Cultivating Hope and Well-Being in Children, Families and Community.

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These are real stories from the residents of San Mar. Click any title below to read.

I am Courtney. I make a difference!

Courtney, 17 years old, has been a resident of San Mar’s Allegany Girls’ Therapeutic Group Home in Cumberland since last August.  Doing volunteer service in the community is an important part of the program. Since entering the home she has matured tremendously and has much to offer.

“My experience at the Allegany County Animal Shelter has been one of a kind! I initially started one day a week on Sundays. I really liked the people and the animals, so I began going as much as I could. Now I go almost daily from early morning to late afternoon. I would have never thought I would go to an animal shelter to work. All I used to hear was “it stinks” or “it’s too dirty.” I found that if everyone works together to care for the animals, you can really provide a clean, quality place. From just being there a couple of months, I feel that I have really helped a lot of animals: not by donating money or buying them expensive things, but by giving them my time and showing them love. If the dogs and cats could talk I bet they would say they’d give up a meal for just 15 minutes of someone’s love. I love spending my time there even though I cannot take any of the animals home with me.  I can show them how much people really care about them and their future. It’s important for me to show them that not all pet owners will hurt them and forget to feed them.

This experience has truly changed my life. I feel that through showing the animals my love and compassion that I have become a better person. If you have time in your day to stop by your local animal rescue or shelter, even if it’s only 15 minutes to take a dog for a walk or give a cat a chin scratch, you too could make a difference just like I have!
I am Courtney. I am a Volunteer. I am an animal lover.  And I make a difference!”

Courtney has really helped a lot… Not by donating money or buying expensive things, but by giving
her time and showing love.

Allegany Girls’ Home Open House on May 19th.  Meet Courtney, the other wonderful girls and staff.

I Am Poetry »

storiesphotoI am loving and caring
I try to do kind things for others
I want for my family to be happy.
I see me looking good in my future
I am loving and caring.

I feel very happy today.
I wonder If I will look like my mom.
I worry about people dying
I cry when I'm away from my mom.
I am loving and caring.

I understand that bad things happen.
I believe that some good things happen.
I dream of being a very good mother.
I hope I get really far in life.
I am loving and caring.

Amber (14)

San Mar is my Home »

storiesphoto2It has it's ups and downs, but I know when I go to sleep at night that it is the best place for me. I never had a real family or home until I came to San Mar. I never stayed in one place more than a few months at a time. As I have been getting in touch with my feelings I feel something that I don't think I have ever felt before, and that is belonging.

When you move around as much as I have you never really get to know people, or yourself for that matter. Now I am starting to. I was born in California, and my mom worked her way all the way to Maryland. You can tell I have lived in a lot of different places. Most people think it would be neat to travel, but it wasn't like real traveling. As I look back on it, and think hard it seemed more like mom was afraid to get close to people, so I guess she moved. I am going on my second year in one place, and I like it. I like it a lot. It's pretty cool to belong somewhere. When I used to think of belonging I thought of popularity, and being with the "in crowd". Now, I am realizing that belonging has nothing to do with popularity. Instead, I think it has everything to do with knowing you're safe, knowing who your friends are, letting people get to know you instead of forming a barricade cause you don't know where you'll be in a month, week, or day.

I'm not sure what my future will be, but right now I belong, and I like it. I like it a lot!

TO, 14

Marie »

When you are a child being abused a lot of things are running through your head. You're really confused. You think it's all your fault and wonder why is this happening. For some reason you know to keep quiet. It keeps going on, but you don't know why. You really want to know… why?

I really tried to avoid my father as much as possible, but he always found me. One day one of my best friends told me what happened to her so I told her about my problem. Her brother knows too. He told an officer at school who was giving a program about child abuse. On January 20th I saw the officer and I told him and his workers.

I never went home… I went to a foster home. I arrived there at 6:45 p.m. I was really scared. I cried so hard for a long time. The next day I went to court and all these people came up to me handing me cards. They said I have to stay at a foster home for thirty days. A couple of months went by. On April 2, I left and went to a group home for sixty days. I ended up staying there for three months. Then they sent me to a foster home again. We all went to the ocean. When we came back I had to go to another group home. I thought of so many ways to keep from going, like gluing myself to the roof or chaining myself to the toilet. But I didn't. I came [to San Mar] and never left.

On July 23, I went to court again and my father pleaded guilty. I did not have to go but I did. It hurt me a lot to hear him say what he did. I cried, but I made it. No more court hearings! It's all over. My sisters can't get hurt, and I can't. I still care for him a lot, but I hate him too. I survived the pain. I'm going to make it home where I can live again.

Marie N, 15

Dear Mom »

There are some things I need to tell you.

I can't say them face to face. I wish you hadn't given up on me. I am doing pretty well now. You hurt me a lot and I have to live with that forever. He really did abuse me you know. You knew it was happening. I needed you to protect me, to stand by me, but you left me.

storiesphoto3All I keep asking is why? Why, why, why, why, why… but I never get any answers.

What you need to know is that I still need you. Mom, I need you to understand. I wish you would get help for yourself. Are you still drinking? Did you know that I am at San Mar? I want you to know that I have turned my life around. You have helped me in a way to become who I am today. I really wish you would understand me better. Please know that there is a part of me that will never forget you, and loves you. I only hope you will remember me.

Love always, your only daughter,

A Conversation with God »

"I remember…" She spoke slowly, pausing as the memories flooded her mind. One lone tear streaked across her cheek. Wiping it away she continued to pray as she remembered the little four year old girl she had once been.

"My daddy … told me he didn't love me… He didn't want me … then he left. He never came back." I don't think momma ever got over it. She fell apart… wouldn't take responsibility for anything. I remember wandering the streets late at night, until I was finally placed in the back of a police car.

From there I was put in some foster home. It scares me to think I might be like her someday. I try so hard not to be like her… but there are times I know I am her all over again. It really makes me mad. I have often been asked by therapists about my feelings towards my father. My response has always been immediate, I don't think about him. He doesn't exist. I've told myself that for so long… but I know I'm lying. He does exist. I hear his voice echoing in my mind. I am haunted by feelings of inadequacy. He left me, but he won't leave me alone. I've been told to forgive, and to let go. Forgiveness seems like such an easy word to use when there is no pain associated with it. For so long I confused forgiving with forgetting. I thought that because I managed to suppress my thoughts about him that everything was alright. If I could forget the pain and bury the memories I could go on with my life. I did, but I could always hear him whispering to me "you are not wanted… you are not loved." I was devastated.

When I was honest with myself I laughed at Your words. I even felt You using that word with me… "Forgive", You would say. Forgive? You asked the impossible. I couldn't even forget. But, then You began to show me that I shouldn't seek to forget. There are valuable lessons to be remembered. I tried. I honestly tried to forgive, I just couldn't do it. I continued to be haunted by my feelings of inadequacy. My father's rejection plagued me. Then You demonstrated to me what You asked of me. You forgave me. I was so wrapped up in myself I hadn't even realized how deeply I had hurt You. You did what I could not. In spite of my actions You loved me. You knew me and loved me. You enabled me to forgive, to do the impossible.

I still remember… You know that. I have spoken to You often about my daddy. You were right. I don't want to forget… I needed to forgive. Through forgiveness I realized that I could be free. No longer does he whisper to me. I am learning that I am not the inadequate person I believed for so long I was.

It takes time, but I can see change, and today I know hope.

Thank you Lord!
RK, 17

When the Road to Nowhere leads to Somewhere »

By Bruce T. Anderson, LCSW

I'm not sure if it was really late at night or really early in the morning when I got the call. The police had just picked Annie up and were returning her. She was frantic and on the verge of losing complete control. They had placed her in handcuffs, which seemed to control her aggression, but they were not able to stop the profanities and threats flowing from her mouth.

Annie couldn't remember how old she was when her father abandoned the family. Actually, she couldn't remember much about him at all. What she did remember was raising her four siblings. As an alcoholic, her mother seemed incapable of even taking care of herself. Annie did what was needed. She always had. She promised herself that her brothers and sister would be safe even if she hadn't always.

Eventually, when a perceptive teacher began questioning the bruises that Annie had worn to school an investigation followed. Annie and her siblings were taken out of the home and placed in a series of group homes. However, for reasons she didn't understand she was never placed in the same group home as they were. She continually feared for their safety, but she would not reveal the secrets that only the family knew. As a result she seemed to live in a near constant state of anxiety that was seldom understood by those around her.

Word came to her, delivered by her social worker, that her mother had entered a rehabilitation program in an effort to have her kids returned to her. At least that's how it was explained to Annie. The anxiety in Annie didn't ease.Â

To demonstrate her commitment to her kids, or maybe just to ease the humiliation of having the State prying into her affairs, Annie's mother relocated to Hagerstown after successfully completing the treatment program. She was now only ten miles from Annie and in proximity to demonstrate her new dedication to motherhood.

Several months later Annie was not surprised that her mother had not contacted her. She understood. What she did not understand was why her brothers and sister had been returned to her mother's new home. Annie had been the parent and she feared for the safety of her family. Her anxiety could no longer be contained.

Her plan was to go to her mother's home. She ran alone. It was late at night and the roads were empty. When she found a bicycle in a yard she took it. Seven miles later the tires were flat. She abandoned it along the side of the road and continued on foot. A short time later the police found her walking along the same road. She was trying to get to her mother's home, but traveling the entire time in the wrong direction. She was going nowhere.

When I walked in the front door I was greeted with a cacophony of shouting. It was coming from Annie, and a rather distraught police officer. Surrounding them were several other police officers and two staff, none of whom seemed to be celebrating her return at the moment. As I approached I noticed the plastic cuffs she was wearing.

In many ways Annie is very much like everyone else. She has a need to be treated with respect. It is a big deal, especially when it is absent. I realized that Annie, like most youth today, held a belief that respect is a reciprocal value. That is to say, as long as a person treated her with respect she was obligated to treat them somewhat respectfully, or at least not disrespectfully. However, if a person were to behave towards her in a disrespectful manner the rules all changed. She would no longer be under any obligation whatsoever to show them respect in return. All respect is conditional and circumstantial.

Reciprocal respect feels right. We respect those who are worthy based upon their demonstrated behaviors. We have all heard the expression; "If you want respect you will get it just as soon as you start showing some!" It just makes sense!

. . . Or, does it?

Growing up Annie had never known respect at home. It was unrealistic to expect her to initiate such attitudes and behaviors under stress when the reality of respect was foreign to her. We could just as easily expect her to speak to us in Russian.

When I approached Annie she was still screaming obscenities. I stood directly in front of her and very quietly asked her if it was all right to remove the cuffs. She kept yelling at one officer with whom she was particularly upset. I stood between the two of them and looked her directly in the eyes. Again, almost in a whisper, I asked,

"Annie, why are you disrespecting me like this? Have I ever disrespected you?"

If someone would have slapped her in the face it could not have had a more dramatic impact on her. In an instant she stopped and looked at me. Clearly, she was processing what I had said to her. Had she disrespected me? She knew how painful it was to be disrespected. She explained, "I wasn't talking to you. I was talking to him." She looked directly at the officer. Certainly that made it ok.

"Annie," I spoke her name. Using a girl's name in a calm manner in the midst of a crisis can help to de-escalate a situation. "I don't like seeing you in these cuffs. Are you able to control yourself so that we can remove them?"

I realized that removing the cuffs at the moment might not be wise, but I could see her regaining control of her emotions as we spoke.

"Just tell him that . . ."

"Annie, I'm talking to you. Are you able to take control of yourself so we can take these off of you?"

She became quiet, and then told me, "Yes. You can take them off."

The officers weren't quite convinced, but complied when I asked to remove them. I lead Annie by the hand into the dining room and asked her to sit at a table while I went back and spoke with the officers.

If a youth has never known respect in her own home isn't it understandable when she fails to act in a respectful manner at those times when I think she should? It is also true that if I apply her own belief to her (i.e.: you will get respect when you show respect.) it may be a long time before I am obligated to respect anything she does.

It seems as if that is where the problem lies! A belief that grants respect when it has been earned is based on the actions of the individual. Instead, we need to look at the person herself.

In the first chapter of the bible in the book of Genesis we are told that God created mankind in His own image[1]. If we can accept that as true then we realize that having been created in the image of the Creator Himself each person comes into the world with an inherent value to their being.

If that child then grows up with nurture and support she begins to realize over time the truth of her inherent value and learns to act and dream accordingly. However, if nurture and support are absent and in their stead is scorn, and abuse, a different set of actions and beliefs result.

If I presuppose that a person is created in the image of God, and therefore has inherent value then I must take the next step and choose to view that person as worthy of respect. Such a belief, or action (How powerful it is when respect becomes a verb!) is based not on the learned behaviors of the individual, which are often woefully lacking, but on the person they were created to be.

The problem is that when respect must first be earned it places complete focus on behavior. A person is deemed to be worthy of respect when they behave in a proper manner. That becomes quite confusing when different groups have differing standards as to what is acceptable for inclusion.

A teen's peers will often present standards different from the adults in her life. Youth are valued who: are attractive and slim, get good grades, are good athletes; or do drugs, don't care about grades and are willing to stand in opposition to authority; and the list goes on and on. It all becomes subjective unless we accept the truth of being created in the image of an unchanging God. It is easy to see why so many youth struggle with their own self worth when that worth is conditional and based on their ability to earn it on a daily basis according to changing standards.

Does the recognition of each individual as having inherent worth and value suggest then that we should be accepting and tolerant of behaviors that are clearly inappropriate? Should we just overlook the negatives in an attempt to make up for the nurturing the girl may have missed in earlier years?

We could do that, however, to do so misses the point of the true value of the individual. If a person has value and worth then it follows that what they do really does matter. Self is no longer the center of the universe. Accountability to others becomes important to help the individual grow from selfishness into selflessness. Correction of the individual youth helps her gain control of her own life. Whereas, punishment tends to flow from the feelings of an adult correction is the application of accountability that enables a youth to grow into a healthy adult.

As for Annie, she really was able to calm down that night and eventually went to bed. She never did return to her mother's home but managed to graduate from high school then went on to become a paramedic. After several years she joined the military where she served as a medic in Iraq. As of this writing she has completed her military service and along with her husband is raising her two children in Florida.

[1] Genesis 1:27