Transitions

On June 25th, I walked across the stage to receive my Master’s Degree from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology.  In the audience (and others there in spirit) was my family. They had come from Seattle and Spokane, as well as from Haiti, Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua to bear witness to this moment with me.

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The Seattle School Graduation.

On June 26th, I listened at an NPHI Board Meeting to Donna Egge and Miguel Venegas as they reminded me of how far we had come together over the past 6 years of shaping and then beginning The Seattle Institute.

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Miguel and Kara during the NPHI Board Meeting.

I mention both of these days not only because they were two significant endings so close together, but also because The Seattle School and NPH have been interwoven in my life for the past four years.  As I have grown as a therapist, the leadership program has grown and developed.  As I have learned who I am uniquely created to be in the world, I have been better able to accompany our young people in that same journey.  As I stepped into a school with its own recent history of transitions, failure, and redemption – I was newly able to imagine that for NPH as well.

I will be forever grateful to NPHI for taking the risk they took in launching this program.  And, I will be forever grateful to The Seattle School for the transformation that began in my heart within that brick building.

A week later, on July 3rd, we celebrated our fifth graduating class of The Seattle Institute.  In the audience were alumni from four years of the Seattle program, along with our Seattle Community which has so lovingly embraced this program from day one.  The graduating students spoke wisely and courageously as they shared with us what they had learned during their time in Seattle.  If you missed it, you can listen to their speeches here: 2016 Student Speeches

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Alberto sharing his thoughts on leadership.

We shared a bit about how the program came to be and where we are now, including introducing our partners from iLEAP and the NPH staff members who were in Seattle for a month-long leadership training.  We were also excited to share an update on our alumni and the good and inspiring work they are doing in the communities.  You can read those here: Where are they now?

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Jean Francois (Charter Class) reflects on the first year of The Seattle Institute.

Finally, the graduates and alumni offered a gift I will always treasure – their words and memories about their time in the program.  Jean Francois Seide (charter class) was there to remind us of some of the realities of that first year, for we certainly had a steep learning curve!  I am glad we can now laugh about how lost we often felt (or literally were) in that first year – and I am grateful for all the learning that has come from it.

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Charter Class with NPHI Leadership in 2011.

Those first students: JF, Emir, Wendy, Julissa, Digyana were the pioneers of this program and their legacy is strong.  I am thankful for them and their willingness to “go with the flow” as we learned together during that first year.  We are also grateful to the supporters and host families who joined us as we got our feet under us along the way.  The vision of this program takes time to fulfill, and the results may not always be quickly seen.  But, that first class is clear evidence something beautiful is at work here: JF is headed to Oxford to pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Policy, Emir is in his 5th year of Medical School in Monterrey, Wendy is finishing her degree in Linguistics and runs the Girl’s Home at NPH Honduras during weekend and vacations, Julissa is a fabulous mother and works at a bilingual call center in Guatemala City as well as being involved in the Hermanos Mayores Group for NPH Guatemala, and Digyana lives in Tegucigalpa with her husband Denis and is the lead Montessori teacher at NPH Honduras.  It is stunning to me to see the good work they are each doing.  I could go on about our other alumni as well, but instead, I will invite you again to read more about each of them here: Where are they now?

As the other alumni and students blessed me with their words, they also offered tangible gifts that I will take with me into my work as a therapist.  It is a lovely way to carry them with me as I make this transition.  Thank you to each and every one of you!

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Seattle Institute Students from Classes of 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2016.

Finally, a shout out to Donna Egge.  Donna has believed in, and dreamt of, this program long before it even crossed my imagination.  She has been a mentor to me throughout the process of getting it up and running.  Donna, thank you for your passion, your wisdom, your courage, and your friendship.  You have taken my late night calls when things were falling apart (and helped me see they really weren’t), you have challenged (and oh, so gently guided) me when I was veering off-course, you have supported me when it felt overwhelming, you have celebrated with me when the beauty of the students made my heart sing, you have done all of this and so much more.  Deep, sincere gratitude to you and all you have been to me during this process.

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Donna with students from the Class of 2015.

Tomorrow, we begin the real work of transitioning to our next Program Director, Jacqueline Shrader.  You will hear more from Jacqueline in the coming weeks and months, for now please join me in welcoming her into our NPH Seattle family.  Jacqueline can be reached at: jacqueline.shrader@nph.org.

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The NPH Seattle Community met Jacqueline at Graduation o July 3rd!

It has been my honor and deep privilege to be on this journey with you.  I can continue to be reached for NPH-related topics through August at kara.king@nph.org.  Otherwise, you can find me at: kara@karakingcounseling.com.

Peace and All Good Things (Paz y Bien),

Kara King

 

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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How a Year in Seattle Transformed my Life

By: Jacinto Arias, Class of 2013 (NPH Guatemala)

Jacinto graduated from The Seattle Institute in 2013 and is now serving as the Year of Service and University Student Coordinator, while he continues his University Studies in Guatemala.  Here he reflects on his time in Seattle and how it impacted his life.  

It´s been almost 2 years since I came back from Seattle. When I look back I realize that I am not the same person that I was before. I experienced ten months filled with hard work, joy, games, homework (grammar), and meeting so many people. I met really good people. I don’t remember some of their names, but I have their faces in my mind.

In the beginning, it was really hard because I was really far from my friends and my family, and of course the language made my first weeks harder.  During my stay in Seattle, I could find unconditional love from my host family (the Callans) and in their house I felt for the first time in my whole life, a real family. But now you will say: Why are you saying that? You are in NPH and NPH is a family and its true, but there I experienced having a mom and dad, where they took care of me very seriously. I remember this phrase from Cathy Callans: I take my role very seriously. She told me when she saw that I was doing something wrong or something good, as well.  They treated me as a son and their kids treated me as a brother. Their kids (Jonathan, Matthew and Molly) always had time for me and they argued with each other in order to know who had the best Spanish.

I was used to having so many people around me and when I went to Seattle it was really different. I lived in a big house for 5 people and for me it was really difficult to get used to it. Sometimes I got frustrated because I was alone at the house and I had just one channel in Spanish, but because of that experience I got to learn more about myself. I realized that at NPH I did not have enough time for myself, and in Seattle I had that time and I could know more about myself: goals, objectives, fears, etc.

No matter where I went, I found good people; people who were and still are interested in NPH. Something that really impressed me was that even though they didn´t know NPH, they believed in us, they believed that we would be successful and we would change the world. I admire NPH USA a lot because they work so hard every day in order to help us and get more people involved.

Kara King, the coordinator of the program, always trusted in us. She is an amazing person and always listened to us and gave us advice.  She is totally convinced that this program is worth it, which motivates me to keep working and helping others. I know that I cannot do everything, but I can do something and that something I will do well.

People from the States and all the people that help us, thank you so much for your support. I have no words to thank you nor a way to pay you, but I am truly convinced that one day YOU will have your compensation.

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Through Eyes That Have Cried

 “There are some things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”

“Hay muchas cosas que sólo pueden ser vistas a través de ojos que han llorado.” 

They are words from Monseñor Oscar Romero of El Salvador.  Standing in the church where he was martyred in 1980 (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-31115837), these words almost feel like an invitation.  Or perhaps a challenge.

Will you look?

Will you see?

Will you notice the pain and suffering and injustice around you?

Will you turn away?

Or, will you gaze through your tears?  And in the midst of your own pain and brokenness, find ways to engage with love and compassion?

It has become increasingly clear to me through my work with NPH that tears are sacred.  To be honored, rather than quickly wiped away or hidden.  As we have developed this program in Seattle over the past four years, the importance of accompanying our pequeños/as as they look at their life story has become central.  We are blessed with the space, time, and good people that allow this to happen to whatever extent each participant is able – we meet them where they are.

What is becoming clear is that this work, this hard and scary and beautiful work, is helping them make significant changes in their lives.  It can feel slow and painful, and there have been times when I have questioned it, worried about it, wondered if we were inviting harm rather than good.

And so when I read these words, they impacted me deeply – for I have seen the truth in them.  Through my tears, shed over my own brokenness and over the brokenness I witness in our kids, I have seen things I could not see before.  Tears that were held in for many years, when finally released and blessed – have brought deeper relationships and a new capacity to love.

Through their own tears, the pequeños/as have come to recognize a resilience and beauty that is stronger than they knew.  I have seen them realize their own ability to offer healing to each other and to others.  Through art and storytelling, they have seen each other and themselves in new ways, inviting them to personal growth and transformation and ultimately to a life in which they can better serve others because they know who they are and they know how to love well.

My recent trip to NPH El Salvador reminded me that change is possible and hope is with us.  I watched graduates of our Seattle program facilitate sessions for the younger pequeños/as, lead activities, answer questions, and participate in high level educational planning meetings.  They were both engaged and courageous and I felt so proud of them and hopeful for our future as an NPH family.

But perhaps my most precious hour with them was our first afternoon at NPH El Salvador as we sat together in rocking chairs in the shade outside the house.  How beautiful to have time for them to speak honestly and listen to each other about what is happening in their lives in their home countries.  Their integrity and love for each other and for NPH is beautiful.

As our Seattle program continues to grow, we must remember the importance of this deep personal work.  And that stepping into it ultimately empowers our kids to use their lives for the good of the world.

What change will they make?  Whose life might they save?  Where will they bring hope where before there was none?  We don’t yet know.  What I do know is that their willingness to look at the world through eyes that have cried makes them more compassionate, more authentic, and more humble leaders for a world that in desperate need of them.

-Kara King, Program Director