Dancing At The Crossroads: A Guide For Caregivers In At-risk Youth Programs by Lorna CzarnotaDancing At The Crossroads: A Guide For Caregivers In At-risk Youth Programs by Lorna Czarnota

Dancing At The Crossroads: A Guide For Caregivers In At-risk Youth Programs

byLorna Czarnota

Paperback | May 7, 2014

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An anthology of traditional and original stories with commentary for using the stories to help troubled teens in need of character formation and re-formation.  Also for use in general classrooms and youth activities to undergird healthy character formation in the pre-teen and teen years. Mentoring teens can be a wild dance. As adults we count and measure our movements but teens have created their own music and their own steps, they dance to the cycle of adolescent change in an effort to become one of us, though they would never admit that.  

The books Dancing at the Crossroads: Stories for Mentoring At-Risk Youth, Practitioner's Guidebook and Caregiver's Guidebook are packed with the lessons of fifteen years in the field working with at-risk populations in runaway shelters, group homes, residential treatment facilities and one-on one with youth and parents.      Out of a real understanding of these young people and their needs, and a passion for helping guide them into the adult circle, Lorna MacDonald Czarnota has compiled a collection of time-tested stories with activities, advice and information for parents and families, and a series of programs that storytellers, mental health workers, counselors, therapists, and others can utilize with groups of their own.
Once a teacher interested in history and narrative, Lorna Czarnota became aware of the healing power of stories when a teenage niece ran away from home twenty years ago.  Czarnota’s career veered in the direction of helping teens who were experiencing character-formation issues.  Since then, her professional and family interests have l...
Title:Dancing At The Crossroads: A Guide For Caregivers In At-risk Youth ProgramsFormat:PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 9 × 6 × 1 inPublished:May 7, 2014Publisher:Parkhurst Brothers Publishers IncLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:162491036X

ISBN - 13:9781624910364


From the Author

My career as a storyteller began in 1985, first as a means of sharing stories I had written and because of my interest in history, then for use as an educational tool when I became a teacher. It wasn’t until 1994 that I discovered story for healing. That was when my niece, then sixteen, ran away from home.           For four years previous to her actual leaving, my niece had voiced her desire to do so and I had tried in every way to keep her from making that choice. Needless to say, I was devastated when I found out three weeks after she left home and the worst part was not knowing where she was. Everything that could happen to a young girl on the streets ran through my head. Our whole family was disappointed, angry, and blamed each other for her choices. That was when I first realized the impact choice and expectation have on how we live our lives. I turned my hurt into trying to figure out how to keep her safe, how to get her on a better path, and how to support the rest of the family in their anger and grief as I looked for a way to help myself. Story and storytelling seemed like the natural way to do that. I have a deep understanding of story and ever since that time I have used it to not only guide my niece and family but to mediate and advocate for many parents and teens. Helping young people survive, empowering them to make good choices, and helping families mentor their youth became my mission. I also realized the ways in which story could not only guide us through dark days but could help heal the pain of loss for both parents and teens.                 That was when I began to think about stories that focused on making choices. It is also when I realized the difference between merely surviving and thriving. I asked myself, why do some young people come through the teen years unscathed by all the issues facing today’s teens (drugs, sexual promiscuity, pregnancy, homelessness, abuse) while other kids get plunged into the fire and sometimes perish? How do the kids fighting for existence survive and go on to thrive regardless of their struggles? My answer is positive adult/youth relationships, preferably with a good supportive family but when that isn’t there for them, then some kind of mentor in the community and a self-realization that they are empowered to control their lives through their choices. In fact, they are responsible for themselves in that respect. Also, that we as the adult community are not doing enough to invite and initiate our youth into the adult circle, we are leaving too much up to them to do on their own. When left on ones own, where can a young person turn? Again, story seemed like a natural place to start. Story is everywhere in our lives, in fact it is our lives. We are living stories and to help young people realize this and utilize it is another goal of my work.                 When I found a local runaway shelter and resource center, I offered to be their storyteller. I started developing a program of stories, some I already had in my repertoire, others I added over time, ones I knew would speak to these youth. I figured this would help empower me at a time when I could not help my own niece but it did even more, it helped others in their need. Many programs have been added to the basic one since then. The foundation program is called Stories of Choice and Empowerment, but there is also HeroQuest for helping youth find their inner heros and understand their journey, My Story/ My Poem which has the goal of creating a book of youth stories and poems over several weeks of activities and sample stories, and Mommy and Me for helping young mothers (and fathers) interact with their children through story and play.                 While working with the young people at the shelter, and later at a treatment facility, and drawing on knowledge of child and educational psychology, I developed my theories about teens, who they are, what they desire, and how best to interact with them through story. I came to the realization that my niece’s choices were hers and in doing so discovered the power of choice. I began to wonder why choice is so important. Are we ever really without a choice? Using story as a model I am able to empower youth, to help them see that even if we decide not to choose we have made a choice. If we are in a situation where we feel we have no choice, that everyone else is choosing for us, then we must choose how to react to that. Even when in prison we have a choice of how to respond to our situation.                 One of the worst things that can happen to a person is to have choice taken away. Having a choice and cognizing that is one of the things that makes humans unique in the animal kingdom. There are many stories that teach us about making choices. We may not like our options but still there is a choice. So my mission became to show these seemingly lost young people that they indeed had more power than they realized because they had the power of choice with them wherever they went. I was able to translate that to working with parents, showing them how much their young people wanted to make these choices and how to help them do it safely. As a side effect to this thought process, I changed my own life. I was able to find contentment in my own choices.                 Family and positive adult interaction also became a theme in my work. I never encourage young people to go home, simply because home may not be safe for them. But I do encourage them to think about their relationships with family and others, why these relationships work or do not work and to empower them to change themselves realizing it is not possible to change someone else. Again it is about expectation and judgement. Stories are filled with models for relationships.                 I fought hard to keep my niece in the family fold, to help family accept her choices as hers, to help them see that her future could be bright even if it wasn’t the future we had in mind for her. In this way I formed my four principals for negotiation: Expectation, Judgement, Trust/Respect and Presentation. When I began to change my expectation for my niece, I stopped judging her and when I did that, she and I began to form a trust and respect for each other, presented with love and acceptance. That is what kept her with us, that is what helped her survive. She also made some very hard choices along the way. This close interaction with a run away generated not only a program of stories but a program of workshops and activities to support and help youth remember the stories they were hearing.                 I was encouraged by one of my own mentors, a social worker and therapist who worked with the same youth, to seek furthering my education with a Certificate in Trauma Counseling, which I did. I learned many new approaches for working with youth and shared my ideas about the power of story with my teachers and fellow students.                 Many friends and acquaintances began turning to me for advice with their own teens and I started giving talks at various organizations from storytelling festivals and conferences to educational and therapeutic conferences. At one of these events an attendee who had a foundation and believed in my message and work came forward to give me the funds to become a 501c3. While Crossroads Story Center remains small, the work of using story, music and art to reach at-risk youth continues. Reaching one youth, changes the world and that remains an important motto.                 Crossroads programs have been presented at runaway shelters, group homes and residential treatment facilities, as well as with abused women and families in transitional housing. Reaching out to these youth means learning to be flexible and being able to assess their needs. Stories and follow up activities will depend on whether the teens need a moment of peace in a troubled world, a lesson, positive interaction with a compassionate adult, or a voice of their own. Each group is unique, as is each youth, and I have become a leader in the field of using story with at-risk youth.                 Working with at-risk youth is not easy but it can be so very rewarding, for both the storyteller and the youth, as well as for staff working in the various facilities. It is not unusual to leave a session wondering if anything was accomplished only to be approached later by teens waving, smiling, even hugging and saying how they still remember a certain story and how much it meant to them. After telling one story “The Grain of Rice,” I give the young people just one simple grain of rice from the box in my cupboard as a springboard for remembering the story. Youth have come up to me six months later to say “Miss, I still have my rice.” One girl named Jessica, following a session at the runaway shelter, hung behind when the other teens left the room. “Miss,” she said. “I need a story. Will you tell me a story I can hold?” If that doesn’t wrap itself around your heart, you aren’t alive. I told her the Grain of Rice story and she gave me a hug. How did I know to tell her that story? There was no way of telling exactly what she needed but it seemed like the right one at the time.                 At treatment centers, after several sessions of storytelling and building trust, youth have told their own stories of rape and abuse for the first time. One boy, a gang member who never participated with the group, was asked “Why aren’t you with us?” His reply was “Miss, in six months I’ll be in jail or dead.” That was a signal to me, not that I should give up on that youth, but that I needed to try harder to reach him. After some coaxing and a whole lot of mutual trust building, respect, and TLC, that boy joined in the group if only in the background and later was the major contributor to our group story, he was the one with the most powerful imagination. Can I say the program kept him out of trouble? No, I have no way of knowing what becomes of most of my kids. After they leave the program with a pocketful of stories to guide them, the rest is up to them. What I do know is that the program gave him tools to use for good choice making, empowerment to believe in himself, and stories to draw on when he needed them.                 Joey, a hip tough New York City kid, mouthed off during one whole session but was promised he could see my kitten, who I had brought with me. All through the stories “Miss, can we see the kitten now? Please Miss.” It is so important to keep your promises to these kids who have been betrayed so many times in their young lives. When we were finished, I opened her pet carrier. She was just 4 months old and tiny so it scared me when Joey leapt to his feet and grabbed her. I thought he might throw her against the wall! But instead, Joey held her gently in his arms. “Miss, I have a cat back home. I really miss her.” He then proceeded to show her around the room to the other kids, instructing them to be gentle. Another lesson for me, “Don’t judge a teen by their haircut.” He ended up being a very gentle loving young man.                 Nothing can warm your heart more than watching young teen mothers telling stories to and playing with their children, or older mom’s for that matter, ones who have forgotten how to play. The young people touched by story will hopefully go on to touch others in the same way and the ripple will be felt to the outermost banks of the community. And all you have to do is trust that story works its magic.                 I have now had seventeen years of learning about and interacting with teens, of building trust and mutual respect, and best of all of sharing the life models found in story in a quiet space and time, one on one or in groups, face to face with a real live compassionate adult.   My best compliment in life came from one of these kids when he said “Wow Miss, you’re real.”

Editorial Reviews

“Here in Ireland we are aware of Lorna Czarnota’s excellent work with at-risk youth and their families and also in detention centers and shelters. She demonstrates how the power of storytelling can reach those young people who are most vulnerable and give them the confidence to rebuild lives which have been shattered by events which are often outside their control. Dancing at the Crossroads will prove a valuable tool for storytellers everywhere.”