Mike

Laverne, Mike and Carolyn

LaVerne Vick, left, worked with Mike and his mother, Carolyn Clark, to improve the way they communicated at home, especially under stress. Carolyn supported Mike and embraced the process: “I learned to control my voice when I’m talking to him and listen to him thoroughly before I put my two cents in.”

universal studios

Mike, left, on vacation at Universal Studios

Four months isn’t much time—but a lot can get done under the right circumstances.

Just ask Mike, a 16-year-old from Northampton County.

In four months,  Mike found his voice and his confidence. He met mentors who saw potential in him, put their trust in him and treated him like family. He went on a dream vacation with them to Universal Studios in Florida.

It all started in January, when a juvenile court officer referred Mike to Methodist Home for Children and its in-home services for court-involved youth.  Mike was at a low point then—in trouble at school, angry and frustrated. At MHC, he was paired with LaVerne Vick, a vocational specialist.

Right away, LaVerne saw that a key source of  Mike’s trouble was his inability to express himself and to manage his emotions. He didn’t have the vocabulary or the skills to communicate well, and when the words wouldn’t come, he’d blow up with curse words or fight. He felt like he couldn’t do anything right.

But LaVerne knew that underneath all of his anger and emotional armor,  Mike was a nice kid who just wanted to be heard. “He was very angry, and every time he turned around, he said he felt like he was being targeted for trouble,” she says. “He didn’t know how to handle his anger or express how he was feeling. Usually he didn’t say anything at all, and I told him that’s not good.”

Though Mike had learned on the streets to be suspicious of people, he says LaVerne had an easy manner and he grew to trust her within a couple of sessions. “I saw that she cared about me, and we started talking about everything,” he says. “She helped me out with my personal issues, things like that.”

They worked together on conversation skills and problem-solving and LaVerne saw, through a career interest survey, that Mike had a soft spot for children. He’d spent recent summers looking after his cousins, and children seemed to bring out a gentle, nurturing side of his personality.

LaVerne thought  Mike might be a good match for a couple who own a daycare and afternoon program for elementary and middle school kids. For roughly a year, she’d been talking to Katina and Kicean Williams about placing an MHC teen as a helper for their school-aged kids at Tina’s University for Tots. The Williamses agreed to meet Mike and interview him.

Kicean and Katina offered Mike a job as their after-school teacher assistant, and they quickly grew attached to the soft-spoken teenager who showed up every day, on time, with a positive attitude and a readiness to help.  Mike grew in confidence and showed leadership in his work—helping the kids with homework, encouraging them in games and resolving conflict before it could escalate. If someone had a bad day at school,  Mike would give him one-on-one time to work through it. The children listened to him and respected him. He was their peacemaker and their encourager.

He was building on the skills he’d learned from LaVerne and modeling the behavior he observed at the childcare center—especially from Kicean, who could see parallels between Mike’s childhood and his own, growing up in a single-parent home and finding himself vulnerable on the streets. Kicean made time to talk with Mike about making good decisions and staying away from trouble. “I didn’t know I had a voice to say no,” Kicean says. “Mike was that same little boy who didn’t know he had a voice and he was not going to be used.”

Dwayne Harris

Mike and other kids with Kicean and Katina Williams and NY Giants’ wide receive Dwayne Harris (in red) at NFL football camp at ECU.

In the process of trying to help Mike, however, the couple realized they were getting as much from him as he was getting from them. The blessing was really theirs. “We wanted to let  Mike experience things,” Katina says. “But we’ve experienced more things from him. We wanted him to learn, but we’ve learned more from him.”

Mike became like family, and it seemed natural to treat him as a son. They took him to Dwayne Harris Youth Football Camp at East Carolina University—and they took him as a guest on their trip to Universal Studios in Orlando with children and families enrolled in their childcare program.

Journal

Mike kept a journal with every detail from his trip to Florida and Universal Studios.

Mike was ecstatic about the chance to go to Florida, and he kept a journal about everything he did. He loved the roller coasters at Universal Studios, he says, and stopping at the photo displays after each ride to see people’s expressions.

Katina says Mike earned that treat, and even though he was along for fun, he impressed parents on the trip with his protective intuition and watchfulness over their children. “We just saw good things in him,” she says. “He deserved it. He really did. Things that he thought he’d never be able to do, he sees now that he can do. Places he thought he’d never be able to go, he can go now.”

College is on Mike’s mind now as he enters the 11th grade, and he thinks he might want a career in education. He’s also working out with Kicean and planning to try out for high school football. Anything seems possible now, he says, thanks to LaVerne, Katina and Kicean. “They’re great people,” he says. “They’ve been helping me use new skills, learning new skills. They’ve cared for me as one of their own children.”