Sometimes, you can come alongside a person who has had a rough go but is ready for change and you can help them to turn their lives around in a complete 180. But what do you do when the stars just aren’t aligned for that 180? How do you help someone who is struggling but doesn’t believe that their lives are worth enough to change?
Well, in that case, you play the long game. The long game in the art of changing lives is not for everyone. There are a lot of ups and downs. You see progress, and then the world comes crashing down around this person you’re helping and they end up further back from where they started. But you keep going.
At Why Not, we play the long game. We pull teens from the darkness of that pit made out of hopelessness and major challenges (like homelessness, addictions, chronic danger, and deteriorating mental health), and we start working.
I’m going to be honest with you. It can be heartbreakingly difficult. It’s not for everyone.
We start the long game with a two-piece foundation: basic needs and belonging. Lots of different frameworks view these as the most simple yet profound ingredients for wellness (Maslow’s hierarchy, social determinants of health, developmental assets, to name three well known and locally-relevant frameworks). Using food, karaoke, art, free clothes, and informal membership to the
Why Not community, we start building that foundation. But it takes more. Woven into everything we do are the ideas that everyone has value, everyone matters, everyone deserves respect, everyone deserves to live and have a future. Far too often, we’re the first people in a young person’s life to teach that lesson.
But there’s more. We create opportunities for these people we’re helping to grow, to be stretched. We challenge their ideas, introduce them to people who might be able to partner with them, and make them feel comfortable with goals and dreams that they had never felt they deserved.
And slowly, even if there are steps backward and things that challenge them, they will push forward.
Trevor Beecraft, one of the beloved original staff of Why Not, used to say this: “It’s not a 180. It’s a shift. It looks small at first, but when you shift a person’s entire life by just 10º, it makes a massive impact on their lives in the long run.”
He was right. That trajectory shift is the difference between life and death, or crisis and wellness. The long game is SO worth it.