the foster care system.
This is a challenge we can ill afford to ignore. It shapes our attitude towards developing a program that is effective, comprehensive and relevant to the population we have devoted our entire beings to serve. Attitude determines altitude and for the Participants of Challengers Independent Living, Inc., their altitude is limitless.
Let’s start from this point: “The only preparation for tomorrow is the correct use of today!”
Respectfully Submitted: Walter McNeil, LCSW-C
Founder and Chief Executive Officer