Dominic* came to Koinonia’s Homes for Teens as a quiet, serious, and reserved 15-year-old. In the beginning, he was careful not to reveal any emotions, never cracking a smile or a laugh. Dominic did not like to talk much and socializing was especially difficult for him. During group activities, he would go off by himself, often sitting on the sidelines while his peers were playing basketball or another group game.

It wasn’t until we went to a summer event on the lake that Dominic started to venture outside of his comfort zone. At first, he refused to participate in any of the water activities. But, after watching the other kids, he got in the boat. He had sworn he would not get in the water, but to my surprise (and probably his own), he did. Not only did Dominic get in the water, he also went tubing and boogie boarding; he even tried out water skiing! It was an amazing sight to watch this boy who was determined not to have fun having a great time. This was the first time I witnessed Dominic really participate and allow himself to have fun like a teenager should. 

A few months later, we were on an outing at the gym and Dominic’s peers wanted to play a game of basketball. They needed one more person and asked Dominic if he would join them. Instead of sitting on the sidelines like he normally did, this time Dominic decided to participate. He got out there and ran with the guys and I was taken aback at how much fun he was really having. He was smiling and running back and forth with his team, trying to make shots and laughing when he missed. He played an entire game and it was wonderful to witness.  

I noticed Dominic gradually allow himself to be more free, enjoying small moments of just being a kid. When no one is around, he’ll say, “Hey, Susan.” I look at him and he blows a raspberry at me. I cannot help but laugh! I remember one time I could not find him in the house and went around looking for him, only to find him hiding under the pool table, giggling like a little boy, saying, “You did not know where I was, did you?” At times, Dominic still tries to hold onto the serious young man he was when he first arrived, but then this carefree boy will show up!

The change in Dominic since he first arrived at Koinonia is truly incredible. He speaks up now and participates in group activities, when before he only observed. He’s no longer a “tough guy” all the time, able to let his guard down and be his true, authentic self. It is beautiful to watch a young person who had to grow up too fast, step back and have the freedom to be a kid once again.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of foster youth


SUSAN L. POWERS, CONTRIBUTOR

Susan is a Counselor at Koinonia’s Homes for Teens program, located in Placer County, CA. Homes for Teens is a short-term residential treatment program (STRTP) serving at-risk foster youth. When others have abandoned, abused, or given up on them, we give teens a chance to heal, learn, and thrive. To learn more, visit teens.kfh.org