PIEDMONT CASA VOICES
Welcome to the Piedmont CASA Voices blog. We hope you will find the information posted here helpful, enlightening, and, hopefully, entertaining. Please feel free to send in your comments or suggestions for future topics to Sue Hoover at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s Try a Little Kindness
The phrase “self-care” conjures a myriad of meanings, some practical, others not so much. We may, or may not, pay much attention to it, deeming life way too busy. No longer. In fact, for many the practice of self-care is a life-saver. Or, at least, a sanity-saver.
Let’s face it. We are having a mental health crisis in this country. According to an annual survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, 44% of respondents’ reported that their stress levels have increased over the past five years. Money, work, and the economy top the list of the most frequently cited sources of stress in the most recent survey. These worries, on top of the continuous anxiety-provoking COVID-19 pandemic, are pushing stress levels to an alarming high.
Even our kids are stressed. Almost a third of the children surveyed reported that within the past year, they had experienced a physical health symptom often associated with stress, such as headaches, stomach aches, or trouble falling or staying asleep.
In trying to manage our stress, it seems as though our coping mechanisms have been pushed to the brink. Almost 50% of the adults surveyed reported an increase in eating and alcohol use. Before we become a nation of overweight, anxious alcoholics, what can we do to help ourselves? Self-care.
Practicing self-care is not easy. Some of the associated phrases can cause us to squirm, and taking time for ourselves often feels selfish, or worse, weak. But maintaining our mental and physical health is actually the opposite – it helps you become more resilient, helping you to better handle the zingers life throws your way.
So what are some simple, easy ways we can all practice self-care without any guilt or, well, . . . stress? We know that we should regularly exercise, eat healthy meals, and get enough sleep. Easier said than done. Plus, research indicates that it is usually a lack of willpower that is the largest stumbling block to our healthy initiatives. What we need to do is to find what works best for each of us, because if self-care turns out to be another angst-producing task in our lives, we will stop before we even begin.
How about trying some of these suggestions for a start?
- Try an intentional relaxation activity using a wellness app that includes meditation or deep breathing exercises. Try yoga – there are dozens of free videos on YouTube to guide you.
- Practice gratitude by looking for things to be grateful for every day. Even small things like a hug from a friend, a bright red cardinal, or a beautiful flower. Use a journal and jot down three things at the end of each day to remind you of your joy.
- Stay connected with friends and family – preferably over the phone or in person, rather than via a quick text. Have an actual conversation, even if it is only a minute long. It is wonderful to hear a loved one’s voice or to see her in person. If you can’t do that, write a letter and mail it. Who doesn’t love to receive something other than a bill in the mail?
- To that end, do something nice for someone else. Something simple like bringing in their garbage can, picking up their mail, or just stopping to say hello will do. Or go big and volunteer. The local food pantry, SPCA, or whatever charity moves you would love your help. We sure love our volunteers at Piedmont CASA. Thinking of someone else often takes the focus off ourselves and our woes.
- Go for a walk. Just being outside does wonders for your mental health. It reduces stress, lessens fatigue, and lowers your blood pressure.
- Try getting organized. A small change like keeping a calendar or planner handy to write down appointments or tasks eases the pressure to remember everything. Even better is crossing items off your list to see how much you have accomplished.
If you still insist that you have no time, that these activities are ridiculous, and that your stress is so much more than can be resolved with such simple suggestions, remember this advice from therapist, Amanda Dodson, LCSW:
- You are not special. Regardless of what you tell yourself or how you feel, you are just a person like the rest of us, neither especially bad nor especially good. Your issues are not unique. Give yourself (and us) a break and learn to be kind to yourself. Stop the negative thoughts when they begin and reframe them in a more positive light.
- It is not all about you. Human beings are incredibly self-absorbed; they are too busy focusing on themselves to focus on you. So look up. Look around. No one is watching you or condemning you, and even if he is, does his opinion even matter?
- Life truly can be unfair. Whether you believe it or not, bad stuff happens to everyone. You may think that you are on the receiving end of more than your fair share of stress, but know that the suffering of the world is not your fault. Bad things just happen. Learn to accept that life can be unkind, and try some compassion. Perhaps the ugliness of the world will help to highlight the beauty of it.
Every day, make it a practice to look for some small ways to be kind to yourself – to bring a smile to your face or a lift to your spirits. When you do, you will find yourself to be more resilient, healthy, and happy. Your body, your family, your friends, and your co-workers will thank you.
Once in a while, we would like to introduce you to a book or movie that might be of interest. For this inaugural Piedmont CASA Voices review, I present the short, award-winning, documentary Heroin(e).
This sad, poignant, yet hopeful film falls squarely within the theme of resilience. The location is Huntington, West Virginia, known as the “Overdose Capital of the Nation.” In this small town, in a relatively small state, the overdose rate is ten times that of the national average.
Setting the stage for the rest of the documentary, the film begins with a siren blaring and the 911 radio blasting details about an overdose in the bathroom of a local restaurant.
Against this backdrop, Heroin(e) follows three strong women working amid this devastation. Jan Rader, Deputy Chief (now the full Chief), Huntington Fire Department, is driving the car on route to the restaurant. As she is handling that call, additional drug-related calls are coming in over the radio. She is a calm woman with a direct, professional, caring demeanor. Unfortunately, she is too late to help the person; he dies on the scene.
Later, while driving through the town, she points at houses saying, “It’s sad when you can drive around a city and say ‘somebody died there, somebody died there,’ but that’s the reality in this area.” Rader explains that Huntington is an industrial town of hard-working people, and as such, they often suffer work-related injuries. The injured person becomes hooked on pain pills while trying to recover, and then moves on to heroin when the pain pills become unavailable. “I fear that we’ve lost a couple generations, not just one,” she sighs.
Judge Patricia Keller, Cabell County Drug Court, sits behind her bench working through a loaded docket. She speaks to each defendant as though the two are in a conversation. There is no condemnation in her words, but rather firm compassion, while she provides guidance, direction, and a list of the possible repercussions should the defendant fail. Even when imposing a sentence, Keller presents it as if it were in the individual’s best interest, not as an action meant to punish.
Necia Freeman is the third of the women featured. She explains that she started the “Brown Bag Ministry” in response to an article she read about the death of a prostitute – a local Huntington girl. In her Ministry, Freeman envisioned herself driving around certain areas of Huntington handing out brown-bag lunches and a biblical tract to the prostitutes she encountered. She imagined herself and the women sitting down, having a conversation, and all would be restored. She chuckles at her naiveté, realizing how simple she thought the solution would be.
She continues to drive around Huntington at night, greeting each woman she recognizes by name, offering food, support, and assistance. She refers to one as “one of the girls,” saying, “I love her.” She no longer expects healing.
Freeman tries to find a bed for one of the women, cajoling her into taking it, calling her “Honey,” and telling her “I love ya.” She asks another to explain what is so powerful about heroine that would lead her to this end. The response? “The only way I can explain it to you is what it would feel like for you to kiss Jesus.”
Rader notes that 20 years ago, overdoses in Huntington were few and far between. Now, “we have five, six, seven daily.” “It is a moral obligation for me,” she answers, trying to explain why she cares so deeply. She views the heroin epidemic as a national problem, one with the potential to bankrupt the country. In 2015, Rader says, Cabell County alone spent roughly $100 million for health care resulting from drug use. And “that’s one small county in one small state.”
Back to Judge Keller. She asks one defendant what his plan is; “what are we going to do with you?” urging him to engage in his own recovery. On the other hand, she rejoices with those who become clean, hugging each graduate of the Drug Court program.
The film shifts to the body of a young woman lying across the counter at a Sheetz gas station. Patrons continue about their business while EMTs work to revive her. One paramedic says it “doesn’t shock me anymore.” Jan Rader worries about the psychological effect the increase in drug-related deaths is having on the younger firefighters and EMTs. She also worries about the more powerful drugs she sees coming.
Each of these women works amid this horrifying, intractable issue with a deep-seated personal concern and unflinching hope. The film is as much a profile in their courage as it is a glimpse into the overwhelming opioid epidemic ravaging this country. Rader concludes, “We stand together proving anything is possible. . . We will not be defined by this problem.” A true portrait of compassion and caring in the face of an ugly, hurting crisis.
My earliest memory of my father is standing on a Kansas train station platform watching him board as he began his journey to Viet Nam. I had no awareness of the magnitude of his trip, nor how long he would be gone, only that my mother and I were handing out doughnuts to the GIs who were also leaving, and that I probably ate more than I gave. I also remember being at an airport as we waited for him to deplane on his return. I was unsure which man he was by that time, but as my older brothers took off running to greet him, I ran after them. Most of my memories of my father are tied to his military career – where we lived, how he looked in his uniform, watching him polish his shoes and his brass each morning, the honor with which he lived his life. To this day, I can still hear his laugh. I wouldn’t trade these memories for the world.
Other than dating myself, what is my point? First, let me say that wonderful families and wonderful parents come in all shapes and sizes, and we are thankful for them all. But since June is the month in which we traditionally celebrate fathers, that is my aim here. So then, what is my point in telling you about my father? It is that my memories of him are good ones, and that he was an important part of my life.
Fathers should be an important, positive part of every child’s life. Unfortunately, according to 2021 U.S. Census data, there are 18.4 million children in our country growing up without a biological, step, or adoptive father in their life.
When raised in a father-less home, research shows that children have a greater risk of living in poverty; are more likely to have behavioral problems; are more likely to get involved in the criminal justice system; and are two times more likely to become obese. The role of an engaged, caring father in the emotional and physical development life of a child cannot be overstated.
Children raised with a compassionate, concerned father figure tend to have a greater level of social competence and better relationships with their peers. They are often better at regulating their emotions, and tend to do better in school. As for physical development, an involved father often leads to less infant mortality, higher infant birth weights, and less tendency to engage in alcohol and substance abuse when older.
Caring fathers are good for mothers, too. When fathers are positively involved during pregnancy and child-rearing, mothers are more likely to receive prenatal care, are less likely to smoke during pregnancy, and are at lower risk for post-partum stress and depression.
Families function best as a cohesive system rather than just a one-parent-to-child relationship. Paid paternal leave is one of the best ways to encourage and facilitate an involved father. Unfortunately, this has yet to become a national norm. All too often, mothers are the sole focus of family support. It is necessary to recognize the positive effect of a father and work to promote that effort.
Within our world, the child welfare system needs to carefully design interventions to remove any barriers to father-involvement in programming efforts. The barriers our CASA fathers face are myriad and imposing, and include everything from work schedules to military deployment, incarceration, tension with the child’s mother, addiction, and possibly, the lack of seeing any personal benefit to being involved.
Studies have focused on finding strategies that work to involve and engage fathers in social services programming. Several have proven successful and are relatively straightforward, such as:
- Adjusting program schedules to meet fathers’ needs;
- Developing and then offering materials created just for fathers;
- Determine the individual needs of each father and work to meet those needs;
- Clear, direct, and positive communication with the father; and
- Resources and providers who will guide and support parenting skills.
An agency that honors the individual gifts of each father and what he offers to the child and to the family as a whole, helps to create a positive relationship with the father which, in turn, helps the child. Working to ensure the father feels respected as an equal in the parenting process reinforces his role as an important part of his child’s life.
Recall and celebrate the positive memories you have of your father during this time in June. If you did not have an engaged father, perhaps there was a grandfather, uncle, coach, teacher, or other male mentor who helped you to grow. Let’s celebrate these men and be grateful they chose to be a supportive part of our life.
“Any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.” – Barack Obama
“Every father should remember one day his [child] will follow his example, not his advice.” – Charles Kettering
Tech Safety? The Kids Online Safety Act
Ignited by the revelations of Instagram whistleblower Frances Haugen, a bipartisan bill – The Kids Online Safety Act – was introduced by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn in February. Haugen, as you may recall, made the headlines by leaking internal research on the effect Instagram (owned by Facebook) is having on teens' mental health – effects that Facebook executives knew about but declined to disclose.
For example, Haugen leaked one Facebook study which found that 13.5% of teenage girls surveyed in the United Kingdom said that their suicidal thoughts became more frequent after starting on Instagram. Another leaked study found that 17% of teen girls reported that their eating disorders became worse after using Instagram.
As a result of these and other revelations, the Kids Online Safety Act was written from the perspective that the big tech companies running the more kid-popular apps are not doing enough to protect their teen users, or, in the alternative, are simply ignoring the correlation effects altogether.
The bill puts an affirmative duty on these companies to act in the best interests of their teen users – specifically those 16 and younger, and to help prevent or mitigate the risk of potentially harmful behaviors, including suicide, eating disorders, substance abuse, and more.
Specifically, tech companies within the purview of the bill will be required to provide parents and users 16 years and under, the choice to opt out of algorithmic recommendations – those annoying pop-ups that could lead to even more harmful sites. As a default setting, the affirmative choice further prevents third parties from seeing a minor’s online usage data, as well as limit the time kids spend online. It prevents such features like autoplay, which works to extend online time.
If passed, the bill will have a massive effect on the design of most of the platforms so popular with kids: Facebook, Snap, Google, and TikTok. Any required redesign will, in turn, lead to a huge financial cost for those companies.
Additional interesting features of the Act are that:
- The covered platforms would be required to release annual public reports from independent audits of the risks of harm to minors using their site.
- They would need to provide their data to qualified researchers who have applied through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
- There is no specified “minimum number of users” threshold in terms of liability – in essence, the number of teens at risk of harm is not a standard. One could suffice – it is the harm which is the focus.
- A council of parents, experts, tech representatives, youth, and others is to be convened by the Secretary of Commerce to provide advice on the bill’s implementation.
Some of the criticism of the new law – other than that raised by the affected tech companies – is, why stop at just ages 16 and under? Why shouldn’t these protections extend to all users regardless of age?
Also, how will the ages of the users be verified? In the U.S., self-declaration is the typical way to verify age on a website. Just go to any bar, brewery, or winery site and you will see the pop-up question: “You must be 21 years of age to enter this site. Are you 21?” All a kid need do is say “yes” and off they go. Requiring a more stringent method of age verification has come down to an argument of privacy rights which, in essence, makes the age verification process a quagmire.
Finally, the bill targets any online service that is deemed “reasonably likely to be used” by kids under 16. This is a broad sweep which, it is argued, could also include video games and streaming services.
Haugen’s disclosures have put the spotlight on tech companies and on what their actual responsibility is to their users. How the Kids Online Safety Act plays out will be a source of much debate among privacy advocates, parents, tech companies, and free speech proponents. If it is signed into law, the effects could be far-reaching. How compliance is achieved – and to what extent – will be interesting to watch.
A Word About Resilience and Mental Health
Did you know that the week of May 1-7, 2022 was Resilience Week Virginia? It was the third annual celebration of a week designed to call attention to self and community care. It is also part of a larger movement designating the month of May as Mental Health Awareness Month.
Initiated by Virginia’s Trauma-Informed Community Networks, Resilience Week Virginia encourages all forms of caring – for oneself, together with family and friends, or within your local community. It is a time to celebrate emerging from a crisis in a healing, self-affirming way.
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin issued an official proclamation recognizing May as Mental Health Awareness Month, noting that “mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being.”
So what is resilience? It is certainly a word in the fore-front of the trauma-informed care movement these days. In a nutshell, “resilience” is the ability to cope with an emotional or mental crisis. How you recover from a traumatic event – whether personal, local, or national. It is not “mental toughness,” or the avoidance of pain, but rather, it entails an intentional, thoughtful, and learned approach to recovery. Given the news lately, this is a skill we can all benefit from.
Psychologists have identified some of the factors that seem to help develop resilience: a positive attitude, optimism, learning to regulate your emotions, and the ability to reframe the traumatic event in more positive terms – or at least to develop a realistic plan of action post-event. To actively endure a trauma is not one of these factors, but the ability to overcome one does, indeed, build resilience. Resilience is a personal and complex set of skills, and there are no easy steps to follow to become a fully “resilient person.”
Nevertheless, in order to land on the more positive side of the resilience scale, it is helpful to work on reducing your general stress level. Simple healthy habits can help with that – getting enough sleep; eating well; sunshine; exercise; etc. A support network to depend upon for help and emotional care is also important. Having a purpose or a moral compass has been shown to be beneficial, as well as determining and then positively acting on those things within your control.
Everyone is going to experience some form of trauma in their lives – the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, illness, or even a catastrophic national event. It is never an easy occurrence, and likely involves physical or emotional pain. But after the immediacy of managing the event, how you then move on after is key. Is this the end, or can you find a way to use your strengths to see your way through? The answer to that question is tied to your resilience.
Find some ways to chart your own resilience journey and help to promote mental health today and every day by taking a look at this JamBoard. You can also check out this page created by the Greater Richmond SCAN.
From the same team who created the movie, Paper Tigers, is the movie Resilience – available to buy or rent on YouTube.
To promote your personal and community mental health, check out this activities calendar created by the Community Mental Health and Wellness Coalition. The Shine Guide presented by Friends of UVA Children’s Hospital includes fun suggestions for kids and teens. And finally, the National Alliance on Mental Illness/Virginia lists some ways to promote and honor mental health awareness.
"The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." — Nelson Mandela
Get to Know . . . Randy Nolt, Program Director, Piedmont CASA
One of the recurring posts for this blog is the introduction of some of the wonderful and amazing Piedmont CASA staff, volunteers, and others who are involved with our world. It is a wonderful way to learn more about the people we value and rely on.
Even though he will soon be leaving us, before he goes, here are some fun facts about our Program Director, Randy Nolt.
Give us a brief bio:
I grew up in rural Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Growing up, I enjoyed traveling with my family and involvement in sports – soccer, cross country, track, and basketball. My family enjoyed camping and traveling and I continue to enjoy both today with my own family.
I attended Penn State University (WE ARE…) and majored in Economics. After Penn State, I accepted a position here in Central Virginia at the Wilderness School – a place for teens who have experienced challenges in their lives. I was drawn to the position because of my love of the outdoors. At the Wilderness School we would spend week-long trips hiking on the Appalachian Trail and canoeing on the James River. Originally, I planned for that positon to be a year-long gap before returning to law school or a graduate program. However, I found my passion working with youth and their families, and ended up staying at the program for 11 years.
Today, I live in Scottsville with my wife, Paige, and son, Garrett. We enjoy spending time outdoors, going to UVA sporting events, and staying active in our local community.
This spring I will earn a Master of Social Work degree from Virginia Commonwealth University.
When did you start working for PCASA?
I learned about CASA from working at the Wilderness program. I had regular contact with CASA volunteers while serving as the Director of the program. I transitioned into my role as Program Director at Piedmont CASA in 2014.
Do you have any hobbies?
In my free time I enjoy traveling, going to see live music (bluegrass is a family favorite), and spending time with my family.
What are you reading right now? Do you have a favorite book?
I’m currently reading Internal Family Systems Therapy by Richard Schwartz.
My favorite books are The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.
How about a favorite movie?
Not really a movie guy, but I have always loved The Goonies.
Any favorite TV shows?
I do not watch a whole lot of television shows. If I am sitting down to watch some TV, it is most definitely sports – PSU, Philadelphia Eagles, Phillies, and 76ers.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I have not had a lot of free time in past two years while completing my Master’s program, working full time at Piedmont CASA, and doing a clinical field placement at South Central Counseling Group for 20 hours a week.
Where is the best vacation spot you have been to?
We have a “rustic” cabin in North Central Pennsylvania. I say “rustic,” but my wife says “primitive.” My grandfather built it in the 1940’s, and it has stayed in the family since. There is no indoor plumbing or running water. My father, son, and I go up every summer for a “man trip,” and I have built many memories there.
Are you a dog or cat person?
I have a 145-pound 14-month-old Newfoundland puppy named Auggie.
Do you have a favorite food?
. . . whatever someone else cooks for us. My current favorite restaurants are Conmole, Tavola, Siren, and The Batteau.
Why did you decide to join Piedmont CASA?
While I was Program Director at the Wilderness program, I had the opportunity to interact with CASA volunteers who were there to visit. I saw the value of the organization and its’ mission. When Piedmont CASA had an opening, I was excited to advance my career here.
I love working along like-minded individuals here at CASA, but more importantly, I love being surrounded by our amazing, dedicated, and committed volunteers. I am someone who needs to believe in the mission of the work, and CASA has provided this opportunity.
Now what are your plans post-PCASA?
We are planning a family road trip to see 18 National Parks over the course of the summer. The trip will take about half the summer, and will cover 10,000 miles.
Once I return, I will begin my journey to becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I want to continue with my passion for working with children and families here in Charlottesville.
Talking About the Hard Things
We are all, children included, exposed to a glut of information, provided at a more rapid rate than ever. While adults have the capacity to discern what they see or hear, what children may see on the network news, hear in their schools, or view on social media, can be alarming at best and terrifying at worst – depending upon the age of the child. Sensationalism reigns supreme in the news, so it is almost guaranteed that the worst possible depiction of any event will be shown again and again, dissected from every angle.
So What Do We Do?
How can adults best talk to kids about disturbing events in the world without causing more fear and anxiety? As a parent, my practice was to avoid discussing difficult topics altogether, preferring to “shield” my kids from the unfriendly world around them. Not the best method. This became glaringly obvious with 9-11. The news was on in my kids’ school – they saw the events unfold – so I had to address the topic, babbling my way through. Fast forward to now
What are Some Guidelines?
What are some guidelines to help responsible adults address difficult events with kids? Even with their teens, who may be able to process what is happening, but who may also need help sifting through which sources of an event to believe.
First, we need to gauge our own reactions to the event. Kids of all ages take their cues from the adult they trust, so we need to process the event ourselves before trying to explain it to a child.
Second, asking questions and listening to what the child may have already heard or seen will help to guide the conversation. Find out what his/her biggest worry is and start there. Let her know that it is ok to have her all feelings – don’t try to minimize them by assuring that “everything’s ok.” Older kids especially, will see this as an empty promise.
Always tell the truth about the event as you know it. And if you don’t know the answer to their questions, saying “I don’t know” is ok. I truly don’t know why some events happen or why people do awful things, but I can reassure my child that he or she is safe and loved.
During or after the news event, try to maintain normal routines – school, meal-times, extra-curricular activities, etc. And while at home, leaving the television on 24/7 may not be ideal. We all need a break from information overload, so consider turning the TV off.
With a teen, it is wise to check in with him/her from time-to-time to see how he or she is feeling about what happened. He may not want to discuss it, and that is fine too, just reassure him that you are available should the desire arise. If she does talk, this will give you a clue as to her insights, and may also indicate where her news is coming from. If you disagree with the source, explain why – in concrete ways, not by simply dismissing it as “that is totally unreliable!” Point him to other sources to help balance the information.
Given these suggestions, let’s take the current war in the Ukraine.
Again, take your cues from what the child says about the event; what questions they ask. Look for signs of anxiety, such as worry, trouble sleeping, overly quiet, overly irritable. Let him or her know you are available to talk without pushing it. Don’t discount her feelings. It’s ok for her to feel all the feelings she may have, but also reassure her of her safety and your presence.
Channel any possible anxiety into thinking of some positive ways to help the people in the Ukraine. Focus on some organizations are giving aid, and see if one appeals to the child. This can provide a positive outlet while also instilling compassion.
Monitor how much exposure the war is having in your home. Most of the images are pretty graphic and heart-breaking, so particularly with younger children, turn the TV off. Give yourself and the child some safe space from the event.
Keeping an open dialogue and an open ear is key. Calmness and assurance, while not minimizing concerns, will go a long way to helping the child process the war – or even to process any hard event.