Child Protective Services
For the last thirty years, the Young Adults (YA) of the South Houston Sathya Sai Center have been serving distressed children at the Kinder Emergency Shelter located in Houston, TX. Under the direction of Harris County Children Protective Services (CPS), this shelter provides a temporary safe house for children, who are removed from dangerous domestic environments. These children ranging from ages 12 to 17 are court-mandated to stay at the shelter on a temporary basis and are subsequently returned to either an improved home environment or entered into the foster care system. Although the shelter provides a good and safe environment, however, due to the trauma of sudden loss and an uncertain future, the children are often extremely distressed. The Young Adults volunteer at this monthly service, to bring cheer in the lives of children. They interact with the children and ensure the children experience a fun-filled time and involved in a diverse range of stimulating activities.
For nearly 30 years, the Sathya Sai Center of Houston and specifically, the Sai Youths, planned and conducted hour-long, once-a-month sessions with the CPS children. For many years, these hour-long sessions were primarily focused on playing games, celebrating birthdays and eating fun food. Over time, their bond with these children and insight into their personal challenges helped shape a value-based ‘curriculum’ that instilled character and self-confidence to meet life’s demands.
In 2010, the Sai volunteers redesigned the service and introduced reading an “inspirational story” and discussion questions. From there, it naturally developed into a more formal value-based curriculum. The monthly CPS sessions lasted for 90 minutes and contained value-based small group sessions, fun activities and food. Communication between volunteers and CPS children is not allowed outside of these sessions; photos and videos are also discouraged and due to transitional nature of the shelter, the volunteers interact with a mostly new group of children every month. Though there is a varying group of volunteers and children at every session, the experience of joy and oneness remains the same.
In 2013, the Sai Young Adults held an Annual CPS Day celebration at the Kinder Emergency Shelter. The focus was to develop self-confidence in the children. From 9 am to 5 pm, the children enjoyed several different activities- games, a homemade lunch, an ice-cream party, a music jam session and a closing gratitude session. The small breakout group sessions throughout the day consisted of formal lesson plans with volunteers reading inspirational stories, quotes from Sai Baba on self-confidence, followed by sharing sessions where participants had to respond to some probing questions. These sessions fostered close bonds between the volunteers and the CPS children and allowed for true openness and heart-felt sharing.
The next year, the volunteers carried out another “CPS Day” with similar activities from the year before with an added focus on graduating from high school. An energetic group of 17 children and 6 Shelter staff members participated in this day-long program. It included a field trip to the Art Institute School of Houston and a motivational talk by Henry Reed, former professional NFL player for the New York Giants and a dear member of our own local Houston Sai Center. He enthused the children to focus on their dreams, resist sensory temptations and listen to the inner voice that guides them. The love that emanated from him created the most beautiful and heartwarming session for the children residing in the shelter as well as the volunteers.
During a small group session titled, ‘Overcoming Obstacles’, a Group-4 Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) girl and a girl living in the shelter, both in 10th grade, spoke to each other about overcoming procrastination in doing homework. These two could be considered worlds apart as far as their backgrounds were concerned, but in their eyes was a shared recognition of oneness. During the closing gratitude sessions, many of the children living in the shelter mentioned how much they loved the day and learning about new possibilities. The volunteers felt that they were the ones who truly were the recipients of so much love and appreciation that the CPS children showered on them. There were very few dry eyes as the day came to a beautiful close.
Every volunteer has had unique and indelible experiences with these children, especially due to the very personal, heart-to-heart nature of these sessions where both children and volunteers share their backgrounds and find common ground. After connecting with hundreds of CPS children over the years, the volunteers whole-heartedly agree that these are incredibly gifted, empathetic and resilient young men and women, who given love, opportunity and guidance, can become tomorrow’s leaders and role models within the community. This experience has not only provided soulful joy to the volunteers, but it has also given them an opportunity to see the divinity within each of the children served.
“You are dealing with tender children, as their teachers, guides and examples. You have to equip yourselves for those roles by living the values that distinguish mankind.”
Sathya Sai Baba
Sathya Sai Baba Center of South Houston, TX