Growth and Change in The Seattle Institute

By Kara King, Program Director

“Seattle changes people, doesn’t it?” – the question came from one of the students (pequeños/as) during our closing retreat this year.  As the rest of the group nodded quietly in agreement, it became a statement rather than a question: “The Seattle Institute changes people”.  This program creates change.  Not in a way that the students become someone they are not, but rather in a way that invites them to really ponder who they are and encourages them to become more of who God uniquely created them to be.  To uncover the gifts that they have to offer a world in need, and to learn to set fear and insecurity aside long enough to take the risk to serve and love others well.  To be bold and courageous in their service and work and relationships.  They are able to step into this growth and change because of the roots they have formed in our NPH family.  With feet firmly planted in our philosophy, the students are able do the challenging work this program demands of them; increasing their self-awareness, emotional intelligence, communication skills, and interpersonal skills, along with other important leadership skills.

Father Wasson left us this reminder, “Everyone needs attention and deserves it.  Individual attention, concern for each individual child in their uniqueness, when actively applied is what allows us to maintain a balance between our four principles: security, sharing, work, and responsibility” (Quien Verá Por Los Niños/as).  The program in Seattle gives us the beautiful opportunity to do deeply transformative work with each individual student.  Though they are now adults, they are certainly still in need of this wisdom that Father Wasson left us; they need to be seen, heard, and understood.  We work with them, offering this love and attention, offering comfort and challenge, and hoping they will return home better able to offer it to their younger brothers and sisters in NPH.

In his homily at our graduation Mass this year, Father Jack Walmesley urged us not to put limits on God’s power.  To have deep faith.  That is what Father Wasson had when he began to form this family so many years ago, now it is up to us to carry on his work.  To have faith, to keep growing and adapting, to act in love with the faces of our children and young adults in mind.  In fact, Father Wasson once said, “Things are provided for us as we grow. And our home, like any family, is a living organization. And as soon as it stops growing, or stops living, it begins to die. Trust in God. God will take care of us”.  We have seen that time and time again in this work in Seattle.  The Spirit has worked to connect the right mentor at the right time, or help us make a mutually transformative match for a host family placement, or brought financial backing to ensure the future of the program.  The list goes on and on.  The work of God is present and stunning in the life of this program.

“The Seattle Institute changes people”.  I am aware it is a statement that can stir fear or concern….Change can be scary and it requires those of us in positions of power to loosen our grip, let go a little of control, and to hold our work with open hands.  It is something I am in a process of learning, and those of you who work closely with me know it is not easy for me!  But, my teachers are the pequeños/as who have shown me again and again that if I can let go of my need for control, they will do amazing things.  And that is not to be confused with some idealized version of growth or perfection in leadership, but they will do amazing things in that they will try new ideas, they will stumble, explore, make mistakes, learn from them, learn to receive and use feedback, and try again.  If I will just journey with them, comforting and challenging as best I can, instead of pushing too hard in a certain direction, they will go so much further.  It is harder, and much messier, but I believe now it is a better path and a better way towards leadership.  We will help each other, grow together, and work for the good of our NPH family together.

“The Seattle Institute changes people”.  I hope so!  If not, what is the point of all this work, all the tears, struggles, all this investment, all these resources?  We seek change, growth, personal transformation.  We hope the students will realize that their circle of influence is bigger than they think, that we need them to step up and take initiative rather than waiting to be told what to do.  We believe that they can have an impact for good on their world.  We need them to understand and believe that their NPH family needs them.

“Seattle changes people”.  In a way that allows the students to make courageous and insightful statements such as these made by this year’s graduates:

“I used to think I had to do everything alone, now I have learned how to work in a group” (Luisa).

“I never used to think I could be a leader, but now I know that I am – not perfect, but willing to serve” (Lucre).

“I wonder if another world is possible…I will try to understand the suffering of others” (Nelson).

“I have found the goodness in my difficult story, and it will allow me to listen to my younger brothers and sisters in NPH like I have been listened to here” (Magda).

“Brothers and Sisters might fight, but when a difficulty or problem comes, they work together to find a solution and to stand with you in your battle.  It feels like I am writing a new story about me and NPH family” (Florine).

“I understand now that I can integrate what I learned about survival before coming to NPH, what I learned about service in my NPH family, and what I learned about myself in Seattle in order to be a better person” (Samy).   

So yes, The Seattle Institute changes people.  In ways that are obvious and quantifiable such as learning English, new hairstyles, or a degree change: this year alone two students identified social work and psychology as areas of study they are interested in primarily because it will help them care for more people.  A third is discerning a degree change to nursing.  And then there are the changes that are not so easily seen: less fear, more self-confidence, more hope, an even deeper connection to the worldwide NPH family, a widening and global perspective on leadership, an openness of mind and heart.  I believe both kinds are important.

Of course one change leads to another and they are all interconnected, they do not come easily and can be fragile.  It is my hope that we will encourage these young people in their continuing journeys.  I know I am honored to be a co-traveler with each of the 20 students who has graduated from this program over the past four years, and eagerly anticipate the goodness, hope, and love they will bring to our family and our world.

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