"We pray: may LOVE, not fear, go viral…"*
Article by Sr. Kathleen Duggan
Province of New York/Toronto
Ten months ago today, our Good Shepherd Services' office in the Bronx, New York, closed due to the pandemic. Prior to closing the doors, we served foster children and young adults along with their families. Days were filled with therapy sessions, parenting and support groups, crisis intervention and domestic violence services, and multiple education, housing, and advocacy programs. The office also served as a safe space for the families and children in times of crisis as well as in times of celebration of their various life passages, from birthdays to graduations or to celebrate a mother finally accessing safe housing.
How were we going to continue the mission in this uniquely challenging time when our families were most in need, and we were in lockdown? Not long after the Bronx doors closed, I (and many others) moved online to conduct virtual evaluations, therapy sessions, and crisis intervention services via FaceTime, WhatsApp, Google Duo, and Zoom. Not all of our families had the equipment to communicate virtually. But thanks to the generosity of our benefactors, iPhones were provided to the parents of our children so that they could continue to visit them and continue to receive services. Foster parents were also provided with the means to access services virtually, as were our adolescents, many of whom are college students. It soon became overwhelmingly evident that our families did not have enough food to provide for their children. This became an increasing need as most of the children had been receiving two or three meals at school, which had all since closed. Once again, the overwhelming generosity of benefactors, friends and family of the staff, as well as the thoughtfulness of many of our retired sisters (after hearing about the need during one of our community Zoom calls), sent gift cards for families to buy food. Their kindness touched and moved many of our mothers and foster mothers to tears (as well as ourselves). Our younger caseworkers traveled through the South Bronx with their shopping carts delivering staples (rice, beans, soup, pasta, and canned foods) and the gift cards and helped the families to shop in their neighborhoods.
Life changed dramatically, but it never stopped! It seemed to increase in energy as everyone contributed to widening the circle of love and support and found creative ways to bring light into the darkness of what people were enduring. I have to say that I have never been too tech-savvy, but over these months, I have experienced such profound moments of grace through these virtual encounters. I would like to share a few of these experiences. In April, the foster father of one of our seven-year-old boys was hospitalized with COVID. This young boy, Angelo, has a history of severe trauma and sadly had been unable to settle in a foster home until he came to live with Mr. G. Needless to say, Angelo was devastated and "scared," as he put it, that Mr. G would not return home. The foster father had a tender practice where he would sing a lullaby to Angelo at night and have him sing it back to him as a way of calming him. In talking with Mr. G's adult daughter, we were able to arrange for Angelo to have FaceTime with Mr. G at night. We would sing along with Angelo explaining that Mr. G was hearing him but could not sing along. This was enough for Angelo, who found reassurance in seeing his foster father. Can you imagine Angelo's overwhelming joy when one evening Mr. G had the strength to sing to him via FaceTime, to say nothing of the joy of their reunion when Mr. G was discharged from the hospital. With the support of a home health aide, Angelo was able to be reunited with him! And Angelo is thriving!
In May, during a therapy session with one of our teen girls, it became clear that she was suicidal. She understood the rules around confidentiality as I explained that her foster mother needed to be included in our planning an intervention. In the end, she agreed to go to the psychiatric Emergency Room. It was agreed that we would walk to the ER together (virtually) along with her foster mother and that once inside, after she was triaged, we would stay connected. She was hospitalized, and the virtual connection continued. This was an overwhelming moment of grace for all involved! The sacredness of life hanging by a thread and one's usual way of doing an intervention was not possible. That moment brought home to me the sacredness and power of human relationships. I have worked with this young teen since she was a child, and there have been former hospitalizations, so I believe that this was a foundation for her to trust once again. However, when a similar situation with a teen I was meeting with for the first time presented itself, the intervention was similar but different. For her, it was different in that emergency services had to be called. Still, we stayed connected through the ambulance ride (virtually) until the hospital admission and the days that followed until her return to the foster home.
There are so many stories. I have organized and attended virtual birthday parties for the children, attended virtual graduations, held virtual tea parties for the mothers and foster mothers, and accompanied adolescents virtually as they packed for college dorm living when it was safe to do so. We have come together virtually to comfort foster families who have lost spouses and adult children to COVID. A small group of foster parents living close to the city hospitals and surrounded by the temporary morgues (refrigerated trucks) in the street asked for guidance as these trucks understandably were a source of fear for the children. They asked to come together to talk about how they could help the children to cope with this reality. In the shared conversation, they came to a moment where their deep faith was so evident as they learned how to talk to the children about this harsh reality. They decided to lead the children in saying a line from one of the psalms as they passed the morgues: "The Lord is my Shepherd". While this suggestion was from them, it was a deeply graced moment for me as I heard my Shepherd's voice speaking to all of us: "I am with you, always with you…".
So what have these months been about? For me, it has been an invitation to show up each day and be open and available for the day's journey ahead. And, at the end of the day, I thank God for the people he places me among on the journey, and I am filled with deep gratitude to have met the many Faces of God along the way. How blessed I am!
(*from Prayer During a Pandemic)
Staying Connected: Through the generosity of benefactors, iPhones were provided to parents
so they could stay connected with their children and continue to receive services.