Many young people in Siouxland grow up in something other than fairytale conditions. Some of them are frequently hungry or live in homes with absent parents; others live in households with domestic violence and are looking for a safe place to go or are a combination of these. These children are considered “at-risk” youth, which means they are less likely to transition into adulthood or reach their full potential successfully.
Rachelle Rawson works with many of our at-risk youth through Siouxland Youth for Christ, the Crittenton Center, Juvenile Detention, and the Rosecrance Jackson Center in Sioux City. Rachelle describes herself as a “crazy, people-loving nerd,” and anybody who knows her can attest to that proclamation. Rachelle’s official title is Juvenile Justice Ministry Director at Siouxland Youth for Christ. She is willing to be vulnerable, honest, and “messy” as she opens herself up to the youth she works with. She also operates a neighborhood teen center called City Life, where kids can hang out, have a family-style sit-down dinner and play games, then do a character-building lesson.
Brené Brown inspired the theme for this month’s magazine. She says that it is important for us to allow ourselves to be vulnerable because you “cannot selectively numb emotions . . . you can’t numb hard feelings without numbing the other affects and emotions – joy, gratitude, happiness, etc.” What are your thoughts on this? Have you found it true in your life?
It has been true in my life. I have discovered that I would rather let people in and get hurt than have the absence of any emotions, which I believe would be far worse than feeling vulnerable. To make connections and build rapport, I need to show vulnerability with the youth I work with and let them know that life is hard and that good came from their struggles. I tell them that I was in foster care, too, and I know what it is like to feel rejected and unloved. I tell them about all the holes in my heart and that I felt extremely lonely. Then I tell them that I am well and explain what worked to get me well.
She also said, “I did not learn about vulnerability and courage and creativity and innovation from studying vulnerability. I learned about these things from studying shame.” What relationship do you think shame and vulnerability have?
They are absolutely tied together. Shame is a lie, and when we believe that lie, we are more open to the false narrative that we need to keep our past hidden from others. When we feel shame for something in our past, we want to keep what happened in the darkness and not bring it to the light to share it with others to help them. But when we flip that vulnerability and choose to turn it into something good, we can use our stories to help others. This also helps create more conversations where others can share what is happening to them when they know that you have gone through something similar.
How has allowing yourself to be vulnerable – by showing you care or sharing some past mistakes – made a difference in your professional life?
Many of the youth that I work with are going through similar things to what I faced when I was their age. Growing up, I lived in 6 different foster homes and went to 10 different schools in Kindergarten through 4th grade. It wasn’t until I was 21 before I was legally adopted. I let them know that I made mistakes in my past that I am not proud of, but I have now been in recovery for over seven years. I tell them about having an amazing, loving husband and five wonderful children of my own. Hearing this gives them hope that they can do it too. I tell them that their past explains everything but excuses nothing, so they need to take ownership of their actions and want to make the changes they need. These kids want to hear “me too” and want to be able to share their stories. By being vulnerable, I can build that connection to help them tear down their walls they have built. If I were not vulnerable with them, they would not trust me; they would think I am just another adult there to judge them. You need a connection with people. If people know that you care about them, they are more likely to listen to what you have to say.
How has being vulnerable made a difference in your personal life?
I used to be terrified of public speaking because of the lies I believed, like I’m not smart enough, I’m boring, nobody will listen to me. My love for people is greater than my fear, so I push myself to be heard and make a difference. I eventually realized it is not about me and got over myself. I have also gotten over the feeling that I needed everyone to like me. My thoughts now are you don’t need to like me, but I’m still going to love you. People have told me they don’t like me because I’m too happy or “too much.” I haven’t changed, and I continue to be vulnerable to what other people think of me. I live for an audience of one, and I have nothing but the best intentions. I’m not going to please everyone, and I’m okay with that.
What do you think we can do in our community to help the vulnerable, at-risk youth to have the biggest impact on their futures?
We have developed an adult advocacy program for these at-risk youth to help them build healthy relationships, especially when they come out of long-term placement or Juvenile Detention. I help train adults in advocacy and trauma-informed care, then match them up with one of our youths where they work together once a week for at least a year. Evidence-based studies show that having an adult from the community, from outside of their family, to mentor and walk alongside them for at least a year greatly increases their chance for a successful transition into adulthood. We are always looking for community members who are willing to be vulnerable and have open communication with our youth to help with this program. Anyone who is interested in more information can contact me at Siouxland Youth for Christ.
Rachelle can be contacted at 712-899-0920 or firstname.lastname@example.org.