THE LITTLE THINGS

Pam Frye

Pam Frye, Chief Program Officer

As I write this sunshine is spilling onto my desk. It makes me happy. This winter has seemed particularly gray to me. Someone recently told me that when he lived in Scotland the weather there was so gloomy that a sunshiny day was something monumental – an event so extraordinary that people would reference the sunshiny day in conversation in the months to come. Do you remember that day in May? Are you talking about the day the sun was shining?

I am not sure if the groundhog saw his shadow or not this year, and I really do not care because today I am going to enjoy the sun. It is amazing how something as seemingly inconsequential as a sunny day can make my day so much better. The older I get the more I realize that the little things in life often mean the most – the little, seemingly random, things I remember.

There have been a few times in my life when I have been really discouraged, and suddenly out of the blue someone will send me an encouraging email, card, or text. Those moments still stand out to me, and years later I can perfectly recall the details. I have always wondered what prompted these random act of kindness. Was it a tug? A little voice in the head? A nudge? I guess it does not matter what prompted the kindness. What matters is that someone acted.

So the next time you have someone on your mind, give them a call. Can’t get someone off of your heart? Shoot them an email. Worried about a friend? Send them a text. You never know. Maybe your little act of kindness will be like a sunny day in Scotland in May.

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LOVE

Rachel Joffe

Rachel Joffe, ASAP Family Counselor

We can describe love in many ways. When I need a reminder of what love is, is not, and how to give it – I turn to First Corinthians, which tells me love is patient and kind; does not envy or boast; is not proud, self-seeking, or easily angered; keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil, and rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres, and never fails.

We all need love. We were made to love and be loved. We want to love and be loved. Yet we must acknowledge there can be struggles in giving and receiving love.

Trauma seeks to destroy our ability to love. In life, hurt, pain, and loss will shake one’s ability to love and be loved well. Yet love cannot be destroyed. It always prevails, is never lost. The families that seek help are wise and strongest of all; for they know their struggles are close to impossible to combat on their own.

I see and feel love at work with my clients in Harmony’s ASAP Program (Adoption Support and Preservation). I see parents striving to be patient, to be slow to anger, and not to focus on wrongs. I see them working to love their children well. I see children craving to feel understood and protected. I see them working to allow themselves to be loved. How beautiful to see parents and children growing and healing in love.

Family is built and maintained through love.
Love is family. Family is love.
A forever family always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres, and never fails.

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SCOUTING AND MONTVALE

Marsha Sliker

Marsha Sliker, Office Coordinator

Hikes and nature walks. Campfires with stories and s’mores. Stargazing. Movies. Crafts and knot tying. Service projects. Outdoor worship.

Montvale holds a very special place in the heart of Maryville’s Cub Scout Pack 800 We have been camping at Montvale for several years, and every year we make new and lasting memories. Many of our scouts have completed requirements for their ranks at camp, and ceremonies have been held for boys crossing over from cub scouts into boy scouts. We have watched our scouts grow up at Montvale.

We love being able to provide a service at camp. We’ve cleared the campfire area at the top of a trail (dragging wheel barrows, rakes, weed eaters and other clearing tools over the rocky terrain). We’ve cleaned up around the challenge course. We’ve been privileged to be the first group to use the new basketball court. What a wonderful transformation we have witnessed and are a small part of at Montvale.

Being at camp is full of adventure! One year we were met with plain eastern stripeless scorpions in the bunkhouse and had to make it a habit to check under your covers before bed. We’ve experienced no heat, no hot water and no dry wood. We’ve also experienced games of ultimate Frisbee, flag football, making dream catchers and petting horses. All of these are memory makers and make the boys want to continue to return to Montvale.

While on hikes and nature walks we always do trash pickup and fallen limb removal. We check for the footprints of any wildlife that may have been on the trail and allow the kids to guess what has been there before them. The guesses range from dog to otter to mountain lion (some good guesses, some a little far-fetched). The trails are a great learning tool for the scouts. We even found an old piece of pottery in the old fireplace of the house footprint near the pool while on one of our hikes a couple of years ago. Our goal is to always leave the trails and the property better than we found them.

We conclude every stay with a worship service at the Chapel on the Hill. There is no better time to feel closer to your creator than when you worship in the midst of his great creation, his creation that we are blessed to visit and call Montvale.

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ONE CARING ADULT CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE

Dawartha Tyler

Dawartha Tyler, FOCUS Regional Case Coordinator

I first met Jason when he came into state custody due to allegations of abuse. Because Jason’s birth mother had asked family members to cease contact, no relatives had come forward to provide a home for fear of being ostracized by the family. Then Jason’s Aunt Holly, who had recently moved back to Tennessee, learned that Jason was in foster care and began looking for him. At the same time, Jason began reaching out to a cousin, one of his aunt’s sons, on Facebook, and communications between Jason and his Aunt Holly began.

Determined to provide a home for Jason, Holly contacted the Department of Children’s services about foster parenting and completed the required training for foster families through Harmony’s FOCUS (Finding Our Children Unconditional Support) program. Holly told us that Jason and her son had been raised together, and she had been heartbroken when she learned Jason had been put in foster care. Jason was placed with Holly’s family, and they are now Jason’s family. Although there have been some bumps along the road, this family is committed to Jason. Together they have chosen subsidized permanent guardianship as his best option for permanency – and Jason has found his family.

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BREAKTHROUGH MOMENTS

Leslie Jenkins

Leslie Jenkins, ASAP Therapist

I’ve been working with a young boy I’ll call John and his adoptive dad for the past several months. John and his dad always participate in therapeutic activities and do their best to apply our in-session training to real life, which is not always easy. John’s dad continued to express his skepticism, however, as we explored the residual effects of trauma, including the very real self-worth and esteem issues faced by many children who have experienced trauma.

One of the skills I’ve learned throughout my experience as a therapist is to pay close attention to the body language of others. This indicator keys me into Dad’s response to our work together surrounding these discussions. As John continued to strengthen his communication skills and improve his ability to share his feelings with Dad, I watched their relationship continue to strengthen.

Last week as we sat together at the table during our family session, John turned to his Dad, looked into his eyes, and revealed to him that sometimes, no matter what, he just doesn’t feel “good enough”. I watched Dad receive this message and finally connect all our learning together. These breakthrough moments are what I live for! They are so rewarding and usually come so unexpectedly. What a special privilege to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children and their families.

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CLAIMING

Kim Liberatore

Kim Liberatore, ASAP Family Therapist

As Family Preservation Counselors in the ASAP program, we work with children and teenagers adopted from the state foster care system. Almost every one of our clients experienced significant trauma before being removed from his or her birth family and placed into foster care. Their stories of horrific abuse and unthinkable neglect would likely shock most people.

Yet, as devastating as these events are, time after time, when conducting trauma assessments, I have noticed that a majority of children continue to cite their most traumatic experience as being in foster care, or changing homes so many times.

For children in foster care, everything in life is temporary, conditional, and unknown. Each placement could be the last, or it could be just another stop in a long and sad journey that no child should ever have to endure. The unspoken message is: You can live here, as long as you act a certain way. You are staying with these people for now, but you will probably have to move. You will be taken care of, but we don’t really know where you belong yet. In adoption, we say, every day a child is in custody is a day of childhood lost. Given these circumstances, it makes sense that the transient and unpredictable life of a foster child is what is often most traumatizing to that child. And that is why one of the most profound and important missions that adoptive families have is the idea of claiming a child. Claiming is the process by which adoptive families embrace a child as a full-fledged member of the family.

Adoptive parents have many different ways of outwardly making a child feel claimed. Finalizing an adoption and giving the child the adoptive family’s last name is the primary act of claiming in the adoption journey. Since parents who adopt from foster care weren’t able to name their child at birth, sometimes they give the child a new middle name, which is often a name that carries a special meaning to them. Adoptive families may take new family photos to ensure that their child is included in the pictures or they may decorate the child’s room in a more personal way. They might begin to celebrate the child’s adoption anniversary, or “gotcha day,” to emphasize the importance of the day the child joined the family. They will certainly begin calling the child my son or my daughter, and will eagerly anticipate the day that their child returns this sign of claiming by calling them mom or dad.

Most of all, though, the concept of claiming is achieved not through a series of actions, but from the way adoptive families surround their children with a sense of commitment, security, and belonging. Feeling claimed means that a child feels included, accepted, and loved in a permanent way. There is no caveat or clarifying adjective. They are not a foster child; they are simply, someone’s child.

When a child feels claimed, the unspoken message of adoption becomes this: “For better or worse, you are one of us. No matter what, you can never not be one of us ever again. Our lives are now inextricably interwoven, and thus, what affects you affects us, too. We are your people. With us, always, you belong.”

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BACK TO SCHOOL

Evelyn Wilcox

Evelyn Wilcox, Communications and Grant Development Coordinator

It’s that time of year – children will be going back to school. Imagine you are changing to a new school – for the 12th time.

For many children and youth in foster care, a new school year becomes another traumatic experience: moving to a new foster care placement often means changing schools – again.
With every move, children are estimated to lose four to six months of academic progress, falling farther and farther behind. Only 50 percent of children and youth in foster care complete high school by age eighteen.

Jimmy could have shared that fate. His story, as reported in Atlantic magazine by Jessica Lahey, begins when twelve-year old Jimmy was abandoned by his parents and entered foster care. Over the next two years in the foster care system, he attended twelve different schools. Jimmy doesn’t remember learning anything in school after fifth grade – he was thinking about what he was going to eat that day or where he would live.

At age sixteen, Jimmy’s life was transformed. An older couple, who saw how desperate he was for a stable home and an education, became his foster family. He lived with them for the next six years, and they gave him the stability he needed. “It wasn’t until I had a stable home and was taken in by a loving family in tenth grade that I was able to hear anything, to learn anything” said Jimmy. “When I was finally in one place for a while, going to the same school, everything changed. Even my handwriting improved. I could focus. I was finally able to learn.”

Jimmy Wayne finished high school and college and launched a successful country music career. In 2010, Jimmy walked halfway across America to raise awareness for kids aging out of the system, and in 2012, he advocated for passage of the bill that extends the age of foster care in Tennessee to twenty-one.

Harmony is finding homes for young people like Jimmy who have given up hope of finding a safe, loving family. You can find out more at Harmony’s new Parent a Child Website (parentachild.org), which features stories and videos of Tennessee children/youth in foster care whose greatest wish is a forever family – the love and support that can transform their future.

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NO TIME

Carol Johnson

Carol Johnson, President, Harmony Board of Directors

I’m busy. I run my own company. I have a very active six year old son. My husband’s job requires him to travel weekly. I’m the treasurer of my church. I like to travel, shop, and spend time with my family and friends. I don’t have time to add anything else to my calendar.

That’s what I told myself before I stopped, took a deep breath and looked around me. We are surrounded by people in need – financial, emotional, spiritual. How can we look the other way? It’s easier than getting involved. Realizing at times that we are working feverishly but not getting very far meeting the needs of others. It’s easy to throw our hands up, go on about our busy lives and be thankful for other people willing to fight the fight.

For me, it’s not enough to be busy with the things in my life. I want to do more. I want to help others have a happy home life, a job opportunity, time to enjoy life. There are so many folks around us that for various reasons don’t have that. For me it’s the kids without families, stability, a home that pull at my heartstrings. It’s their happiness and well-being that pushes me to give more and do more. And no one does more for hurting and needy kids than Harmony Family Center. Spend some time on Harmony’s website, look at their staff, the services they provide and then look at the profile of the kids longing for a happy home life, a forever family. Imagine the impact of finding one child a forever family. It’s this hope and reality that draws me to Harmony and makes it easy to find time to serve others through this amazing organization. So get involved, if not here at Harmony then some other organization that makes a difference in others’ lives and in your own.

Carol Johnson,
President, Board of Directors, Harmony Family Center

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MUSICAL TIMELINES

Lenna Allen

Lenna Allen, ASAP Family Therapist

The benefits of music are many. Children who learn to play music increase their math skills. Music can improve our mood; a song can quickly bring back memories of another time.

Harmony’s Adoption Support and Preservation (ASAP) team uses an approach called ARC (Attachment, Self-Regulation, and Competency) with clients who have been through traumatic stress. When we were asked to come up with a therapeutic activity for ARC, we created a musical time line for children to use to tell their life stories.

Giving children a voice is an important principal of another ASAP approach, TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention): children are asked to identify a song and a particular lyric that speaks to them. I use this activity with my clients, and it is amazing how even the children who bury their emotions will suddenly talk about a feeling expressed in a song.

A young girl who suffered multiple forms of abuse identified with Matthew West’s song Broken Girl: “Look what he’s done to you, it isn’t fair, your light was bright and new, but he didn’t care, he took the heart of a little girl, and made it grow up too fast…”

A teen dedicated the lyrics of Mama’s Song by Carrie Underwood to her biological mother: “Mama there’s no way you’ll ever lose me, giving me away is not goodbye…”

A mother who was helping her child with the time line chose One Less by Matthew West for their adoption day. “Well, worlds collide and colors fade, and a man and wife brought their little girl home today, and there’s one less…lonely heart in the world today.”

A child reflected on his hope for the future with Pentatonix’s Radioactive: “All systems go, sun hasn’t died, deep in my bones, straight from inside, I’m waking up…welcome to the new age.”
Another child chose Katy Perry’s Firework: “If you only knew what the future holds, after a hurricane comes a rainbow.”

Our children from hard places often understand more than they can express, and they can identify with emotion when they hear it in a song. It gives them a voice. It’s a less vulnerable way of expressing feelings, because someone else has been there, too. I encourage you to listen carefully to some of the lyrics of your favorite songs, and see what resonates with you, your children, and your family!

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NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

Pam Frye

Pam Frye, Chief Program Officer

It is that time of year – when we start making promises for the year to come. This year I am going to get back on my exercise routine. Almost all of us make some type of formal or informal resolution for the year. Recently I was doing some research for our adoptive parent support groups on the topic: Top Ten Parenting Tips for the New Year, and I came upon this quote from Circle of Security, a relationship based early-intervention program for families dealing with attachment issues. The quote goes like this:

(Almost) Everything I need to know about being a parent in 25 words or less:
Always: be BIGGER, STRONGER, WISER, and KIND.
Whenever possible: Follow your child’s need.
Whenever necessary: take charge.

I love this quote. These are simple words and simple advice really. I love it so much that I have thought about getting a T-shirt made with the saying on it, but I imagine there would be copyright issues involved. I visualize something like the Life is Good movement, with caring parents around the world donning Circle of Security T-Shirts.

Perhaps I will order a bracelet with the words Bigger, Stronger, Wiser and Kind engraved on it. Whenever I am feeling impatient or grumpy with my thirteen-year old, I can look at my wrist and remember my mantra. I really think that with these four words we could start a parenting revolution. Come to think of it, we could start a revolution period. Think of how different the world would be if we lived by these words: Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, Kind.

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