By Melissa Johns, Executive Vice President
“She went silent on me.”
“I texted a few times, but he didn’t hit me back.”
“We were scheduled to FaceTime, but she didn’t answer.”
While these might sound like the musings of people on the dating scene, frustrated by inconsistent communication in their quest to find a soulmate – I’m actually quoting some of our Pivotal coaches who are working each day to stay connected to the foster youth they serve.
Pivotal’s education and career coaching program is relationship-based and provides a consistent source of support during the ups and downs experienced by young people in foster care. Getting teens to focus on their future can be tricky under normal circumstances, let alone a time hard-hit by a global pandemic. This era of uncertainty triggers a wide variety of responses, and for some, the response is to go quiet and withdraw. Yet, we know they need us, and reaching them is the only way to help.
So I asked our coaches: How do you connect with youth when they’re just not that into you? Here are three secrets they shared:
1. Get Clever
Daisy De La Hoya works with high school students in Pivotal’s education and career coaching program. One of her seniors was having a great year, hitting all the 12th-grade milestones on her path to graduation. Then, Covid-19 happened. Despite repeated texts and phone calls, Daisy didn’t hear from the girl for two weeks. So Daisy got clever. “I remembered that in our very first meeting she told me about a soap opera she loved. I sent her a YouTube link with something related to her favorite show, and she finally responded! She apologized for not texting back and explained that she had been overwhelmed with everything going on. Now we’re back in regular communication and keeping her on track to graduation," said Daisy. Daisy uses other clever ideas to reach her youth, like sharing pictures of her dog Rex and invitations to FaceTime to keep Rex company while social distancing. By getting clever, Daisy is finding ways to connect and meet youth where they are.
2. Be the Calming Energy
Elijah Valdeoliver is a post-secondary Pivotal coach who works with youth attending Mission and West Valley Colleges. Elijah explained that, right now, there's a lot more noise and chaos in the lives of these youth. Many are overwhelmed with Covid-19 related emails and news from schools and workplaces. Some are fielding many more calls from programs and other service providers who want to offer help. “I know they’ve got a lot going on and a lot of information coming at them really fast. Sometimes, just being a calming energy and allowing them the time and space to process together, without a need to rush, is just what they need to feel supported,” says Elijah.
3. Don’t Underestimate Snail Mail
Not once in 16 years of working with young people have I’ve ever had a teenager request that I snail mail them something. But for Pivotal coach, Sue Pires, reaching out to a scholar through a handwritten card is exactly what worked. “I was skeptical of the idea when my supervisor suggested it. But as a coach, I’ll try anything if it means that I can show the youth that I care enough to reach them in whatever way I can.” With nothing to lose, she sent the card to one of the student’s teachers, with a request that he pass it along. Several weeks went by with no response. Sue said, “I heard nothing for so long. Then, out of nowhere, she texted me at 5 pm on a Friday. I engaged with her right away! We set a time to meet the following week. I was pretty amazed that not only had she received the card and read it, but she also took it home, kept it somewhere safe and went to look for it when she had a reason to reach out."
With outcomes as strong as those achieved by Pivotal, we’re often asked to share our “secret sauce.” While this may not be the full recipe, I think it’s clear that when our coaches combine ingenuity, persistence, and patience to reach youth wherever they are, there’s no limit to what they can achieve together.