I’ve been the COO at Door of Hope now for over eight months, and I continue to be impressed by the quality of staff, and their creative, out-of-the-box thinking with regard to our program. An example that recently caught my attention was No Rules Day.
Door of Hope’s mission is to equip homeless families to rebuild their lives. That mission holds true for the kids in our program as well. Our ASP focuses on a child’s emotional, social, and physical development. Education is a huge part of that. The ASP is an intentional and structured program that incorporates both learning and fun.
Of late, our ASP staff noticed that the children had been challenging the rules of the program more often, interrupting staff when they were talking, and otherwise taking for granted what the staff did for them – tutoring, helping with homework, making daily snacks and rewarding good behavior. Some kids compared the rules in the program to being in prison. It’s not unusual for kids to push back against the rules. Often times this is the first time rules have been enforced and a certain amount of resistance is expected. However, this was far beyond the norm.
Our ASP staff decided they needed to do something to right the ship, so they came up with No Rules Day. Wednesday at 3pm when the program started, staff announced to the kids that it was No Rules Day, and then did nothing more other than keep an eye out for safety issues.
At first it was quite noisy in the colorful room set aside for the program, and the children, ranging in age from 5 to 14 years, seemed to be enjoying themselves, but things quickly started to turn! Those who were trying to do their homework asked why staff weren’t telling the others to be quiet. Staff replied, “Why don’t you ask them to be quiet yourself” and went back to playing with their phones. A few of the kids went to the office to tell Regina Alexander, the Program Manager that staff weren’t doing their jobs, saying “They don’t care!” The kids were taken aback when Regina, who was in on the No Rules Day concept, told them it was no big deal. When it was time for the daily nutritious and pre-prepared snacks, the kids instead were directed to a box of donated foodstuffs in the adjoining kitchen and told to help themselves. All afternoon staff would break in on the children’s conversations, interrupting them. Soon the children were complaining, “You don’t care”, “How am I going to finish homework?”, and “This is unfair”. This went on until the program ended for the day at 5:30pm that evening.
The following day, Children’s Coordinator Gema Chow asked the kids what they’d thought of No Rules Day. Some commented that they hadn’t liked missing out on the electronic “bucks” they earn each day for good behavior. “David” (not his real name), who is 12, enthusiastically said it was fun – could they do it again sometime? Gema asked, “If it was so much fun, why were you so upset yesterday at not having help with your homework?”, which started others questioning staff about why they had so many rules and pushed the kids so hard - to do their homework, to read for twenty minutes each day, to write in a journal. Focusing on Proverbs 3:12 (“…because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in”) Gema replied that it was because they were all intelligent children, that staff cared about them and wanted them to succeed in the real world. The kids quickly caught on, and one said, “You guys take care of us like our moms do.”
That night, when “David’s” mother came home, she found him washing dishes, and telling the younger children to let mom alone for awhile after a hard day’s work. “David” had internalized the amount of work his mother did in caring for the family - cooking, washing dishes and cleaning - and decided to step up himself.
I want to reiterate what Gema told the kids, they are intelligent, and we do want them to succeed when they leave Door of Hope. That’s why we invest so much into their development while they’re here. While breaking the rules may not be such a big deal in the average child’s life, it’s so important in the lives of our kids. They are only with us for a short period of time, and every day is valuable. No Rules Day taught our kids some important life lessons that I hope stick with them. I’m really proud to be part of this organization, and to work with so many fine people who care so passionately about others and put so much of themselves into serving them.
P.S. “David” and his mother have had an estranged relationship. A week after No Rules Day, “David’s” mother told staff, “Ever since he started ASP he's changed. In the past when I would yell at him and make him mad he would yell back at me and be angry with me. However, just recently when I screamed at him he told me, "Mom, I don't like it when you yell at me, please don't scream". I was so surprised that he didn't get angry, but instead he used his words to tell me how he felt. I'm so glad that he's learning how to deal with conflict in ASP at an early age. I'm older than him, and I'm now learning how to control my anger and talk about it instead of yelling. Thank you for helping my son in ASP, you guys do so much for him."