Seventeen-year-old Hadley* doesn’t have a very long attention span. While she starts a lot of projects, she often doesn’t finish them. Impacted by a history of neglect and trauma, Hadley requires two staff members at a time for her care at Cunningham Children's Home because she can be highly volatile and low functioning. But that doesn’t stop her staff from engaging in some creative programming to support her.
"Hadley is a very caring young lady," Melanie, Associate Director of Residential and Clinical Services, said. "She can be so sweet and kind but then, a switch will flip and things will get challenging. It is a matter of creating activities that she, individually, is interested in doing, because her peers are moving way faster than she is and it just wasn’t working."
It is a collaborative effort to find activities to help keep Hadley engaged and safe. She often participates in all kinds of arts and crafts including making slime and coloring. Because her mom worked at a hotel, Hadley talks about wanting to work in the hospitality field so staff came up with a fun activity for her—the Buffalo Chicken Dip Challenge—which addressed her interests and kept her busy and engaged.
Giving her the opportunity to plan an event, Hadley created invitations, hand-delivered them to staff, made decorations and with the help of staff, made the dip of course. On the day of the event, Hadley stood at the door, greeted guests when they entered the room, and explained what they needed to do. Tasting of the two dips—Hadley’s and a staff member’s—was intense. Participants delighted their taste buds, tasting both dips with a chip or cracker of their choice among a variety of options. Votes were tallied as the tasters left the room. And with a final score of 11 to 3, a winner was crowned...Hadley grabbed the dip title!
While everyone enjoyed the activity, the tasty challenge also reflected the principles of Cunningham’s program model, the "Circle of Courage." The Circle of Courage proposes that bringing dignity to the lives of children, by fostering the spirit of Belonging, Independence, Generosity and Mastery, enables them to grow into effective young men and women.
"This gave her something in every quadrant," Melanie said. "Belonging – a lot of staff participated in her activity, making her feel loved and part of something. Independence – she felt empowered to make decisions in the planning and it gave her the opportunity to learn aspects of hospitality. Generosity – it was a chance for her to give back to staff who help her remain calm, regulated and safe. And Mastery – she completed a project from start to finish which was a big achievement for her."
Hadley said her secret was EXTRA hot sauce. So it appears Cunningham staff like it spicy!
"A large component of childhood and growing up is having fun and there’s a place for that in treatment," Melanie said. "This was one of those times."
*Our story is real but names have been changed to protect the privacy of our youth.