April 14, 2020
Let me start by telling you there is nothing "ordinary" about the people who work at Cunningham Children’s Home. These unique men and women are passionate, motivated and so very unselfish as they work to make a difference in the lives of others who have experienced unimaginable circumstances. They help vulnerable youth experience positive interactions with trusted adults. They help kids work through past trauma and abuse. They help individuals experiencing difficult life situations get back on their feet. The work they do is hard but our staff is unbelievably committed to giving youth, adults and families the opportunity to heal, learn and grow.
The COVID-19 pandemic is something none of us could have imagined. Our dedicated staff has been extraordinary during these difficult times. Echoes of "Happy to help!" and "What else can I do?" have been heard.
Here are some stories of inspiration and hope.
Residential Treatment - Putting the safety and needs of others before their own!
A couple of weeks ago, a few day counselors in one of our residential units had to self-quarantine due to risk of COVID-19 transmission. Naturally, when the team learned of the possible infection, anxiety levels increased and fear spread about what would unfold in the days ahead. But that didn’t affect the response. In fact, it was all hands on deck almost immediately.
Night awake staff and the case manager stepped up in a big way to fill the holes. One of Cunningham’s nurses and additional direct care staff came in to work that Saturday. They chose a "facts not fear" approach and talked with our residential youth and staff about COVID-19, the importance of wearing a mask, keeping good hygiene, washing hands, having boundaries, avoiding shaking hands and disinfecting the unit.
Soon, staff and youth in all of our residential units began wearing masks that were thankfully made and provided to us by our amazing donors, particularly the United Methodist Women. The best news of all is that those staff members tested negative for COVID-19 and have returned to work!
Educational Programs - Hearts are EVERYWHERE!
Within days of Governor Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, CIRCLE Academy’s Mrs. Overman’s sent a message to her students and others by displaying colorful hearts, smiley faces and encouraging notes on the windows of her classroom at the Noel Education Center.
Our teachers sure do miss their students! At both CIRCLE Urbana and CIRCLE Vermilion, teachers have been writing personalized letters to the students, making phone calls and delivering breakfast, snack and lunch to the families. They are also providing coping mechanisms for students by sending home sensory toys and fidget manipulatives along with their student packets.
Three of our Gerber teachers and several teaching assistants have started doing relief work in the residential programs. One teacher has worked diligently with Goodman and Jedi boys to help create a "school" routine and continues to assemble packets accompanied with creative homework exercises. There is always a need for tight filters for internet access so two other teachers are creating videos that will provide dynamic instruction and engaging lessons and are working really hard to maintain a sense of connection with our residential kids.
Staff, with no previous information technology training, are working hard to get Chromebook labs up and running for all of our residential youth and troubleshooting all of the issues tha
t come along with that; installations, internet controls and student use.
Our kitchen is cookin’
Our kitchen staff rocks! In a seven-day period, our kitchen staff provides approximately 925 meals–breakfast, lunch, dinner–to our residential youth and staff. But it doesn’t stop there. They also assemble 2,350 meals for CIRCLE students throughout the week.
We can still help!
Our community-based programs are still meeting the needs of our community.
Empowering Connections through Hope and Opportunity (ECHO) and Runaway Homeless Youth
(RHY) have accepted four new referrals for homeless individuals in dire need. Our staff continues to offer virtual support services. When one of our staff members located an apartment for a client, he was elated and said he was going to "sing" long and hard with joy.
The Families Stronger Together (FST) team helped a struggling father feel supported as he meets the social, emotional, education and safety needs for his son during the stay-at-home order by purchasing items for a COVID-19 care package for a 10-year-old boy. It was filled with sensory supplies and activities to help this young boy use positive coping mechanisms.
Kyle Fleming, Special Therapies specialist, believes our residential youth have been pretty inspiring during this challenging time. Our kids designed 100 "hope cards" and have been putting them up in buildings where we still have essential employees showing up for work.
"I thought it would be a kind gesture to have some hand-made positivity in surprising locations," Kyle shared.
The kids really seemed to enjoy making them and were excited to know that people all over campus are able to see their creativity and positive messages. Hope cards have been spotted in the nurses’ office, our chapel, the kitchen in the Noel Education Center and they are also displayed throughout the Residential Treatment Center.
The news surrounding COVID-19 moves swiftly and suddenly and it would be easy to miss those moments when ordinary people become extraordinary. But as I’ve shared, we see it happening every day at Cunningham. One of our staff members recently told Chaplain Gay she is at peace amid the threat of the coronavirus because of the opportunity she has had to be essential to youth and their families during this time. I am so grateful to work among a community of people at Cunningham that reinforces everyday that, no matter what, hope begins here.